Chicago Cubs: The Heroes of Wrigley presents Rick Sutcliffe
As one of the premier pitchers of the 1980s, Rick Sutcliffe, known as the ‘Red Baron’, was one of the greatest acquisitions in Chicago Cubs history.
Long before he etched his name into Chicago Cubs lore, the ‘Red Baron’ made a name for himself. From the start of his career, Rick Sutcliffe was touted as one of the game’s most formidable pitchers. In his first full season in the Major Leagues, Sutcliffe went 17-10 over 39 games, spanning 242 innings on his way to the National League Rookie of the Year in 1979 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
However, after being cast aside from the Dodgers’ stacked starting rotation that included the likes of Fernando Valenzuela, Jerry Reuss, Bob Welch and an aging Don Sutton, Sutcliffe was relegated to the bullpen as a long reliever and spot starter for his next two seasons in Los Angeles.
Wanting to pitch more as a starter, Sutcliffe left for greener pastures and more opportunity in 1981, as the righty was traded to the Cleveland Indians for journeyman outfielder, Jorge Orta.
In his first season as a full-time starter, Sutcliffe quickly showed he belonged in the starting rotation. In 216 innings, Sutcliffe led the American League with a 2.96 ERA, going 14-8 over 34 ball games.
He earned his first of three All-Star selections the following year in 1983, going 17-11 over 243.1 innings. He was never much of a strikeout pitcher – in ’83, he struck out just over five batters per nine – but he was consistently effective regardless.
At the start of the Indians’ 1984 campaign, the team was in a slump from the start and seemingly no player was destined to break out and show signs of life. This included Sutcliffe, who was not living up to his All-Star form the previous year. With a 4-5 record and an ERA north of 5.00, the Cleveland Indians traded the struggling pitcher on June 13 to a National League team that was enjoying a hopeful, contending season and in need of a front of the rotation starter.
That National League was the Chicago Cubs, who traded Joe Carter and Mel Hall to acquire Sutcliffe, and “The Red Baron” didn’t disappoint, rebounding in a dominant fashion in the midst of one of the most magical and beloved campaigns in Cub history.