Cautionary tale as MLB begins the abomination of Sept baseball

Bill Sudakis Sporting News

As the abomination of increased rosters takes place come Sept, tread lightly when you start to get carried away with the players who show up all bright and sparkly. The new toys don’t have warranties and break rather easily. What follows is a story that could be yours, so save yourself some aggravation and don’t get “Sudsied” by the Sandman.

I’ve tried to grow up; I’ve tried to give up the prospects. I know that most will break my heart; the list is endless: Sudakis, Billy Grabarkewitz, Stinson, Von Joshua, Tom Paciorek, John Hale, Ivan De Jesus, Glenn Burke, Rudy Law, Mickey Hatcher, Candido Maldonado (one of my fav’s), Gregg Brock, Franklin Stubbs, Karim Garcia, Mariano Duncan, Ralph Bryant, Jose Gonzalez, Mike Devereaux, Dave Anderson, Jeff Hamilton, Jose Offerman, Billy Ashley, Henry Rodriquez, Roger Cedeno, Wilton Guerrero, Angel Pena, Joel Guzman, Greg Miller, Edwin Jackson, James Loney, and Jerry Sands.

 My spiral into despair started forty-six years ago.

In the summer of 1968, I was nine years old: smart, funny, simply brilliant in all facets of a nine-year old’s life. Little girls wrote their love for me on the chalkboard, boys chose me to pick the teams, older woman asked me to be their Saturday Night skating dates.  My aura shined so brightly I could walk the Black Forest at night without any fear of the danger that lurked within its perimeter. It was said by those who know such things, that  I was the most interesting nine-year-old in the world. I didn’t always drink Kool-Aid but when I did, I drank cherry.

All of that changed on September 3rd, 1968. It was a dark day of discovery for this nine-year-old. I was already a baseball fan, reading everything I could get my hands on. However, in 1968, only baseball cards, the annual Baseball Register, and the weekly Sporting News were available.  Living in Germany, one had to wait about two weeks after the games were played, for the Sporting News to deliver their box scores.  But it was worth it, as every beautiful box score for every game of the prior  week was ready to be devoured.

I had begun my Dodger fandom just as the Dodgers ended their reign of mid -60’s supremacy; 1967 having been a season of transition, and the transition was lost in translation. By 1968, things were getting worse, not better.  Only Don Drysdale’s heroic efforts made that 1968 season bearable. One of the better bar bets for the last forty-six years was Len Gabrielson leading the 1968 team with 10 home runs.  It actually was better than it sounds because, in 1968, no one was hitting home runs.  For two long years, I had only known misery, while all of my older brothers told me story after story about Koufax, Drysdale, Podres, Tommy Davis, Maury Wills, Jm Gilliam, Willie Davis,  and Frank Howard.

One day, after wowing my new 5th grade classmates (I was young for my class) with my utter brilliance., winning the Spelling Bee, kicking the game-winning home run, nailing Carl in Dodgeball, and unfreezing all my friends in tag, I went home – having had enough childhood whims – hoping that my Sporting News had arrived, so I could indulge in my newest hobby, finding out what misery the Dodgers had brought me this week.

During the year, the Dodgers added players from their minor leagues, players like  Bart Shirley, Jim Fairy, and Ted Savage. Shirley and Fairy were as bad as the baseball cards they adorned.  The trio was terrible even for 1968 standards, so I just assumed the minor league system was as bereft of talent as the major league team, and paid it no mind.

This time, however, something was different with the box scores. They were littered with runs.  The Dodgers had won on September 3rd, 10 – 9.  The Dodgers hadn’t scored 10 runs all year, heck, they had only scored nine runs once! There it was, 10 – 9, and they had hit three home runs in the eighth inning.  Willie Crawford had led off with a home run. Wes Parker had made an out. Then some player named Bill Sudakis hit his first major league home run, and Ken Boyer followed with his 2nd home run of the game. That would be Ken Boyers 282nd major league home run, and his last.

