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The Sports Daily > Burning River Baseball
All-Time Indians: Rick Sutcliffe
Name: Richard Lee Sutcliffe Position: Starting Pitcher
Tribe Time: 1982-1984 Number: 43
DOB: June 21, 1956
Accolades: 1983 All-Star, 1984 NL Cy Young, Top 5 Cy Young (1982)
Stats W L W% ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO K/9 FIP WHIP
Best Season (1982) 14 8 .636 2.96 34 27 216 174 71.0 16 98 142 5.9 3.78 1.26
Indians Career 35 24 .593 3.92 85 77 553.2 536 241.0 46 246 360 5.9 3.92 1.41

More than an All-Time Indian, Sutcliffe was an all time great baseball player who played just a small portion of his career in Cleveland. Originally drafted in the first round in 1974 by the Dodgers, Sutcliffe made his MLB debut just two years later with one five inning shut out start for LA. This start was just a preview, however, as he was called up straight from AA, then went back to AAA for all of 1977. He threw 1.2 more scoreless innings in relief in 1978, but otherwise stayed in AAA until he was called up for good in 1979.

Incredibly, he didn’t allow a run from his debut on September 21st, 1976 through April 12th, 1979. Sutcliffe had started in the bullpen in 1979, but was quickly added to the rotation and went on to win 17 games and the NL Rookie of the Year. After two years where he didn’t even resemble this pitcher, the Dodgers traded Sutcliffe to Cleveland in a great deal for the Tribe with Jack Fimple, Jorge Orta and Larry White going to Los Angeles.

In a new league, Sutcliffe immediately turned things around. He lead the AL in ERA and hits per nine in 1981 and finished fifth in Cy Young voting (Pete Vuckovich won despite Dave Stieb having the best season). His 2.96 ERA would, aside for a couple sub-3.00 seasons by Bert Blyleven, be the Indians best until Charles Nagy matched him in 1992.

Much of Sutcliffe’s success came late in the season including a stretch of five games to end the year when he allowed a 1.59 ERA and a .178 average against. This success would continue into 1983 somewhat as he threw two complete game shut outs in his first 13 starts (3.42 ERA over that span) and went into his last start of June with a 9-2 record. This performance earned him a spot in the 1983 All-Star Game (he didn’t pitch, but Stieb earned the win), but wouldn’t last much longer. After allowing eight runs against Detroit on June 18th, he would have an extremely rough July before having a slight resurgence in August where he had a stretch of seven games where he allowed just a 2.06 ERA and .216 average against over 48 innings.

Just when it looked like he would finish the season hot, Sutcliffe allowed five or more runs in five of his last six games to balloon his ERA to 4.29 to end the year and leave his career in question.

Sutcliffe was set to become a free agent following the 1984 season, so with the Indians nowhere near contention, the best move was to have him start the season strong, then move him for pieces for the future. He did start off extremely strong, but it didn’t last long. Five starts in he had a 2.52 ERA and two complete games, but he didn’t have a single great game in his next ten before he was moved to Chicago on June 13th.

By trading him early in the season rather than waiting for the deadline, the Indians likely increased their pay day for Sutcliffe and it certainly was a good one. For a few months of a struggling pitcher, the Indians returned a star outfielder in Joe Carter and another starting outfielder in Mel Hall in addition to Don Schulze and Darryl Banks.

The Cubs, who were competing for the postseason, likely also would say they got the better of the deal. Sutcliffe finished the year going 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA and a 9.3 K/9 despite never having a K/9 near nine before in his career. For this, he won the NL Cy Young despite only making 20 starts and he would go on to go 1-1 in the postseason with a 3.38 ERA against the Padres in a losing effort in the NLCS.

At the end of the season, Sutcliffe would resign with Chicago, compounding the importance of the trade. He would stay there through 1991, go to two more All-Star Games and appear in the postseason once more in 1989. He won 18 games to lead the NL in 1987, then won 16 more in 1989 (both years he went to the All-Star Game) and ultimately finished his career with a record of 171-139.

Sutcliffe was truly dominant from 1984 through 1989 (excluding 1986), but after missing most of 1990 due to injury, he struggled at the age of 35 in 1991. A free agent at the end of the season, he would sign with the Orioles where he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball for two years. His prime was long gone and after two years in Baltimore, he finished out in St. Louis in 1994 with the worst season of his 18 year Major League career.

Following his playing career, Sutcliffe became an announcer, first for San Diego, then ESPN and MLB. He had a decent period with the Indians and should be remembered at least for bringing Carter to Cleveland, who in turn brought back Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Carlos Baerga in a subsequent trade to San Diego. Between his time in LA, Cleveland and Chicago, however, Sutcliffe built up some impressive numbers and was a long shot for the Hall of Fame, but at least deserving of being on the ballot. He was on a very deep ballot, along with former teammate Blyleven, but only Carlton Fisk and Tony Perez made it in during a year that saw Sutcliffe get just nine votes (1.8%). Seeing that more proficient pitchers Tommy John, Luis Tiant and Jack Morris were on the same ballot an never got in, this seems a fair result, but Sutcliffe still deserves credit for what he was during an extremely long MLB career.