Rick Sutcliffe 1993 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for July 7, 2017


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You can bet on anything in Las Vegas. You can bet on World Series results before the season begins, you can bet on horse races all over the country. There are bets on TV shows and movies and election results.

I know you can bet on Cy Young winner results. I wonder in 1984 what the odds were for Rick Sutcliffe to win the NATIONAL League Cy Young Award.

I am assuming they were long odds. He wound up getting 100% of the first place votes for the 1984 NL Cy Young Award, which is odd when you consider he was an AMERICAN League pitcher until June 13 of that year.

The Dodgers drafted Sutcliffe in the first round of the 1974 draft from his Missouri high school. He was on the LA staff for good in 1979, which was a down year for the Dodgers. But Sutcliffe won 17 games and threw 242 innings for the Dodgers and manager Tommy Lasorda. Along with young Bob Welch and veterans Don Sutton and Burt Hooton, Sutcliffe looked like he was going to be a mainstay in LA for a long time.

He won the Rookie of the Year in 1979, starting a string of 4 consecutive years of the Dodgers winning the prize. Steve Howe would follow in 1980, Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 and Steve Sax in 1982, putting down quite a foundation in LA, especially for a team that had gone to the World Series in 1974, 1977 and 1978.

Sutcliffe however hit the sophomore slump in 1980 and injuries in 1981. He was part of the team that won the Split Season World Series of 1981 but was not on the post season roster.

Seeing that the 25 year old Sutcliffe might not be the long term ace they were hoping he’d be, the Dodgers traded him while he still had value. Off he went to Cleveland in a deal that brought Jorge Orta to LA. (Oddly, Orta was brought in to replace departed Davey Lopes but Steve Sax kept the second base job and Orta was dealt to Toronto, but I digress.)

In Cleveland, Sutcliffe flourished. The Indians didn’t contend, but Sutcliffe finished in the Top 5 for the Cy Young vote. He led the AL with a 2.96 ERA over 216 innings.

In 1983, he showed it was no fluke, winning 17 and throwing 243 1/3 innings and earning his first All Star appearance.

He got off to a great start for Cleveland in 1984 but then starting getting clobbered. His record in May was 0-3 with an ERA of 9.33. His June wasn’t much better.

At that moment, with an ERA soaring over 5, Rick Sutcliffe’s 1984 looked like it was going to be the worst year of his career.

I am guessing the odds of a pitcher with an ERA over 5 in mid June pitching for Cleveland being the unanimous NL Cy Young Award winner would have been insanely long.

On June 13, 1984, the Indians sent Sutcliffe along with reliever George Frazier and catcher Ron Hassey to the Cubs. Outfielder Joe Carter and Mel Hall and pitchers Don Schulze and Darryl Banks went to Cleveland.

The Cubs were 1 1/2 games up on the Mets and tied in the loss column as the two perennial doormats were fighting for the NL East crown. The Phillies, who were the defending NL champs, were only 2 games back. The Cardinals and Expos were not far behind.

Fans at Wrigley had seen many Cubs teams contend in the early summer only to fade in the late months. There had not been a Cubs team in the post season since the 1945 World Series and there was little reason to believe this squad was any different.

Sutcliffe won his first two starts with the Cubs, including a 5 hit 14 strikeout complete game shutout against St. Louis.

On June 29th, he returned to Los Angeles and got clobbered by his former teammates, losing the game and making his combined Indians and Cubs record for the season rest at 6-6 with a 4.68 ERA going into July.

The stuff that unanimous Cy Young seasons are made of.

On the 4th of July, he went to work. He pitched into the 9th against San Diego and won. He started 6 games in July. He got 5 wins and the Cubs won all 6 games. He pitched 6 games in August and got the winning decision in all 6, throwing into the 9th in 3 of those 6.

The Cubs went into September still in first and having the Division in their sites. He went 8 innings, striking out 15 on September 3. Then he tossed a critical 4 hit 12 strikeout game against the Mets on September 8th. On September 14, another complete game and another win.

On the 19th, he had a rare bad outing, failing to get out of the 5th. He did not get the decision as the Cubs lost.

Then on September 24, 1984, Sutcliffe threw a complete game 2 hitter, allowing 1 run and 9 strikeouts. The last one, of Pirates outfielder Joe Orsulak, clinched the 1984 NL East. It was the 20th win of the season for Sutcliffe with a 16-1 record in Chicago. The Cubs were playoff bound and with time to spare, manager Jim Frey could start Sutcliffe in the opener.

In Game 1 of the NLCS, the year long celebration continued as Sutcliffe won the game, threw 7 shutout innings and even hit a homer.

But the Padres forced a 5th and deciding game when Steve Garvey homered off of Lee Smith. Sutcliffe took the mound again, this time to clinch the pennant. Chicago took a 3-0 lead after 2 in San Diego. Giving Sutcliffe 3 runs to work with in 1984 was all but a lock. It remained 3-0 into the 6th when the Padres scored a pair of runs.

Manager Frey stayed with his Ace into the 7th. But a series of hits and defensive miscues put a 4 spot on the board. It was Sutcliffe’s first loss since returning to Los Angeles in June. It was a bad time to lose again as the Padres clinched the pennant.

Sutcliffe was the Unanimous Cy Young selection based on his win total and how he did with Chicago. The Sabermetric Crowd would point out he finished 9th in NL WAR for pitchers with the complete NL seasons of Dwight Gooden, Rick Rhoden and Alejandro Pena being the top slots.

But even a number 9 finish is impressive for someone who played the first third in the other league.

Sutcliffe had some more good seasons in Chicago including a Cy Young runner up season in 1987 and helped the Cubs make the post season again in 1989.

As this card shows, he went back to the AL in 1992 and 1993 for a pair of adequate but not exactly Cy Young worthy seasons in Baltimore before an ill fated season in St. Louis wrapped his career up.

He became a beloved broadcaster and has bravely fought cancer for the last few years. Cub fans love him for how he took 2/3 of a season and gave Cub fans their first October in nearly 40 years.

He beat some pretty long odds to do that.

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