Sutton never shy about voicing his opinion
Hall of Famer discusses pitch counts, his time with the Dodgers and Hall votes
PHOENIX -- There is a very good reason why Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz are pending Hall of Famers, said Don Sutton, the 324-game winner and Hall of Fame inductee in the Class of 1998.
The trio of Braves was a group of self-starters and unique to this era.
"No doubt about it, but they were given the opportunity to be unique," said Sutton, who announces Braves games on the radio now and was part of Atlanta's TV broadcast team during the 1990s. "That won't happen now. I don't care how good they are. Pitchers today are working in an environment dictated for them, not dictated by them. The last person who has an opinion on how he feels is the pitcher."
The outspoken Sutton -- who came up with the Dodgers in 1966 and pitched with them for 16 of his 23 seasons -- has his own opinion about everything.
He said in an interview last week that he hates pitch counts.
"I say it with a laugh in my voice when I broadcast: 'That's 100 pitches. On the next one, he's going to turn into a troll.' At 101, you just disappear. Poof, you're gone," Sutton said.
The Nationals didn't ask him, but Sutton wouldn't have approved of the way they limited Stephen Strasburg's innings last season as that club was driving toward a pennant.
"I wouldn't have liked it if I had been Strasburg. I probably wouldn't have been as nice a guy as he is," said Sutton, a broadcaster for the Nats in 2007-08 in between Atlanta stints. "I think he did a good job of being the good company man in handling it well. But I think I would've objected to that. My thinking would have been, 'Here I am in the big leagues with a chance to win. I don't know if I'm ever going to have another chance to win.'"
Sutton was a member of the Hall of Fame's Pre-Integration Committee that late last year posthumously elected Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, umpire Hank O'Day and catcher Deacon White to the Hall's Class of 2013. They turned out to be the only members of the Class when the Baseball Writers Association of America declined to vote in anybody.
About that experience, Sutton said: "Well, you sit there and you think you know something about these guys and you really don't.
"You know what we did on the last one that I loved? We had two historians on the committee, who could put it all in the proper perspective. I loved our committee. What a cross section. It helped me to compare apples and oranges when we had the historians."
About the choice made by the voting writers (of which I am one), Sutton was equally succinct.
"I have no objection to it," he said. "I mean, I'm not a player in that poker game. But do I have thoughts on it? Yeah. I thought you guys did it right. I don't have any problem with it. My thoughts are, it's your responsibility, and I thought you thoughtfully handled it."
I met Sutton in 1976, during my rookie year as a sportswriter. He was kind and eloquent and has always been one of my favorites. Many years later, when he was pitching for the Angels, I approached his locker for a postgame chat and he told me to hold on. Turning into his cubicle, he popped the cork on a bottle of red wine and poured a glass for me. That was singular. A one-timer. Like a fine wine, we'll let the rest of this interview flow.
MLB.com: So, I'm guessing you're much happier having pitched in your era than this one.
Sutton: I just think my personality would have a tough time with having somebody who isn't in my body telling me how I feel and how I'm supposed to feel. I'd have a problem with that. My first pitching coach with the Dodgers was Red Adams. He used to say: "Wear the game around you like a jacket. Be immersed in the game."
I'm not sure many pitchers are immersed in the game now. Maddux was. Tim Hudson is. Glavine and those guys were immersed in the game. I wish we'd teach kids in the Minor Leagues how to sense the environment and to immerse themselves in the game.
MLB.com: It was a different era. They didn't count pitches back then.
Sutton: Gene Mauch with the Angels was the first guy who ever counted my pitches. I was 40 years old when he started counting my pitches. At that point, I'd have been counting them, too. I have no idea what the maximum amount of pitches was I ever threw in a game. No idea. Had no idea about a radar gun, either. Radar guns were used by traffic cops back then.
MLB.com: What was your favorite team?
Sutton: I enjoyed 1966 with the Dodgers, my first year in the big leagues, because what kid growing up and 21 years old wouldn't want to have played with Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Claude Osteen, with John Roseboro catching and Maury Wills at short and Jim Gilliam at third? That's a dream. We wouldn't be talking about the Hall of Fame if I hadn't landed in that spot at that time with Walter Alston as the manager. I'm convinced of it. I'm convinced that if I had landed anywhere else, I wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame.
I was as dumb as a box of rocks. But the lessons I learned there lasted a lifetime. Don Drysdale was the "Big D," so I started signing my name with a little D. If you didn't learn there … I saw young pitchers come up who didn't want to sit between Maddux and Glavine. What were they, idiots? You're going to learn from osmosis.
John Roseboro should have managed in the big leagues. Major League baseball missed an opportunity for a giant, not having him as a manager.
MLB.com: I guess it begs the question: Were Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux comparable to that Dodgers trio?
Sutton: I think so. Not sure on that Dodgers club we had that same day-to-day competition. It was a whole different era. In Atlanta, they competed at golf, they competed at tiddlywinks. They competed at who could get to the park first, but not to the detriment of each other, but to the benefit of each other.
Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux were a unique blend of personalities, much like Don, Sandy and Claude. I was the fourth-best pitcher on that staff, which tells you all you need to know.
MLB.com: And you sound like you admired Red Adams.
Sutton: He was the best. We could all learn from him. He had a personality that was able to deal differently with 10 people and their individual ways. He talked to me during a game one day and he said, "Buddy, are you cheatin'?" I go, "No," and he said, "Well, you might want to consider it, buddy."
He always called you "buddy." I think I was just getting crushed by the Cubs.
MLB.com: Did you cheat?
Sutton: No, I never got caught cheating.
MLB.com: About the Hall of Fame vote, what do you think about it as we move forward? Do you think that after a period of time some of these guys [who played in the "Steroid Era"] should get in? Or if you played in that era, it's going to be hard to get in.
Sutton: I think it's going to be hard to get in. I think you're going to be hit with fallout and I think you're going to be guilty by association. It's going to be interesting to see the opinion of some of your younger peers, who have not been so actively involved in it, how their opinion changes. But when you get down to it, what I think is irrelevant. It's like talking about clouds. I can do nothing to influence.
MLB.com: The upcoming writers' ballot should be very interesting with Maddux and Glavine on it. Smoltz comes on in 2015.
Sutton: Next year is one year when I wouldn't want to be in your shoes, because I wonder how you're going to get all the worthy ones in. If I'm on the Veterans Committee, think of who we've got. All the great managers -- Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella, Cito Gaston, maybe even John Schuerholz. It's going to be a busy time. We may have to hold that thing in the Meadowlands next year, that ceremony, with the possibility of all the people who could go in.
It's one of those times when I think we'd agree on five and it could be unanimous on five. There might be some worthy guys left out because we just don't have room. Right now, I'm not sure if I'm on that committee again. I was asked after the last one if I'd serve again, and I said that I'd consider it to be a privilege.
MLB.com: So are Maddux and Glavine, in your mind, slam dunks for the Hall of Fame?
Sutton: If I had a vote on those guys, that's an opinion I will voice. I think they're a slam dunk.
MLB.com: So if you're on the Post-Expansion Committee, who else do you think should be considered?
Sutton: I think we need to address Tommy John and Jim Kaat before we lower the standards on the next generation of pitchers to get in the Hall.
MLB.com: They're going to be squeezed by just what we were talking about -- all the managers on that Post-Expansion Committee ballot.
Sutton: Oh my God. I don't want to be on the committee, then. I resign. I haven't even been asked and I resign.
MLB.com: Plus, you can only put 10 candidates on the ballot of all the eligible players, managers, umpires and executives.
Sutton: Geez, I haven't even thought about that. Don't ask me any more questions. It's getting harder.