Bill Sudakis – always in my heart
Bill Sudakis was a power bat switch hitting 3rd baseman who arrived in Sept of 1968 with great fanfare. The 1968 Dodgers had an anemic offense, so anemic that Len Gabrielson would lead the team in home runs with a mere 10. That is not a typo, that has been one of the best baseball bar bets over the past fifty years.
Sudakis showed up and smashed three home runs in the month of Sept in just over one hundred plate appearances. That may not seem like a big deal, but it was as many or more home runs than the 1968 Dodger starting 1st baseman, 2nd baseman, and SS. It was only one less than the starting right fielder. In order that was Wes Parker, Paul Popovich, Zoilo Versalles, and Ron Fairly.
Sudakis had been a breath of fresh air to a moribund franchise, and fans looked forward to what Sudakis would do in his first full rookie season of 1969. Sudakis would set the franchise record for home runs by a LAD rookie infielder with fourteen, but for the most part his rookie season fell far short of expectations. His defense was also so bad at 3rd base he was converted to a catcher, and never would be a full-time player again.
His rookie season he amassed 507 plate appearances, after that, 311 would be his plate appearance high water mark. He would have some successful offensive seasons as a part-time player, putting up an OPS+ of 121 in 1970 and 132 in 1973 with Texas. Sudakis could hit home runs when given the opportunity, and though he only hit 59 home runs in his career he would hit a home run every 29 plate appearances. I always felt the Sudakis was never given a fair shake after his rookie season failures. In his two best years he displayed solid power and plate discipline. The reality might be if given more at bats he probably would not have been successful. It would seem that early in his career he was a man without a position but the DH did come early enough for him and while he played some DH, no one would ever make him their full-time DH.
Sudakis always remained one of my favorite players because he was the very first prospect I ever followed. He hit the first home run on TV I ever saw while watching the Dodgers on the game of the week in 1969. He was part of the Dodgers Mod Squad of 1969 – 1972 but he wasn’t around for the success that Bill Russell and Willie Crawford saw with the team as they became a juggernaut starting in 1974.