Baseball lost a lot of legends in 2020. The new year isn’t starting off much better. Hall of Famer Don Sutton died in his sleep early Tuesday morning at the age of 75. A consistent, durable starting pitcher, his name adds to the sad list of pitching greats who’ve passed away recently including Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford and Bob Gibson.
Sutton’s career spanned parts of three decades and he then transitioned into broadcasting. He was still active in the booth as late as 2018.
Born in a humble home in Clio, AL to teenage parents, Sutton pitched for 23 seasons and made 756 career starts, the third most in history. Only Cy Young and Nolan Ryan made more starts than Sutton, who never visited the disabled list during his career. Only Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, and Roger Clemens have both more wins and more strikeouts.
“When you gave him the ball, you knew one thing – your pitcher was going to give you everything he had,” once said his former manager, Tommy Lasorda, who also passed away recently.
The durable Sutton ranks seventh all-time in innings pitched (5,282.1) and seventh in strikeouts (3,574). He worked at least 200 innings in 20 of his first 21 seasons – with only the shortened 1981 campaign interrupting his streak. He’s one of only ten pitchers to record over 3,000 strikeouts, 300+ wins, and an ERA below 3.50.
Here’s a look at six Don Sutton cards tied to his outstanding career.
1966 Topps Rookie Card
Sutton was 21 when he made his big league debut and he was already on Topps’ radar. The company paired him with fellow pitching prospect Bill Singer on a rookie card. Both had big league success.
Sutton made his debut on the same day that another future Hall of Famer was born: Greg Maddux. He struck out 209 batters that first season, a rotation that included Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Claude Osteen.
His 1966 debut card is among the least expensive Hall of Fame rookie cards of the era.
Sutton called the ’72 season his best and it’s hard to argue. He began a streak of seven straight Opening Day starts that spring, threw nine shutouts and was virtually unhittable for much of the season, tossing 36 consecutive scoreless innings at one point. He also made his first All-Star team in ’72.
His 1972 Topps card is in the 5th (“semi-high number”) series, which carries a bit of a premium, but nice ungraded copies of his ’72 Topps card can still be had for under $25.
1974 Topps Deckle Edge
This season sparked the Dodgers’ long-awaited return to the postseason and Sutton played a pivotal role in October. He won Game 1 against Pittsburgh, then punched the Dodgers’ ticket to the World Series by pitching eight innings of three-hit ball. He won Game 2 of the World Series against Oakland as well.
The back of his 1974 Deckle Edge card references his 1972 season with a note to the date and location of the photo, a unique feature of the set.
Sutton went 21-10 in the bi-centennial year, but more impressive was a crazy good stretch from July 7-September 1 in which he went 14-1 with a 1.62 ERA.
The front showcases his large, flowing signature while the back references the fact that he wasn’t a perennial 20-game winner, something the card back writer noted was “not held against him.”
1981 Topps ERA Leaders
Sutton led the majors in earned run average in 1980 at 2.20 and was honored for it, along with American League leader Rudy May, in Topps’ 1981 set. He also led the big leagues in WHIP (0.989) and allowed fewer than seven hits per nine innings.
Sutton also changed teams in 1981, signing with Houston as a free agent. He left quite a legacy in LA, with team records for wins (233), strikeouts, innings, shutouts and starts.
1983 Gardner’s Brewers
While Sutton is usually remembered mostly for his days as a Dodger, he played a huge role for the Milwaukee Brewers in their drive to the 1982 pennant, getting the start in a must-win road game on the final day of the season and winning it over Baltimore despite being sick. Brewers fans have fond memories of the gray road uniforms and caps worn by “Harvey’s Wallbangers” on that afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
Gardner’s/Holsum Bread produced a few Brewers sets during the 1980s, with one card available in each loaf of bread during the spring and summer across much of Wisconsin.