One of the top pitchers of the 1980s, Rick Sutcliffe, who stood at six-feet-seven-inches, was an intimidating presence on the mound. The Missourian won a number of accolades during his baseball career. The three-time All-Star was the National League’s Rookie of the Year winner in 1979 and he won the Cy Young Award in 1984. One of the most unusual Cy Young Award winners, Rick began his Cy Young season in the American League but won the award for his work in the National League.
A first round pick by the Dodgers out of Van Horn High in Kansas City, Missouri, Sutcliffe was rushed to the Majors and made his debut in 1976. He made one start in ’76 and surrendered just two hits in five innings without giving up a run. But Rick spent the entire 1977 season in the bushes and had another brief trial in 1978. In 1979, the 23-year-old won a spot in the Dodgers rotation and rewarded skipper Tommy Lasorda with a terrific rookie season. On his way to winning the National League’s ROTY Award, Rick won 17 games on a 3.46 ERA. He won the ROTY Award in a landslide over Astros speedster Jeffrey Leonard and Scot Thompson of the Cubs.
But sophomore success would not be in the cards. During a rough 1980 season Sutcliffe lost his rotation spot as his ERA swelled to 5.56. Thanks to the player’s strike in 1981, that season was lost to Rick as well. He and skipper Lasorda weren’t the dearest of friends and when he learned that he had been traded to the Cleveland Indians with Jack Perconte after the season for Jorge Orta, he was thrilled. He changed leagues and enjoyed one of his finest seasons his first year with the Tribe.
Although Cleveland wasn’t a contender, Sutcliffe was in top form for the Tribe. He paced the AL in ERA and fewest hits allowed over nine innings. Rick completed six games for the Indians that year and finished fifth in Cy Young voting despite just 14 wins. A valuable workhorse for the Indians the following year, Sutcliffe logged 243 innings. The tall right-hander won 17 games and made his first All-Star team on a poor Cleveland club. But the 1984 season would be a magical one for Rick, although it didn’t start that way.
Sutcliffe began the ’84 season with Cleveland and after 15 starts he had a losing record and a poor 5.15 ERA. He was involved in a trade that sent a number of good players back and forth. Joining Rick in the Cleveland exodus was backstop Ron Hassey and fireman George Frazier while the Cubs shipped young outfielders Joe Carter and Mel Hall as well as right-hander Don Schulze to the Indians. The trade worked well for both clubs as Rick became an instant star in Chicago and Carter was the top offensive force for several years in Cleveland. After his sluggish start, Rick made 20 starts for the Cubs down the stretch and went an amazing 16-1. The trade for Rick was the main reason the Cubs captured their divisional flag that year. Rick, who won a combined 20 games during the season, added another victory in the NLCS but his Cubs lost to the Padres. For his amazing down-the-stretch heroics, Sutcliffe won the NL’s Cy Young Award.
Sutcliffe missed some action in 1985 and couldn’t get going after his time on the shelf in 1986. But he was back on track in 1987. That year he paced the National League in wins and was named to his second All-Star team. He was engaged in a three-man dogfight for the Cy Young Award with Big Daddy Rick Reuschel and Steve Bedrosian. Big Daddy was awarded 54 points, Sutcliffe 55 and Bedrosian 57 for the winning total. Although he was denied the Cy Young Award in 1987, it started a string of healthy seasons for Rick who established himself as the go-to guy for quality innings in Wrigley. Rick made 32 starts in ’88 and completed a personal high 12 of those games. An All-Star again in 1989, Rick won 16 games for the Cubs who captured their division. He made one start against the Giants in the NLCS but was tagged with a no-decision. The Cubs lost the series. It was Sutcliffe’s last postseason action.
After missing nearly all of the 1990 season, Rick came back and had a decent year in 1991. The Cubs felt he would no longer be a reliable innings eater like he had been in the past and allowed him to leave as a free agent. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles and showed the baseball world he could still log the innings. For the Birds Rick worked in 237 frames and paced the AL in games started. He won 16 games for Baltimore but it would be his last good season. The Orioles had a strong offense and Rick managed 10 wins for them in 1993 despite an ERA close to 6.00. He pitched one final year with the Cardinals before calling it a career.
W 171/L 139/PCT .552/ERA 4.08/G 392/CG 72/SHO 18/IP 2,698/H 2,662/BB 1,081/SO 1,679