Sunday, January 13, 2008

Charlie & the Nickname Factory

From Whitey Herzog's White Rat, pgs 72-73:

Scouts are a little like fishermen; every scout has a story about the one who got away. In my case, the one who got away was a young man named Don Sutton, who has now won more than 300 ball games in his major-league career. When I first saw him, he had two years of college under his belt and was a terrific semi-pro pitcher. I scouted him hard, and at the 1964 National Baseball Congress tournament in Wichita, Kansas, I had him in my hotel room, ready to sign an A's contract for $16,000. What a bargain he would have been.

But Finley wouldn't go for it. He'd already signed three pitchers that year for more than $75,000 each: he had given Catfish Hunter and Blue Moon Odom $75,000 each, and Skip Lockwood had signed for a hundred grand. Finley knew that the rules then required all of the big bonus babies to be protected on the big-league roster, or else they could be drafted by another club for $8,000. And Charlie knew he couldn't protect them all.

I knew that Hunter, Odom, and Lockwood were all good prospects -- they all become fine big-league pitchers, with Hunter as one of the finest of his era -- but I thought then that Sutton had a chance to be better than all of them. I figured we could give Donnie his $16,000, take a look at him, and even if we lost him in the draft, we'd still get back $8,000. I told this to Hank Peters when I called him from my motel room.

"Charlie won't go over $10,000," Hank told me. I'm sorry."

"Listen," I said. "This guy's got two years of college, and he's got as good a chance to be a big-league pitcher as anyone I'd ever seen. Let me talk to Charlie, will you?"

Finley called me, and I begged him. I knew he was crazy about nicknames -- he loved Catfish and Blue Moon and Skippy, and he almost took a flyer on a kid named Soprano Crawford, who later signed with the Dodgers. Later on, he tried to get Vida Blue to change his name to True Blue -- that's how crazy Finley was. So when I got him on the phone, I asked him to hang on a minute, and I turned to Sutton.

"Goddamn, Donnie," I said. "Don't you have a nickname? I could get you the money if you had a snappy nickname."

Sutton shrugged and said, "Heck, I don't care. Tell him anything you want. Tell him my name is Pussyface Sutton if you want, just get me the money."

I said, "Charlie, I've got a kid here named Pussyface Sutton you can get for $16,000."

But not even Charlie Finley was that crazy, and I lost Don Sutton. I went out and told Burt Wells of the Dodgers that he ought to sign him. It took Burt two weeks to get the money from his front office, but they eventually signed Sutton, and he became a great one."