Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"Chatting With A Hall Of Famer" Part Two

As we begin Part Two of "Chatting With A Hall of Famer", Sohna and I are sitting in The Press Box at RFK Stadium talking with Don Sutton on Monday Afternoon, July 2nd--less than two hours before Our Washington Nationals began play against The Chicago Cubs. In Part One--Don was kind enough to reveal some insight into how he grew up, gained his confidence and worked his way up quickly to The Major Leagues. Today, we pick up that conversation with one of his fondest memories.

You've always said that your 6 weeks with The Milwaukee Brewers in 1982, was the finest time of your baseball career. Why?

“They traded for me. And, they traded for me because they thought I could be the difference. I was supposed to make a difference, and I love responsibility. That Ball Club (Harvey's WallBangers) was fun to be around. I constantly said this club is going to The World Series. I wanted to earn my ticket—not just the ride. So, I approached the deal as My Responsibility. Milwaukee is a fun place. If you take where I grew up and pack it into a community, its there. Very simple, very uncomplicated, many wonderful people, neighborhoods where everyone says hello to everybody else. So, the comfort level was there. We got to The World Series. I made six starts. I believe--I went 4-1. And, one of the biggest highlights of my life was beating The Orioles on that final Sunday (1982). The Script turned out exactly as I thought it would, except we didn’t win The World Series. Outside of that six weeks, I can’t think of a time where I had any more fun playing baseball.”

I went to that final game. The Orioles had won three straight from The Brewers. A sweep would give them the AL East Title. Old Memorial Stadium was hopping that day. You, against Jim Palmer. (SBF)

“You did? We came in there with a three game lead, lost a doubleheader on Friday, lost a single game on Saturday. Here we GO!! It was SUDDEN DEATH!!” (We are chuckling over the moment) “Robin Yount told me in the locker room on Sunday Morning. Robin Yount had never said anything—‘Don’t make us have to score 5 to get even and we’ll kick his butt (Palmer).’ He (Yount) homered in the first and homered in the third.”

Having just thirty minutes to cover alot of territory, I wanted to engage Mr. Sutton in his feelings about the Game. So, I decided to pass on many of the historical, well know aspects of his career, feeling his other thoughts would be more revealing. Throughout our time together--"responsibilty" was the underlying subject matter. And, I wanted to ask Don about players today and their accountibility. (SBF)

So, I take it you are not a fan of the “Quality Start”. Pitchers being babied--so to speak. (SBF)

“No, its like telling a kid if you get all “C’s” throughout your High School Career, you are a great student. That’s BULL!!."

So, why has The Game Changed so much? In many respects, the game is all about specialty players. But, in the long run, does it make the game better?(SBF)

“I don’t think it makes the game better. I think it sometimes gives the people with responsibility more built in answers. And, I think its probably the specialization has made The Agents and The Players Association Happy. With Specialization, you need someone in the 7th inning and you need him a lot. So, here is what I want you to pay him. I am not sure players are unhappy with it. Agents are happy with it. Lets face it. People get mad at Agents. But, Agents are not responsible for the integrity of the game. They are responsible for getting their guy the best deal out there. For us to dreamingly and ideally think they want the integrity of the game to be protected, is a bunch of bull!!”

“Their job is to get their guy the best deal. So, The Integrity of The Game, The Structure of The Game, and The History of The Game--that’s not something of their concern. I don’t see it changing either. I think it’s just too easy for everyone to leave it the way it is. Somebody is going to have to be a radical to change it. I just don’t see anyone doing it. Why? Because, first thing we would do, is go down (to the Locker Room) with a camera. True? (Sohna and I are shaking our heads yes, chuckling). You can’t go to the bathroom now without a camera or a microphone there. So, you have to have some ready made answers.”

