Two very different pitchers led the AL and NL in Earned Run Average. One was a steady veteran who had his best year of his career being used in an unorthodox manner. The other was an eventual Hall of Famer who evidently couldn’t put a cap on over his gigantic head of hair.
Rudy May is a very nice man. I can say that because he was a guest on my podcast. Very gracious with his time, he shared memories of playing with the Angels, Orioles, Expos and Yankees. He has a soft gentle voice and sounds like a friendly grandfather who can put you at ease.
He lives in Central California, fishes a lot and seems like a man happy who was content with his 15 years in the major leagues.
He never made an All Star team and despite winning the ERA title in 1980, never received a vote for the Cy Young. He was just a steady performer, year in and year out. No matter where he pitched, he produced.
When Rudy was on my podcast, I asked him about his managers and which ones he liked playing with. He mentioned Earl Weaver, which didn’t surprise me at all. But he went on to praise Dick Howser, who was his skipper with the 1980 Yankees.
He talked about Howser’s trust in him no matter what role he had. A quick glimpse of his 1980 ERA leading season showed that Rudy May did not have a locked in role.
He made 41 appearances and 17 starts. He threw 3 complete games and came out of the bullpen to finish 17. He had a complete game shutout and 3 saves. He finished with a 2.46 ERA Oakland’s Mike Norris was in second with a 2.53 ERA.
On July 2, he threw a complete game shutout against the Red Sox. On July 6th, he came out of the bullpen to throw 2 2/3 innings of relief. Then on July 13th, he threw another complete game.
Basically whatever Howser needed, May was there to do and both thrived. It was the best year of May’s career, capped off with his first ever October. In the playoffs, he threw a complete game but the Yankees lost Game 2 against Kansas City, 3-2.
Meanwhile in the National League, Don Sutton won his lone ERA title during his 23 year carrer. Sutton’s role with the Dodgers was a little more concrete than May’s. Start games and pile up innings.
He threw 212 1/3 innings for LA, throwing 4 complete games along the way and winning 13 while losing 5. He also had the lowest WHIP in the league. Like May, he did not make the All Star team nor got Cy Young consideration. Jerry Reuss was the staff ace that year.
But Sutton, like he was his whole career, was reliable. He had the biggest highlight of the season at the end. With the Dodgers needing to win out at home to prevent the Astros from clinching the NL West. On October 3, he started game 160 against Houston. He threw 8 strong innings allowing 2 runs. He didn’t get the decision but the Dodgers won in the 10th on Joe Ferguson’s walk off homer.
Two days later on the final day of the season, the Dodgers had the lead in the 9th with a chance to finish the year tied with Houston. The Astros were rallying off of Steve Howe. Sutton came in with 2 outs and 2 on and LA up 4-3. He got Denny Walling for his only save of the year, forcing a one game playoff.
The Astros would win the one game showdown but Sutton finished the year with the ERA title.
He would go on to win 324 games, bouncing between the Astros, Brewers, A’s, Angels and back to the Dodgers in the 1980’s.
Sutton would eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame. I am not sure if I agree with his selection, seeing it is mainly based on his 300 wins and not any dominance in his career. But I am not going to protest. There are bigger fish to fry. And no doubt Rudy May has caught some bigger fish on his boat.
Please enjoy Rudy May’s appearances on my podcast.