Bill Sudakis, who was that? I had no idea and had no way to find out. Google didn’t exist, and the only news I had about the team, was what I read in the Sporting News. Luckily a little weekly recap was written by a beat writer for each team, and they mentioned Sudakis.  That was it, no Brandon Lennox detailing his status from the time he was signed as a free agent in 1964, to his time before hitting the Dodgers on September 3rd. The information was sparse, a 22-year-old switch-hitter, who played 3rd base, with some power. However, it did enlighten me about something I didn’t know existed. Teams on September 1st were able to flaunt the normal roster and bring up as many new players as they saw fit. What an interesting wrinkle I said to myself.  So this baseball game which revolves around rules simply changes the rules for 30 games a year.  Being young and naive, I figured every sport must do the same. Much to my surprise, only baseball changes its rules while the season is being played.  At the time, I thought how cool was this, and for most of my life, September baseball became my favorite time of year. Everything is so new, shiny, and warts have yet to be discovered.

Back to Bill Sudakis. The key word to me was “some power”. Some power! What was power? Baseball to me in 1968 had no power, especially the Dodgers. Big D was throwing 58 scoreless innings, Bob Gibson was going to put up a 1.12 ERA for the season. No one could hit the ball outside of Frank Howard.

Except for Bill Sudakis

Sept 4th – two hits including a triple, Dodgers win 3 – 0, could this guy also run?

Sept  6th – DoubleHeader (Remember those)  – 1st game – No hits, my worst fears were starting to be realized, simply a fast starter. Dodgers still managed to win 6 – 4.

Sept 6th – Nightcap – three hits, two doubles, Dodgers win again 8 -6, the excitement was building again.

Sept 7th – Dodgers lose 4 – 2, winning streak over, but Sudakis manages two hits, including a double. I was a little irritated to see him batting 7th. What the hell was Alston thinking?

Sept 8th – Dodgers win 3 -2 to get back on the winning track but Sudakis goes hitless.

Sept 9th – Dodgers win 10 – 1. They scored 10 runs for the 2nd time in the season, the 2nd time this week, and Bill Sudakis was the reason why. Sudsy hit a grand slam off Dodger Killer, Larry Jaster.

Sept 10th – Dodgers win 3 – 0 behind Bill Singer. Sudakis is now hitting 3rd, he collects two hits.

The gloom of the 1968 season had been wiped clean by one week of Bill Sudakis heroics. For the rest of September, I would pounce upon the Sporting News to find out his latest exploits. Sudakis finished the season hitting in seven of his last eight games. I went into the winter firmly convinced that Bill Sudakis would be the great Dodger hitter for my generation and no longer would I have to listen to how great Tommy Davis would have been if he hadn’t broken his leg.

1969 was different but it wasn’t because of Bill Sudakis. Sudakis never again came close to having a month like he had in his debut.  He was a regular third baseman in 1969 and garnered over 500 at bats. It would be the only time in his career that he would be a regular. His star had only shined for a brief moment, but others came to fill the void. Ted Sizemore would win ROY in 1969, and new names showed up by the half-dozen. Garvey (20),  Russell (20), Valentine (19), Grabarkewitz (23), Buckner (19),  and Joshua (21) would all get some playing time in 1969. Many of them would not show up again for several years, but if you loved prospects, 1969 gave you a taste of the future.

From that point on, prospects became my focal point.  It also became my undoing. I’ve spent my life daydreaming about the Dodgers, reading about the Dodgers, reading even more about the prospects, getting my hopes up, getting my hopes dashed.  My brain crashed under the strain of false hopes.  My aura dimmed, my brilliant brain unable to process all of my prospect information rebooted with nary a memory of my prior brilliance, only Dodger prospects remained.  Girls no longer wrote my name on the chalkboard, only the teacher for being late, or failing to turn in assignments.  A productive life was no longer in the cards.  I had been “Sudsied”.

Don’t let it happen to you.

Postmortem:

When I look back, I had a right to be excited. Bill Sudakis put up an OPS+ of 165 in 102 plate appearances.  By the summer of ’69, I had moved back to the States and was able to watch baseball for the very first time. On TGOTW of May 25th, I saw the Dodgers play on TV for the first time in my life.  Bill Sudakis hit a home run and Don Sutton threw a shutout.

It seemed only fitting

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