But, its got to be hard for you—as a player that went out there every single day, the same with Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson—pitchers that wanted to go the distance each time out? (SBF)

“That’s what we were taught. That’s the way we were raised. We were taught in the Minor Leagues. This is YOUR GAME. Unless there is a bone sticking through, don’t come out of the ball game. THIS IS YOUR GAME!! And, I think it sometimes hurts me a little to hear a kid say ‘I just want to give them 5 or 6 good innings.’ And, I always say ‘Are we playing 9?’ Why not give them nine innings. Or 10. Or 11, if you leave it all out there. Now, I know I am a dinosaur. I am. I am a dinosaur (almost apologetically). But, I think when you are raising kids—if you set the bar low—they will perform at whatever standard you set. So, we are setting the bar low, everywhere. We are raising kids to be content with going 5 or 6 innings. And, twice as many injuries as ever before. So, in my mind—it ain’t working.”

The Skills of the game itself, to me, have eroded. Simple things, like bunting, are a lost art form? (SBF)

“Well, I think guys are rushed to The Major Leagues so rapidly that it hurts their development. You use to have to earn your right to be here (The Majors). And, you earned your right by becoming proficient. How do you go from the 10th Grade to the 11th Grade? You get good grades, and you had to earn those good grades. There was not the automatic pass. I think now our expectations have been lowered for a number of reasons.”

“One—We have to give kids a lot of money to play. And, where you get your return is here (The Big Leagues), than in The Minor Leagues. When you give a kid $2 Million, he’s not earning you any money at Potomac (Nationals Single A Affiliate), or Columbus (Clippers AAA Team). You get a return on your investment at The Major League Level. So, I think there is an applied pressure to get them here in a hurry. And, getting them here in a hurry means, more and more Big League Managers & Coaches have to teach skills. There is far more teaching at this level than there ever was. And, if you listen to Manny (Acta—Nationals Manager), he always says ‘I Preach & I Teach Everyday. I Preach & I Teach.’ That use to be the guys (coaches) jobs at AA & AAA. You use to hand this guy (Manny Acta) a finish product, 25 of them—and let him go run the race.”

“But, expansion, shortage of talent, a lot of money, has changed all of that.”

Having mentioned Manny Acta, I have to say he’s done a pretty good job of handling a difficult situation—one where many others would have lost their cool. (SBF)

“He has been WONDERFUL!--for this Ball Club. I can’t think of another personality that’s as perfect for a ball club as Manny Acta is right now. He does not accept less than 100% effort. He’s not contented that the ball club is the same as it was last year. But, he’s not going to single out and embarrass anybody because the performance level overall is up. If you are not going to give him 100%--that’s the only thing he will embarrass you on. He does not judge people on their varying levels of skill, but he will expect an accountable effort. That’s fair. You don’t have to be brilliant or a spectacular player to put 100% effort into the game.”

Ryan Zimmerman has struggled this season, should we worry? (SBF)

“The hard part for this ball club because of the personality of this ball club--is that everyone of them wants to be the one who jump starts it. The hardest part is separating that responsibility. The best thing he (Ryan Zimmerman) can do is, and this may sound selfish—is to separate his responsibility as a player from the overall well being of the ball club. I have debated this with a number of people.”

“If I was putting together a ball club, I would want 25 guys who wanted to go to The Hall Of Fame. I would want 25 very selfish players--in as far as their accomplishments were concerned. But, I don’t want a SINGLE PLAYER who would do that at the expense of the 24 others. But, I would definitely want 25 guys who wanted to go to The Hall of Fame.”

How about Dimitri Young?

“Dimitri Young is the best FEEL GOOD story of the year. It would have been a total injustice if he had not gone to The All Star Game. I know its been written a lot, but it’s the greatest example of second chance. He’s the greatest example of believing in somebody. He’s a great example of, if you give him a chance, he knows how to turn his life around. Let’s face it; he battled everything—diabetes, possible drug addiction, personal problems and anger management. Right there, I think baseball is number five on his list of concerns. But, he’s worked through all five of them and I am proud to call him my friend.”

Speaking of The All Star Game—you don’t feel every team deserves to have a representative?

