Thank goodness for Julia over at Julia’s Rants; otherwise, I’d never know when the newest MLBlogs “Latest Leaders” list had come out. I’d boycotted Mark’s blog until Albert Pujols was no longer named at the top.
It’s not something I necessarily strive for – being on the leaderboard – but it’s something that’s definitely humbling, and which I very much appreciate.
For those of you unfamiliar with Julia, she’s basically the MLBlogs team captain. She roots us all on, comments on very nearly every blog, and has an enormously-catchy enthusiasm that helps many of us get through the slow times, when we begin to debate whether or not we truly want to do this. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you check her blog out.
Upon hearing the news that I was #20, I was thrown into a quandary. There have been several players to don the number for the Astros, including the longest-tenured #20 in club history, Tony Eusebio, a backup catcher that probably only a true Houston fan could love – and who all true Houston fans love.
But I opted to go a different way, and began to write a long apalogue about Cesar Geronimo, who I had watched growing up – in his Cincinnati years, after he’d left Houston – and whose signature had graced the glove I’d worn in Little League. My father had always joked that Cesar couldn’t catch because he wore four Gold Gloves. I didn’t get the joke at the time, but it stuck with me.
Then I realized that my glove had actually been signed by another Astro who had gone to the Reds and won multiple Gold Gloves – Cesar Cedeno. By the time I was old enough to go to and remember Reds games, Geronimo was either in Kansas City or out of the league entirely.
Other names flashed through my memory – Lee Maye, Dave “Soup” Campbell – but I kept coming back to one man. The only Houston Astro to be inducted to the Hall of Fame wearing #20. Who – if there was a Hall of Fame for white afros – would be in on the first ballot.
Sutton didn’t spend much time in Houston. He signed as a Free Agent before the 1981 season, and in late August the following year, we was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers for Kevin Bass, Frank DiPino, Mike Madden, and cash. Anyone who has read my About Me knows that, without that trade, I might never have become a Houston fan at all.
To top it off, he helped pitch the Brewers to their only World Series appearance (though he was shelled by the Cardinals in the Series), playing with current Astros skipper Cecil Cooper.
Houston’s pitching staff in the strike-shortened 1981 season was insane. In addition to Sutton, the rotation boasted Joe Niekro, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, lefty Bob Knepper, and Vern Ruhle. The bullpen had Billy Smith, Dave Smith, and Joe Sambito.
No starting pitcher that year had an ERA over 3.00. Ruhle’s 2.91 was the highest, and the average ERA+ was 139. With a full year of baseball, there’s no telling how well this team could have done, despite a questionable offense led by Tony Scott, Jose Cruz, and then-first baseman and former Gold Glove outfielder Cedeno (not Geronimo.)
Sutton threw 158.2 innings that year, going 11-9 with a 2.61 ERA, 1.015 WHIP (with three fewer hits or walks, he would have had a WHIP under 1.00… coincidentally, three is the exact number of intentional walks he was asked to issue). He walked just 29 batters – the fewest ever in his career, including 1988 when he walked 30 despite pitching just 87.1 innings with the Dodgers – and struck out 104 (also the fewest in his career, but who’s counting?)
Old Black & Decker followed up his 1981 campaign by going 13-8 in 27 appearances in 1982, pitching 195 innings and striking out 139 to 46 walks, a 3.00 ERA and a 1.103 WHIP before being traded to the Brewers.