SABR

Jack Sutthoff

This article was written by Brian Cooper.

Pitcher Jack Sutthoff, whose 90-game career in the major leagues spanned the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, recorded his best big-league season in 1903, when he went 16-9 for his hometown Cincinnati Reds.

His status as a former Red, the pitcher who in 1904 broke the Reds' losing streak on Opening Day, and his pleasant personality -- his nickname was "Sunny Jack" -- brought him notoriety in his native city long after he retired from the game.

John Gerhard Sutthoff was born June 29, 1873, the son of German immigrants Johan Gerhard, and Euphemia Moormann Sutthoff. Johan was a railroad-crossing guard at the Procter & Gamble plant in Cincinnati; relatives say that he won the position after, as a bystander, he pulled Mrs. Gamble, a member of the firm's founding family, from the path of an oncoming locomotive.

Like most of his contemporaries, Jack Sutthoff played baseball. A family photo shows him as a slight 15-year-old wearing a dark baseball uniform with "Lone Star" across the chest. He progressed in the game. The right-hander caught the attention of the National League in 1896 when, pitching for Lexington (Kentucky), he threw a two-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in an exhibition.[1] In 1897, he signed with the minor league team of Nicholasville, Kentucky, about 100 miles south of his hometown.[2]

Sutthoff -- sportswriters often mistakenly omitted the second "t" -- pitched for Toronto the following season, 1898. That September, Toronto manager Arthur Irwin took over management of the Senators; the two organizations were affiliated. (The city's American League team had yet to arrive in town and appropriate the nickname Senators.) "I will take charge of the Washington club Wednesday, Sept. 14," Irwin wired the Washington Post. "Will bring Casey, Freeman, Baker, Williams and Suthoff [sic] with me."[3] Irwin, a Senators shortstop in 1889, became Washington's fourth manager that season. "Irwin's quintet from Toronto includes the pick and cream of his team," the Washington Post reported.[4] However, Irwin's presence and the fresh faces he brought along had no effect on Washington's fortunes in their final 29 games: The Senators stayed mired in 11th place in the 12-team league and continued to lose two of every three contests.

Sutthoff made his major league debut in the second game of a doubleheader September 15, 1898, against Cleveland. His teammates, including fellow Toronto recruit Doc Casey (three errors), let him down with poor defensive work, while Cleveland pasted him for 10 hits. "Suthoff shows all possible evidences of a nervy, brainy pitcher, with rare mechanical skill to back him," a Washington sportswriter noted. "Of the four hits made off him in the first two innings, three would have been easy outs if Jud Smith had been accompanied to the field by his wits ... The miserable support extended Suthoff doubtless unnerved him." Irwin yanked Sutthoff during a Cleveland rally in the fifth inning, after which Washington still held a 10-6 lead. However, the Senators wilted in the eighth and ninth innings, losing 12-10.[5] A week later, the Cincinnati Reds roughed up Sutthoff during a relief appearance.[6]

He was back with Toronto for most of 1899, and late in the season received another opportunity in the National League. He started and completed all three of his games for the St. Louis Perfectos, going 1-2 with an earned-run average of 4.12. St. Louis' pitching star was Cy Young. A curiosity of the Perfectos' pitching roster was that it briefly featured Sutthoff and a Sudhoff (Willie). Sutthoff registered his first major league victory September 17, 1899, scattering 10 hits and beating the host New York Giants, 14-4. "Suthoff, the new St. Louis pitcher, was effective throughout, and received fine support," a wire-service report stated.[7]

On April 16, 1900, the 26-year-old Sutthoff married 18-year-old Ellen Bridget "Nellie" Crowe. A native of Ireland who came to the United States when she was three, Nellie was the daughter of a power company lineman. The Sutthoff and Crowe families were members of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, at the foot of Price Hill in Cincinnati. Jack and Nellie would become the parents of nine children, seven of whom survived to adulthood.

Sutthoff's prospects for remaining with a major league club in 1900 suffered a blow when the National League contracted from 12 to eight teams; the services of fewer players would be required. He returned to the minors, pitching for Toronto, Binghamton and Syracuse in 1900 and Indianapolis (Western Association) in 1901.[8] In late 1901, he received another trial at the major-league level -- this time in his native Cincinnati. However, even home cooking did not help: Sutthoff disappointed in his 10 appearances for the Reds, going 1-6 with a 5.50 ERA.

He rebounded in 1902, going 24-13 for one of the strongest minor-league teams ever, the Indianapolis Indians, champions of the newly formed American Association. He was part of a dominating pitching staff: teammates included Win Kellum (25-10), Tom Williams (24-12) and Frank Killen (16-6.) After the regular season, Sutthoff pitched with barnstormers largely made up of Cincinnati Reds.

Though he had failed to impress in his major-league appearances, Sutthoff had his boosters in Cincinnati. Some Reds players convinced team president Garry Herrmann and manager Joe Kelley to give the local boy, who was nearly 30, another opportunity to make the 1903 team. Herrmann and Kelley did, and Sutthoff did.