“Yes, if you have a lousy ball club, and no one is doing good, why should they go to The All Star Game? The All Star Game is supposed to be The Elite; it’s not supposed to be just your best player. Part of it is being most popular, because the fans vote makes them more a part of it (the selection). But, it used to be a reward for performance. We’ve (MLB) changed that somewhat as we get more and more interactive. But, I also think it’s an absolute FARCE that an exhibition game (which The All Star Game is) determines who takes home field advantage in The World Series.”

“I have been in television for 19 years. I know why we did that (laughing). YOU”VE GOT TO HYPE THE RATINGS!!” And, of course, if I worked for Fox (NETWORK), I wouldn’t be saying that. But, I would still believe its WRONG.”

Lets turn to your broadcasting—how did you develop your style? (SBF)

“I have no idea. I am not a professional broadcaster. I am the eyes and the ears of those at home, hopefully. I assume if there is a pitch, they are watching the picture. So, I am assuming you are seeing what is going on. If there is something going on behind (the scene) or a little different—I try to explain it. But, I am not a formal broadcaster. I want to be your line between the game here and you at home. That’s all I want to be.”

"It helped that I started out my first 18 years (broadcasting) experience in Atlanta with a good ball club and a guy who I think is the best kept secret in America, as far as broadcasting is concerned—Pete Van Wieren. Nobody that does what we do is more passionate about the game. Nobody that does what we do loves the history and appreciates it anymore. And, nobody in our business has a smaller ego. So, he was my teacher, my friend and my leader. We got to the point where we could complete each other’s thoughts. I think whatever skills I developed; I developed because of his influence. I am not a professional broadcaster. I am not a Columbia or any of those other places Graduate. I just watch the game and talk about it. Hopefully, the feeling you get is of a couple of us sitting around, having a beer, talking about it—and you are eves dropping. If that's the feeling provided—then I have done my job right.”

I have said many times—listening to you is like sitting around the dinner table as friends chat. (SBF)

“Yes, that’s what it’s supposed to be. Because, if I am beating you to death with stats and stuff and I am trying to tell you HOW GOOD I AM—Instead of how good they (the players) are—then MY EGO is in the wrong place. It should never be about me. It should always be about those guys (pointing out to the field) and the game.”

OK—here we go—“The Lightning Round.” I will mention some famous players—you give your first thought about them. (SBF)

“Oh, Crap!” (Laughing)

Hank Aaron—“Class, elegant and the perfect representative of the History of Baseball.”

Willie Mays—“Maybe, the second most complete player I ever played against. He played the game with an unabashed joy—and that made him fun to watch. Baseball was a fun game for him to play. He played it like he was a little kid, and he played it well.”

Frank Robinson
—“I loved playing against Frank--‘The Intimidator’. The consummate street brawler when the game was at hand. You couldn’t back him off the plate. And, if the game was on the line—he was going to hit a homer, or get hit. He always battled you.”

Willie McCovey—“I felt like he was 11 Feet Tall and his bat four feet long. I didn’t have to make a mistake for him to hurt me or someone 500 Feet Away.”

Roberto Clemente
—“The Most Complete Player and The BEST PLAYER I ever played against during my time. I would come out early to watch him take batting practice and throw.”

Bob Gibson—“Maybe, when you look up competitor for pitchers, his picture is next to the definition (Everyone laughing). A miserable, mean person when he was pitching. And, one of my BEST FRIENDS now.”

Juan Marichal—“Never got as much credit for being as great as he was. His was a part of two accomplishments in baseball we don’t talk enough about. The fact that he could pitch (Hall of Famer) in conditions like that at Candlestick (Park—San Francisco Giants former windy ball yard)---walk 30 guys in 300 innings is REMARKABLE!!”

Ferguson Jenkins—“That he could have won 20 Games, six times, in that bandbox called Wrigley Field (Chicago) is also just as REMARKABLE!!”

Quickly, we were running out of time. I had many more Names to drop to Don, but The PR Folks had already told us Mr. Sutton had to go get set for The MASN Broadcasts—so I threw out three final names—all current players.

