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No one has to ask Rick Sutcliffe if Oct. 3, 1981 was the low point of his baseball career. "It would have been the low point of anybody's career," he says. On that memorable day, Sutcliffe said goodby to the Los Angeles Dodgers by making a shambles of manager Tom Lasorda's office and screaming, "I'll never——play for you again!"
"I'll probably be remembered more for that than anything else I ever do," a remorseful Sutcliffe said the other afternoon at Chicago's Wrigley Field. "It'll always be, 'Hey, you're the guy that turned Lasorda's desk over.' That's an unfortunate thing to be remembered for."
But he's mistaken when he predicts he'll be remembered for nothing else. Since going to the Cubs from Cleveland on June 13, the red-bearded giant (he's 6'7") has won 12 games and lost only one, helping his team to a 5½-game lead in the National League East at week's end. Cub fans may someday remember Rick Sutcliffe as the midseason acquisition that made the miracle come true. This would put him on a pedestal with Hank Borowy, who went 11-2 for Chicago after coming over from the Yankees in July 1945, the last time the Cubs won a pennant.
The trade that brought Sutcliffe, a six-year veteran with career marks of 69-46 and a 3.87 ERA, reliever George Frazier and catcher Ron Hassey to the Cubs in exchange for four players, including young outfielders Mel Hall and Joe Carter, was one of Chicago's slickest moves ever. But fans wondered—still wonder—if general manager Dallas Green hadn't gambled away the club's future. Sutcliffe, already making $900,000 a year plus incentives, will become a free agent in October and he will surely want more money—much more. "It wasn't just another deal," says Cub manager Jim Frey. "It was a big deal; it took a lot of nerve."
How much nerve? Just consider the following:
•With Cleveland, Sutcliffe was off to a 4-5 start with an unsightly 5.15 ERA. Tormented by an infected tooth, in early May Sutcliffe lost 17 pounds, his control, his stuff, his equilibrium and, for a while, the hearing in his right ear.
•Over his last two full seasons, Sutcliffe walked 200 batters, more than any other pitcher in the American League.
•Sutcliffe is what Cub pitching coach Billy Connors calls a "wrist wrapper"—a pitcher who bends the wrist on his throwing hand sharply inward during his windup. "Usually when you see a guy do that, he has arm troubles," Connors says. "Most organizations won't sign somebody with that kind of problem."
•Although he later changed his mind, Sutcliffe last season exercised his right as a five-year veteran and demanded that the Indians trade him. The rules allow a player to list six clubs he will not play for. Among his six rejects Sutcliffe named...the Chicago Cubs.
This season, though, Sutcliffe was desperate to escape the last-place Indians, even though he gives them credit for taking him from L.A. three years ago. "I picked up 25 games in one night," he says. "That's a Houdini type of move!"