My first Brother in Arms game

Reading Jon Weisman’s Brother in Arms was like reading my own history with the Dodgers. It took a few chapters to get there but once Jon reached Don Sutton I was with the man who started my Dodger chapter at Dodger Stadium.

When I came to Los Angeles in the spring of 1970, Don Sutton had yet to turn into the HOF he would become. Entering 1970 he had been eclipsed by 1969 20 game winner Bill Singer and yet to show he was even better than Claude Osteen.  Don Drysdale had retired in 1969 leaving only Little D to carry on the D tradition.  As Jon notes:

Sutton began the 1970s with more sparkling moments in an otherwise disappointing year.

Luckily for me, I was able to witness one of those sparkling moments in 1970. Not the one Jon would write about on July 17th when Don struck out twelve Mets but an earlier incandescent moment in the middle of June.

We arrived in Los Angles in late May but with my Dad and brothers taking care of business back in Virginia I had to wait until June 16th to see my first Dodger game.  My Dad had taken me to several games at Robert Kennedy Stadium in Washington DC to see the Senators and Frank Howard (bat day was something else) but I’d never been to Dodger Stadium when he took me for my first game on June 16th. I was eleven years old and the Dodgers consumed me.  The Dodgers were playing the Pirates and Don Sutton was going against Bob Veale. Bob was a big left-handed pitcher for the Pirates and a formidable foe. Veale would pitcher over 200 innings seven straight years from 1964 – 1970. These Pirates had the great Pirates names of HOF Willie Stargell, HOF Roberto Clemente, HOF Bill Mazeroski, Matty Alou, Richie Hebner, Manny Sanguillan and future Dodger Al Oliver.  One quick link. If you have never read the Josh Wilker Baseball Gods story on Richie Hebner, you need to click on this. You will thank me, it is one of the best things ever written on the web. 

Sadly I didn’t get to see Roberto Clemente, looking at his game logs from 1970 he must have had a minor injury because he didn’t play from June 15th – June 21st.   Luckily for Don Sutton, he also missed Robert Clemente, because Roberto had one of his greatest offensive seasons in 1970 putting up an OPS+ of 160.  That was the 3rd highest OPS+ of his great career.  I remember the tickets being on the right field side so my Dad probably got those tickets hoping to see Roberto Clemente play right field.

I don’t remember what I thought when I first saw Dodger Stadium but given that my only other experience was Robert F Kennedy Stadium I’m sure I was impressed. Dodger Stadium was only nine years old and you still paid the same price for a ticket on the Field Level no matter if you sat behind home plate or by the foul pole. Even then, I didn’t understand baseball ticketing practices.  I’m sure we were either in the Loge or Reserved section. I think my Dad got these tickets but it could have been part of the Danny Goodman club where for a certain price you got all sorts of goodies including tickets to multiple Dodger games.

I had three distinct memories of this game.

  • Don Sutton threw a shutout
  • My favorite Dodger at the time Billy Grabarkewitz hit a home run for the only run in the game.
  • Bob Veale started for the Pirates

These memories stayed with me my whole adult life but it wasn’t until Baseball Reference showed up that I could check the box score to see if my memory was correct. By that time I was used to finding out the memories don’t always match the facts as player and fan were corrected time and time again when someone double checked the game they were talking about. It was either a thread on Dodger Thoughts or TrueBlueLA where the community was talking about their first game. Before joining in the conversation I thought I’d better check baseball reference to make sure my memory would stand up to the scrutiny of Bob Timmermann or Eric Stephen the resident fact checkers for both blogs. This was about forty years after the actual game and with over a five hundred games at Dodger Stadium under my belt it could easily have become more of a myth than a memory so it was with apprehension that I looked at the game logs for Don Sutton in 1970. There it was. I didn’t know it was June 16th but Baseball Reference did. 

The Dodgers did win  1 – 0. Don Sutton did throw the shutout. Billy Grabarkewitz did hit the home run, and Bob Veale was indeed the opposing pitcher. I was elated to find out my childhood memories were intact and not as fuzzy as most of my other memories.

It was because of this game that I was a huge Don Sutton fan. And that will take me to tomorrow as I try to put to words the impact the career of Don Sutton had on me.

 

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