Sutter: Playing Hardball
Before there was Darryl Sutter, Stanley Cup-winning coach, there was Darryl Sutter, shortstop.
Before there was Darryl Sutter, captain, Darryl Sutter, general manager, or Darryl Sutter, Stanley Cup-winning coach, there was Darryl Sutter, infielder.
“I think I was a better ballplayer than I was a hockey player,” he said, and… wait, what?
“He was the best shortstop I’d ever seen,” said his brother, Gary.
Yes, Darryl Sutter was a natural infielder who gravitated towards shortstop, the spot on the diamond that requires the most communication, a position that is involved in every single play.
“I was better on that side of the infield than the other. It had something to do with your eye, I think,” he said. “I wasn’t as good at second. I wasn’t as good at [turning] the double play from that side. I wasn’t good at anything on that side of the field, for whatever reason.”
Gary Sutter, a Western Canadian fastball champion in the late 1970’s, was part of a Sutter clan that could nearly fill out a baseball diamond. “All my brothers were really good ballplayers,” Darryl said.
Darryl’s ability is perhaps a characteristic he inherited from his father, Louis, also a fine shortstop. The brothers’ ability came out naturally and was honed on a home-built diamond on the family homestead in Viking, Alberta.
“We had a ball diamond built ourselves – just a backstop, and just a regular country ball diamond build right on the…front yard of our house. Right where Darryl has built his new house, actually,” Gary said.
“When hockey was done, you had to turn to another sport to keep yourself occupied, as well as the farm work and your school and everything,” Gary said. “We were all as good of ballplayers as hockey players growing up.”
Now, with attention gravitating to the Stadium Series outdoor game at Dodger Stadium this January – tickets for the event went on sale earlier this week – there is still the story of Sutter’s appreciation of the game some 40 years later. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, a former Philadelphia Journal beat writer of the Flyers who played in rec leagues into his 40’s, is friends with both Sutter and Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, and previously spoke of his hockey fandom with LA Kings Insider.
Just as Colletti has been known to take in several Kings games a year, Sutter enjoys making time to get to Dodger Stadium during the times of the year when the teams’ schedules overlap.
“Quite honest, I enjoy watching before the game, the infield practice. I like that as much as the game itself, because just being close and live, you see how good they are,” he said.
He noted a parallel between the immensely talented Yasiel Puig, who is still in the process of learning some of the finer subtleties of the game, and one of his own gifted players.
“It’s raw talent. I think it’s exactly what the coaches say there, too,” Sutter said. “He’s a little bit of the wild horse thing, and you have to rein it in, and you have to do it in the context of the team and what the team wants. That’s no different than a young player coming into our league. You look like a boy for example, and he’s a star on our team, is a player like Drew. There are probably great similarities in terms of how dynamic they are, and how Drew’s become a champion, because he still uses all his abilities. He uses the whole package, but he does it in the context of his teammates want, and what we all want.”
Though there’s the friendship with Colletti and a comment regarding the Stadium Series following a preseason game that “Hopefully we can use [the Dodgers’] locker room and there’s corks in the roof,” Sutter was at one point a Montreal Expos fan, watching games broadcast from Jarry Park on a black-and-white television. He also recalled being situated in front of a TV when the Toronto Blue Jays’ inaugural game at Exhibition Stadium was delayed by a snow storm.
“Next to hockey, it was our favorite sport to watch on TV, and we enjoyed watching all the American teams, including the Dodgers and the Yankees, and all the clubs across the U.S.,” Gary Sutter said. “I think what happened when Canada got a team…you were cheering for the Expos, and in the later years, more of a Toronto Blue Jays fan.”
By the time the 1980’s rolled around, “the Cubs were my team,” said Darryl Sutter, who played all eight of his NHL seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“Jody Davis was the catcher, Ryne Sandberg was second base. They had two or three Cy Young winners – Maddux, Sutcliffe, a great closer in Lee Smith. They had some good old veteran guys like Ron Cey, who came in and played third, from the Dodgers at the end of his career. They had a really good team. Billy Buckner. We were all connected because they were Blackhawk fans, and we were Cub fans.”
With their natural athletic ability and the competitive streak long associated with the Sutter brothers, was there ever, at any point, the consideration of a career in baseball?
“No, because in Canada, the better opportunity was hockey, obviously,” Darryl Sutter said. “We were good athletes, but it was based on seasons. So we were ball-hockey, ball-hockey. That was pretty much what you did.”
Though Gary won the championship in fast pitch softball, most of his brothers had grown out of baseball and fastball by the time they reached the National Hockey League.
“We were all the same, ability-wise. I just happened to play at a higher level,” Gary Sutter said.
“But as far as ability, Darryl was probably the best of all of us.”