Cooperstown

Sutter, Ellsworth were stingiest of Cubs, but their pitching feats don’t get enough credit

By on October 18, 2022

Bruce Sutter

Bruce Sutter

Bruce Sutter and Dick Ellsworth were united in death recently with not else much in common other than a couple of salient facts.

The pair were practically the stingiest pitchers in modern Cubs history in one season — both counseled by crafty pitching coach Fred Martin — who got scant recognition for their feats at Wrigley Field and team events after their careers.

Hall of Famer Sutter died too young at 69. Ellsworth lived to a riper old age at 82. But if you looked around at Cubs Conventions and other alumni gatherings from the mid-1980s, they were not around, given despite their status in Cubs annals for two of the best pitching seasons ever. More about that in a little while.

Master of the most deceptive pitch this side of the knuckleball, split-finger fastball master Sutter was the first reliever to win the Cy Young Award, in 1979, as a Cub, a feat that unfortunately speeded his departure out of town. Ellsworth, at his best the epitome of a “stylish left-hander,” was the last Cubs southpaw to win 20 games, in 1963. No, two-no-hitters Ken Holtzman and World Series champion mentor Jon Lester never got to 20 wins as Cubs.

When “stingy” is broken down further, no other Cubs pitcher with the exception of Jake Arrieta can compare with Sutter’s and Ellsworth’s one-season accomplishments.

Sutter was taught the forkball-type splitter by Martin in 1973 in Quincy, Ill., the Cubs Class A affiliate in the Midwest League. The savvy pitching tutor had been banished to the Cubs minor-league system over an apparent personal issue after serving as Ellsworth’s ’63 big-league pitching coach. Martin has never gotten the credit he deserves for being connected to two of the Cubs’ best pitching seasons in franchise history.

Owner Bill Veeck hired Martin to be White Sox pitching coach in 1979 at the recommendation of new player-manager Don Kessinger. who knew how Martin had positively impacted pitchers from his Cubs shortstop days. Unfortunately, Martin died of cancer in June 1979, “(He) had the unusual faculty of being able to teach,” said Veeck after Martin’s death “The extremely sad point of it is he helped our young pitchers so much and won’t be able to see the fruition of his teaching.”

After learning this new pitch from Martin, Sutter was called up to the Cubs almost out of desperation a month into the 1976 season. The Cubs pitching staff had endured a number of fearsome bombardments, including Mike Schmidt’s four-homer game on April 17. Late-inning relievers like Mike Garman, Oscar Zamora and Darold Knowles had been found wanting.

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“Better late than never” Dick Allen 1942-2020

By George Castle CBM Historian
and David Fletcher, CBM President
December 7, 2020

“Better late than never” truly defined Dick Allen’s baseball life.

“Late,” but properly credited, can sum up Allen’s epitaph. The man who likely saved the White Sox for Chicago with his Most Valuable Player season in 1972 died at 78 on Monday, Dec. 7, after a long illness in Wampum, Pa., Allen’s hometown. And now the statistical perspectives will come forth to show Allen is Hall of Fame worthy — unfortunately, posthumously.

Allen was the controversial slugger recognized as one of the game’s best all-around players — a seven-time All-Star, an MVP winner (1972), and a Rookie of the Year winner (1964 — in his 15-year career spanning an era of pitching dominance. Yet decades later the clearer eye of history could put his performance and his impact on baseball in a more proper perspective. He was a man ahead of his times who overcame racism with dignity and grace.

When Allen was on top of his game, he was one of the most feared sluggers in baseball. During the 10 seasons between 1964 and 1973, Allen had an Adjusted OPS (OPS+) of 165, which was the highest-ranking OPS+ in the majors during that decade. That figure was greater than 11 Hall of Famers who played during that era, including No. 2 Hank Aaron (161), No. 3 Willie McCovey (161), No. 5 Harmon Killebrew (152), No. 6 Willie Stargell (152), No. 7 Roberto Clemente (151), No. 8 Mays (148) and No. 10 Al Kaline (140.)

During that decade-long span, Allen averaged 29 homers and 89 RBIs while hitting .299 with a .940 OPS (on base Percentage + slugging percentage.) Only Aaron’s .941 OPS was better over that span.

Dick Allen holds 1972 MVP award at the June 2012 tribute to Allen at US Cellular Field

Dick Allen holds 1972 MVP award at the June 2012 tribute to Allen at US Cellular Field

Allen should have been honored continually on the South Side for his 1972 Most Valuable Player season that teamed with broadcaster Harry Caray to save the White Sox for Chicago. But not until 40 years later was Allen properly recognized for his heroic one-man show in a special tribute and retrospective press conference at US Cellular Field set up by the Chicago Baseball Museum in June 2012.

The man tagged with the nickname “Richie,” after Phillies demigod Richie Ashburn, and not his preferred Dick, was Philadelphia’s first star African-American baseball player in 1964, almost a decade after top players of color broke through in many other big-league cities. He produced, but had clashes aplenty and was booed. Both the Phillies fans and front office did not really know what they had. Time travel to pandemic-upended 2020 before the Phillies franchise properly honored Allen and retired his No. 15 with the Phillies on Sept. 3 at Citizens Bank Ballpark. Allen finally got the apology and redemption from the City of Philadelphia he had deserved for a half-century.

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