Daron Sutton has seen plenty of baseball in 41 years.
As the son of Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, the Arizona Diamondback play-by-play announcer has been around the game his entire life.
Through his childhood, he was around many of Major League Baseball’s history makers of the 1970s and 1980s, so his knowledge base was pretty wide before last week’s Golden Age of Baseball panel discussion in Sun City Grand.
“I received an education tonight,” Sutton said after participating the Sun City Grand Sports Interest Club’s event. “It was a history lesson for me, and it was great to see the passion these guys have for the game as well as everyone in the crowd.”
The idea was the brain child of Dan Heidel, himself a Brooklyn Dodger fan, and he took it to club president Steve Rothschild who ran with it.
“I was deathly afraid when I posed the idea to Steve he was going to say, ‘OK, Dan, carry the ball,” Heidel said. “Steve’s a real bulldog, in a positive way, and he delivers.”
Rothschild said he was nervous heading into the evening but was happy with the results. More than 180 people attended the event inside the Sage Brush Room at the Sonoran Plaza.
“It all worked out,” Rothschild said. “Where are you going to get a panel like this? Roland Hemond, Daron Sutton, female umpire (Perry Barber) ... it all came together.”
The panel was comprised of former Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles General Manager Roland Hemond, Sun City Grand residents Roy Elliston, Rick Gamble, Heidel, Paul Reiss and Nick Snider and Sun City West resident Harry Jebsen.
Rothschild presented a plaque to Hemond during his introduction, honoring the former general manager for earning the 2011 Buck O’Neil Lifetime Acheivement Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Elliston, Gamble and Snider grew up on the West Coast during the “Golden Age” and discussed the days of the Pacific Coast League. Reiss, also known as “Mr. Met,” dressed the part in a Mets jersey with his name on the back and talked about being a fan during the organization’s formative years. Jebsen was “the Midwest representative,” and grew up in a family that was split between Chicago White Sox and Cubs fans.
The night began with Rothschild detailing the years from 1947, when Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, to 1957 when the Dodgers and New York Giants moved to the West Coast. The Giants’ fan interspersed his presentation with a pair of audio tracks that highlighted Bobby Thompson’s “Shot heard round the world” against the Dodgers in 1951 and Willie Mays’ catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.
As the Thompson home run was replayed, Heidel responded by placing his fingers in his ears and pretended not to listen.
“I could listen to that the whole night,” Rothschild said.”
With two panelists from the Bay Area — Gamble and Elliston — and one from Seattle, Snider, the Golden Age teams for them were the San Francisco Seals, the Oakland Oaks and Seattle Raniers.
“These were our boys of summer,” Gamble said.
“We had to listen to the radio to learn about anything going on in the Major Leagues,” Elliston said. “But, truthfully, we didn’t care.”
The PCL of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s featured future Hall of Famers Duke Snider, Joe DiMaggio, Paul Waner, Tom Lasorda and Casey Stengel. Elliston said by 1988 25 players and managers who were elected into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame made stops in the PCL.
Nick Snider said this era of baseball “in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s had the best players. Today’s players may be stronger, faster and train better, but baseball had half the teams they have now. There was no NBA and the NFL didn’t really have popularity until 1958 and the Baltimore Colts-New York Giants championship game. So all the top athletes played baseball.”
Jebsen, who grew up in Illinois, pointed out an overriding theme of the night — family.
“Who didn’t learn the game from a father, or a grandfather, or a mother or some other family member?” Jebsen asked the crowd.
Then he admitted a hard truth about Chicago baseball during the “Golden Age.”
“This was not the Golden Age of baseball for Chicago baseball. The Cubs hadn’t won since 1908 and the White Sox didn’t have a pennant for the longest time until 1959.”
While much of the talk centered on baseball’s history — Stan Musial vs. Mays, the great pitchers of the time and Detroit Tiger great Hank Greenberg — there was discussion about some issues facing baseball today. One audience member asked about more use of instant replay in baseball.
“In the case of balls and strikes I never want to see instant replay. I want umpires calling balls and strikes” Sutton said. “What baseball needs is a fifth umpire in the booth who is also the official scorer, because in my mind official scoring has grown lax over the past couple of years. It’s not a knock against official scorers, they love the game as much as we do, but umpires know the speed of the game and they understand when a hit is a hit and an error is an error.”
Sutton said the rule in the broadcast booth is if they have to show a replay two or three times at the slowest of speeds with all the digital technology available, then the umpire got it right.
Whether baseball institutes challenges or gives the umpires on the field an ear piece, Sutton said he is all in favor of replay and that umpires are, too. The main reason umpires are in favor of replay is that it would show how many calls they get right in a given game, he said.
Now a broadcaster for an organization whose history is still in its infacy compared to the fans who sat around him, Sutton is excited by the passion displayed by the fans in Sun Cities and hopes to talk about the Diamondbacks in the future much like the panel members remember the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees and Cubs of the ’50s and ’60s.
“With only 13 years of existence, the Diamondbacks don’t have the ‘history’ the other teams that were mentioned have,” Sutton said. “But I look forward to talking about them in 30 years.”
While the future of baseball is a mystery, it’s still a game that produces passion in folks of all ages, and that keeps Sutton coming to the park each summer.
“We can talk about the way the game use to be and where it’s headed,” Sutton said. “I know I’m scared of where its headed, and I’m only 41. It’s still a grand game and its romantic form still exists in the way it did during the Golden Age.”