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'GOD MAY BE A FOOTBALL FAN'
Ron Fimrite
July 12, 1982
Such provocative utterances have stamped Don Sutton, former Dodger and current Astro ace pitcher, as a real piece of work
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July 12, 1982

'god May Be A Football Fan'

Such provocative utterances have stamped Don Sutton, former Dodger and current Astro ace pitcher, as a real piece of work

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But the carefully nurtured image of the Dodgers as one big happy family suffered irreparable damage. From then on, it was Dodger Black and Blue. Sutton insists now, four years later, that the incident was "insignificant, irrelevant. It was something that came on gradually and basically had nothing to do with baseball. The whole thing was over and done with in three days as far as he and I were concerned. I never considered the Dodgers family. I only have one family."

After his initial flippant dismissal, an obviously disturbed Sutton apologized publicly for the incident four days later in the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium. His eyes were moist as he read from a prepared statement: "For the last few days, I have thought of nothing else and I've tried over and over to figure out why this all had to happen. The only possible reason I can find is that my life isn't being lived according to what I know, as a human being and a Christian, to be right. If it were, then there would not have been an article in which I would offend any of my teammates."

"Substantially, that incident proved that I'm a human being who makes mistakes," Sutton said recently. "I probably make more than the average person. But I try to rectify them. I'm spontaneous. When a situation arises, I respond off the top of my head. If I find I'm wrong, I probably don't admit it right away, but I still have no qualms about rectifying the wrong. I find it better to respond and rectify than not respond at all. If you're going to be a spontaneous person, you've got to be willing to say you're sorry."

Garvey apparently wasn't convinced that Sutton was sorry enough. The apology, he said, was public, but it wasn't made to him personally. In some conversations after that, Garvey would make references to the jealousy of certain teammates. Asked recently to comment on his present feelings toward Sutton, Garvey said, "I'd rather not talk about that," an astonishing response from someone who almost never pleads no comment. Sutton isn't one to hold a grudge, but in extolling the virtues of his new Astro teammates a short time ago, he said dryly, "We don't have any players on this team who think everyone else is jealous of them. We don't have any soap operas."

The year 1978 was a troublesome one for Sutton. Only a month before the Garvey imbroglio, umpire Harvey tossed him out of a game with St. Louis for pitching a defaced baseball to Mike Tyson. Tyson had flied out to rightfield to end the sixth inning, and when Dodger Right-fielder Rick Monday rolled the ball back into the infield, Harvey scooped it up and gave it the once-over. Twice, earlier in the game, he had warned Sutton to stop throwing imperfect balls to Cardinal hitters. Now he felt he had the evidence to eject the pitcher. Tyson was ordered to hit again, and, with Lance Rautzhan pitching in Sutton's stead, he flied out to Monday once more to end the inning a second time. Sutton, who had been seeking his 200th win, was now subject to an automatic 10-day suspension, according to baseball rules. He threatened to sue Harvey and all of baseball, if necessary, for depriving him of his livelihood if the suspension were to be imposed. It never was, and the "scuff ball" caper took its place in the annals of the bizarre.

Sutton's four-year, $1 million contract with the Dodgers was to expire in 1980, and before that season he began campaigning for a trade. He was merely seeking a business advantage, he now explains. If the Dodgers shipped him to another team, he could negotiate a new contract from the strength of his impending free-agent status. He could get a handsome contract without bothering with free agency. At the same time, he rather hoped the Dodgers would see the light and sign him to a respectable new contract—say, $4 million for five years. Sutton says now that though a trade intrigued him, he basically wanted to finish out his career with the team he had always played for, setting team records that might never be matched, having his uniform number retired and being feted at a night in his honor, as Drysdale had been before him. He knew that it means more to be honored by a team with such a rich history than by one deficient in tradition.

But the Dodgers held fast to an offer of two years at $500,000 per. Baseball is still a business, and Sutton was 35, as used as his old Chevy. (Garvey, ironically, finds himself in a similar situation this year as his contract expires.) Miffed, Sutton reported late to spring training in 1980, a holdout of sorts. This created more unrest among players who, partly because of Garvey vs. Sutton, felt free at last to be their testy selves. "I'm sick and tired of his act," said Catcher Joe Ferguson of Sutton's holdout. "I have been for 10 years, and he knows it." Sutton, much amused, turned the tables on Ferguson only a short time later when the catcher asked to be traded. "I'm sick and tired of your act," he told Ferguson.

Sutton did report to Vero Beach that year, and all he did during the season was win 13 games and lose only five while leading the National League with a 2.21 ERA. But the Dodgers didn't retain their rights to him in the free-agent draft that November and, after some flirtation with George Steinbrenner and a parting shot at the Dodgers for not practicing what they preach about family togetherness, Sutton signed with the Astros for a reported $3.15 million over four years (with the team having the option to renew after the third year). Nevertheless, it was a wrenching experience, leaving the only major league organization he had ever known. It was even tougher on his family, he concedes, because the Dodgers have always been kind to women and children. "I think if Patti and the kids [Daron, 12, and Staci, 8] had had their way, they would have signed on for another year with the Dodgers and let me go to Houston."

That, as a matter of fact, is nearly what happened. The Sutton marriage had been on rocky ground for some time. Patti is an emotional, outgoing person who requires a certain amount of attention. Sutton, a stoic Southerner for all of his Southern California affability, is more closed, guarded. From childhood he has been an organized, goal-directed person. Everything had its place—job, family, religion. The sensitivity he now so openly expresses was submerged. Even his old friends on the Dodgers found Sutton to be a piece of work. "I don't know that anybody here was ever that close to Don," says Ron Cey, "but then I could say the same thing about myself. So much of our lives is public, you keep certain parts private. One moment you feel you know and understand Don, the next you don't." Says Hooton, "Don has about as complex a personality as anyone I've ever met. He's a very generous individual who'll talk to anyone while the rest of us just say 'Hi' and keep going. At the same time, he's an extremely competitive person."

Days at the Sutton household began with Don closing Patti off by reading the newspaper at the breakfast table. His life apart from her on the road had always created problems. There was talk of other women. Patti admitted in a recent interview with PEOPLE magazine that she had had misgivings from the very moment of their wedding on Oct. 11, 1968. She had been raised in comfortable affluence in Southern California; he had risen from tenant farmboy to glamorous major league star. When he told her on one of their first dates that he played for the Dodgers, she answered brightly, "Oh, yes, I've seen the lights [of Dodger Stadium] from the freeway." She was afraid she had married a stranger. He, like many a man before him, couldn't seem to figure out just what it was women really wanted. Didn't she have everything—money, kids, a nice home?

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