Roger Clemens—“As far as skill is concerned, I have great admiration for his preparation, skills and accomplishments. But, I think he’s abused the system.”

Greg Maddux
—“Picasso, Michelangelo—the smartest pitcher I was ever around.”

Finally—Tommy Glavine
—whom I just love (SBF)—“He’s the Cary Grant of Pitchers now. He’s the consummate professional. Whatever job you give him in baseball, you are going to get his preparation. You are going to get 100% of his effort. And, he’s going to stand up and face you regardless of the results afterwards. He is “The Gentlemen’s Gentleman’. I would entrust him with ANYTHING IN MY LIFE TO HIM. In fact, I would TRUST MY LIFE TO HIM.”

Sohna and I were defintely out of time. Don Sutton needed to go to work. He had graciously chatted with us for over 30 minutes. But, I had to get in one final question about The Game We All Love.

I know that you love the game. I love the game. Is the game different now than what it was, when you grew up? (SBF)

“Yes, a lot of decisions made now, are made because of the exposure of the game. And, you have to have answers for that exposure. The Good Players are as good as anyone ever was. The players that play for the shear joy of playing—still play the same way. And, when you look around at some of the young players today, I think our game is in good hands. I think there is a class of young guys, now a days, coming in that are passionate about the game and treat it with respect. This Group of Stars coming in right now, I thing is different. That’s promising.”

That comment, officially concludes "Chatting With A Hall of Famer". Would we have loved to stay longer? You better believe it! We could have chatted with him all night long-- Sohna and I were enjoying Don Sutton's company. And, he was having just as much fun, commenting back. Maybe at a later date--we can all get together, once again, to follow up on a few more topics. Sure, I wanted to ask him about his famous nickname "Black & Decker"--for all the chatter throughout his fabulous career of his supposed doctoring of the baseball. What it was like for him that night Reggie Jackson hit three straight Home Runs in Consecutive At-Bats against his Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1977 World Series? Winning his 300th Game and his Induction Day at The Hall of Fame? Sure, I would have also loved to get his feelings about Barry Bonds? Those questions alone--would have used up a majority of our given time--30 minutes. Under the circumstances, it was essential to cover as much ground as possible.

We found it more important to get a sense about Don Sutton--The Man--The Broadcaster--we enjoy each and every night while Our Washington Nationals are on the road. And, gather his feelings about the game we love--Not directly about the games he played. I hope you understand. And, I hope you found his comments rewarding. Don Sutton is quite the compelling person. His laid backed way, welcomed The African Queen and I into his inner circle--if only for the briefest of moments. Sohna telling Don, as we took pictures: "Now I know why I really, really like you. It’s your background."

As we walked away to head back down to our seats for the July 2nd game--The African Queen stated: "I know why I was attracted to that man from the beginning. Anyone who makes it early in life, to their beloved profession, and still takes the time to go back to school for a formal education earns my respect. Sure, the times were different then, but I can't image many, if any, players of today, doing just that--all the while keeping close ties to their roots."

How The Times Have Changed. Don Sutton is a True Hall Of Famer in Life--whether he played baseball or not.


paul said...

SBF, thanks for all the hard work. My morbid curiosity wants to know about Mr. Sutton's fight with teammate Steve ("He's not my Padre") Garvey! Next time. . . .

Jim H said...


Nicely done. Thanks very much.

Anonymous said...

What I like about Don Sutton is how he makes his points very calmly without any great fanfare. He is very comforting to listen to. Thanks for the nice interview SBF.

SenatorNat said...

Wow - compare your Sutton interview with the cover story of the Wash Post TV Guide this week - yours is 100x better. His persona is truly revealed: what an outstanding man.

Trust in Sutton. All Good.

Anonymous said...

Explain to me why I read the WaPo Sports Section again???

An Briosca Mor said...

tom said: "Explain to me why I read the WaPo Sports Section again???"

How else are you going to know what's up with the Orioles if you don't?