Don Sutton’s career was consistent, not flashy. So was his election to the Hall of Fame.
“I had tears and goosebumps when I found out, but I didn’t have the anticipation for it,” Sutton said Monday after he was voted in on the fifth try. “I revere Cooperstown. It is a sacred place where the holy grail of baseball is.”
Sutton, who fell nine votes short of the required 75 percent last year, was listed on 386 ballots this time (81.6 percent), 31 more than the 355 needed for election. Tony Perez was second with 321; no others appeared on more than half the ballots cast by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“There have been a lot of tears shed and before this night is over, there will be a lot more,” Sutton said during a news conference in Marietta, Ga. “I’m proud that this has allowed me to enjoy a little different life than maybe the son of a sharecropper in south Alabama should enjoy.”
Sutton, tied with Nolan Ryan for 12th place on the career victory list, had a 324-256 record in 23 seasons. He compiled a 3.26 ERA and finished with 3,574 strikeouts, fifth on the career list.
Sutton and Ryan, a shoo-in to be elected next year when he appears on the ballot for the first time, are the only pitchers not inducted into the Hall among the 20 with 300 wins.
Sutton received news of his election when a cell phone rang while he was at the 14th tee of the White Columns Golf Course.
“I was having a good day, and then I got the call and it was even a better day,” he joked.
Sutton was 1 under par when he received the news. He bogeyed No. 16 and finished at even-par 72.
“It cost me a fistful, too,” he said.
Last year, fellow 300-game winner Phil Niekro was elected, also after missing his first four times.
When balloting was announced last year, Sutton was at a hospital with his infant daughter Jacqueline, born 16 weeks prematurely on Nov. 3, 1996. She has improved significantly and is well these days.
“A lot of things pale in comparison to what we’ve gone through with Jackie,” Sutton said. “Her odds were 1 in a 100. And I think last year on this night I don’t think that it ever dawned on me until the next morning that somebody said ‘Hey, you didn’t make it into the Hall of Fame,’ because there was too much else going on. …”
Sutton will be inducted into the Hall at Cooperstown, N.Y., this summer - the date has not been set - along with any selections by the veterans committee, which meets March 3 in Tampa, Fla. Bill Mazeroski, Gil Hodges and Larry Doby will be among the top candidates.
Sutton, a four-time All-Star, becomes the 233rd member of the Hall and the 176th player. He was with the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1966-80 and again in 1988, also spending time with the California Angels, Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros.
Detractors said he was very good but never great. While he won 14 or more games each year from 1969-78, he never won a Cy Young Award and won 20 games in one season only once, going 21-10 in 1976 for the Dodgers.
Sutton started two games for Spokane early in the 1968 season when the Indians were the top farm team of Los Angeles - after he had spent two full years with the Dodgers. He had a 1-1 record in 16 innings and struck out 19. Clearly, he was too good for the PCL.
He becomes the sixth former Spokane Indian in the shrine, joining ex-Cleveland Indians pitching star Stan Coveleskie, former New York Giants first baseman George Kelly, modern day relief pitching star Hoyt Wilhelm, former Dodgers slugger Duke Snider and Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda.
Perez, on the ballot for the seventh time, is 16th on baseball’s career RBIs list with 1,652, and every player ahead of him is already in the Hall. Last year, he was 43 short of the necessary 75 percent. This time, his percentage increased to 67.9.
“I’m very happy for Don Sutton. He definitely deserves it,” Perez said in a statement. “As for me, I came closer this time than I did a year ago. But I’ll just have to wait another year and see what happens.”
Ron Santo, a nine-time All-Star appearing on the BBWAA ballot for the 15th and final time, was third with 204 votes - 151 short. Jim Rice was fourth at 203 followed by Gary Carter at 200, the highest vote total among the nine players eligible for the first time.
Pete Rose, left off the ballot because of his lifetime ban from baseball, was written in by 12 writers - eight fewer than last year - even though the votes didn’t count. The BBWAA has told writers who listed him that they risk disqualification of their entire ballots.
Players who failed to receive 24 votes, 5 percent of the record-tying 473 cast, will be dropped from future ballots: Jack Clark (7), Pedro Guerrero (6), Willie Randolph (5), Carney Lansford (3), Brian Downing (2), Mike Flanagan (2) and Rick Dempsey (1). The 26-player ballot was the smallest in the 62 years of voting by the BBWAA.
Next year, a stellar quintet will appear on the ballot for the first time: Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk and Dale Murphy.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CAREER HIGHLIGHTS One of 20 pitchers with 300 victories at 324, tied for 12th place on the all time list with Nolan Ryan. Fifth on the all-time strikeout list with 3,574. Lifetime record of 324-256 with ERA of 3.26. Pitched in four World Series for three teams with a 2-3 record.
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