When Dick Sutcliffe and his wife, Louise, were divorced—Rick was 13—the kids moved in with the Yearouts for good, and Rick was estranged from his father for a time. He remembers being in Phoenix his first year in the Dodger organization and thinking he ought to call his dad. "But I didn't know where he was," he says. "I picked up a newspaper, and there he was on the front page. It said under the photo, 'Mr. Excitement Returns to Manzanita.' " Now retired from racing, Dick Sutcliffe operates a Kansas City trucking firm, Sutcliffe Transfer. Rick is a part owner, while Terry, who pitched behind Rick in the Dodger organization for three years, drives a truck for his dad.
There has also been a reconciliation with Lasorda, although the Dodger manager adamantly refuses to discuss the fireworks Sutcliffe staged in his office three years ago. "It ticks me off every time it's brought up," he snapped recently. "Every time Sutcliffe's name is mentioned, somebody asks me about what happened. That's history. Why don't you ask me about the Lindbergh baby?"
Sutcliffe is much less reticent, although he, too, would like to put the episode behind him. "I'm sorry it happened," he said the other day. "It's kind of embarrassing to have let something get me upset enough to slam a desk over in front of a 60-year-old man." (Actually, Lasorda was only 54, but the point is the same.)
Accounts published at the time attributed Sutcliffe's outburst solely to the fact that he hadn't been named to the Dodger roster for postseason play. (It was the strike season, with the two half-season division champs meeting in a miniseries.) Sutcliffe insists the fuse was lit a month earlier at a meeting with Lasorda, witnessed by Ron Perranoski, the team's pitching coach. "I told him I'd like to have five innings in one game, to see if I could pitch or not," Sutcliffe says. "And he said, 'You've got it.' There were three of us there, and he gave me his word."
By the next-to-last day of the season, however, a frustrated Sutcliffe had gotten to pitch just three innings in two separate games—allowing only one hit—before the playoff roster was released, sans Sutcliffe.
"That's when I went to his office," Sutcliffe says. "I said, 'Why? Why did you lie to me?' And he said, 'The opportunity didn't present itself.' Well, that was the biggest lie I'd ever heard. We were already in the playoffs from our first-half finish, and the Dodgers had brought in a reliever before the seventh inning in 20 of 31 games."
The rest of Sutcliffe's account sounds like a confession sweated out in a police interrogation room: "I remember I stood up. I knocked everything off his desk. I screamed, 'I'll never——play for you again!' I said, 'You lied to me, and you had no reason. I've done everything you've ever asked.' I picked his desk up and turned it over. I grabbed a chair and I was about to smash the wall with it...."
Ah, the wall. Lasorda uses the walls of his office to display treasured photographs of himself with various celebrities. "I saw the picture of Frank Sinatra, and I felt I'd seen enough of him," Sutcliffe remembers. "But before I could throw the chair at the wall I decided that having the Dodgers mad at me was bad enough. Having Frank Sinatra mad at me also might have been a little dangerous."
Lasorda's parting Dodger Blue Curse, Sutcliffe says, still rings in his ears. "He said, 'You've got no right being upset at me. The way you've pitched, you don't even belong in the big leagues!' " Thus, on Dec. 9, 1981, did the Dodgers exile Rick Sutcliffe to Cleveland.
As an Indian, Sutcliffe gained a reputation as a prankster, giving roommate and curveball master Bert Blyleven a pie in the face during a TV show, pouring wet, sticky stuff into rookies' shoes, and aiding Blyleven and Frazier in the testing of a water-balloon slingshot built from surgical tubing. On the more serious side, he took an active role in the Indians' chapter of the Baseball Chapel, which he calls "one of the neatest things around." He also began to commit a healthy portion of his own energy and money to various charities, his favorites being the Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. "I give as much of my time as I can," he says, "because there's such a short time I'll be wearing this uniform. When I take it off, kids won't listen to me anymore."