The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Sutthoff had his best season of major league baseball in 1903, when he went 16-9 for the fourth-place Reds. "Sutthoff's record is a monument to the value of observation on the circus trips," a sportswriter noted in his post-season analysis.[9]

It was probably during this season, while helping on the third-base coaching line, that Sutthoff witnessed one of the zaniest plays ever to occur on the diamond. Speaking to an audience of businessmen in 1938, Sutthoff described the event. The Reds' Jake Beckley was the baserunner on first when a teammate laid down a sacrifice bunt. The lone umpire working the game -- Sutthoff recalled that it was Hank O'Day -- ran to first base to make the call. "When I looked up, old Jake was standing on third base, dusting himself off and wearing the guiltiest look I ever saw on a player's face," he said. Beckley had cut across the diamond, from first base to third. Though he had his strong suspicions, O'Day didn't actually observe Beckley cutting corners, and he let it go. No doubt, his audience enjoyed the story, not only for the details but also for the manner in which it was told. "Sunny Jack" had a reputation as a raconteur. "He always had a joke," recalled his son Bob.[10] That talent might have been in the blood. In 1910, new Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Dooin wrote and performed a sketch on vaudeville. He revealed where he got a substantial portion of his material. Dooin, also Cincinnati native, once was a guest in the Sutthoff residence, where Johan Sutthoff regaled the visitor with humorous stories about his ballplaying son Jack. "I never forgot them, and many of the lines in 'After the Game' had their origin in that visit," Dooin told a reporter.[11]

Coming off his strong 1903 campaign, Sutthoff received the assignment to pitch Opening Day 1904 in the Palace of the Fans. The Reds needed a change of fortunes; they had lost their previous five home openers. The local athlete delivered, defeating Chicago, 3-2. At mid-season, with a 5-6 record and his earned-run average at a career-best 2.30, Sutthoff had to have been surprised when his hometown team dealt him to the last-place Philadelphia Phillies.

Sutthoff's best performance in -- and his departure from -- the major leagues occurred within five weeks of each other in 1905. In the morning game of an Independence Day doubleheader, he threw a three-hitter at the New York Giants, who were on their way to a second consecutive National League title. The losing pitcher in the 2-0 decision was Christy Mathewson. Sutthoff looked like a different pitcher on August 7, 1905, when he came on in relief in the second inning of a road game. His team already trailing 5-0, Sutthoff finished the game but was knocked around in his seven innings, giving up eight runs and 13 hits. That the drubbing in the 13-7 decision occurred in Cincinnati, his hometown, and at the hands of the Reds, his former team, could not have helped his sunny disposition. Days later, the Phillies sold Sutthoff's contract to minor-league Columbus, which was chasing the American Association pennant.[12] Sutthoff did not appear in another major league game, completing his big-league career with a 32-40 record and 3.54 ERA.

In Columbus, Sutthoff (6-2, with one save) helped the Senators to the 1905 league title. From 1906 until late in 1908, he pitched for Toledo, also of the American Association. He received a workout one August afternoon his first season in Toledo. In the first game of a doubleheader, he pitched the final seven innings to win a 16-inning affair and turned around and started the second game. He lost the nightcap, 2-1, in a darkness-shortened, five-inning affair.[13]

Nearly two years later, Sutthoff was 35 years old and clearly past his prime. In early August 1908, after walking five hitters in his team's victory over Minneapolis, Toledo released him unconditionally. He caught on for the rest of the season with Louisville (American Association), which, like St. Louis of 1899, had the distinction of having on its roster pitchers named Sudhoff and Sutthoff -- again, Wee Willie and Sunny Jack.

However, Louisville was the end of the line for Sutthoff as a player. Staying in the game as a manager or coach might have been a consideration. More than three decades later, he told an interviewer, "I made the biggest mistake when I quit professional baseball in 1909 to enter business for myself." In any case, Sutthoff returned to Cincinnati and operated a saloon bearing his name at the intersection of St. Lawrence, Enright and Warsaw avenues -- on Price Hill, one of the Queen City's first outlying settlements.[14] Jack and Nellie Sutthoff's large family -- as well as Nellie's brother Jim Crowe, a railroad worker -- lived above the establishment. "Dad was an easy touch for credit," his son recalled. So many patrons were in his debt that he accepted goods when he couldn't get cash, including cameras, dumbbells and encyclopedias. In January 1920, as Sutthoff prepared to close his saloon in compliance with the arrival of Prohibition, he gave away what remained of his inventory of whiskey.[15] In 1928, the family relocated a mile west, to 4211 Midland Avenue.

After leaving the bar business, Sutthoff worked in a carriage factory and then a series of gasoline stations.[16] By 1940, he was employed at Bud Ware's gasoline station at Glenway Avenue and Casa Loma.[17] His work schedule left adequate time for leisure activities, including baseball. Sutthoff managed a few amateur teams, including a Knights of Columbus squad; served as volunteer pitching coach at Xavier University; and frequently attended Reds games. He was a charter member of the Cincinnati-based Ballplayers of Yesterday organization.[18] In 1931, he joined other former Reds in an old-timer ceremony at Redland Field. One day, a sportswriter entering the ballpark spotted Sutthoff buying his own ticket to a Reds game. He complained to management about an alumnus having to pay his way in, and soon Sutthoff had a Cincinnati season pass. Lifetime passes from the National League and Major League Baseball soon followed. When he couldn't attend games, he followed the Reds through their radio broadcasts.

In August 1941, Sutthoff was diagnosed with throat cancer -- most likely the result of his lifelong tobacco-chewing habit. Doctors termed it inoperable. Still, in his final days, Sunny Jack lived up to his nickname. "He never grumbled about anything," his son said. "Even when he was dying of cancer."[19] Jack Sutthoff died at home on August 3, 1942. He was 69. His funeral Mass was said at St. William Church, and he was laid to rest in St. Joseph New Cemetery, in Cincinnati.[20]

His widow outlived him by 35 years and enjoyed a rare distinction in Cincinnati baseball history. She was reportedly the only woman to have attended Reds games at League Park (later named Palace of the Fans and nicknamed The Brickyard), Redland Field (later Crosley Field) and, when she was in her 90s, Riverfront Stadium. Nellie Crowe Sutthoff died in 1977 at age 97.[21] In 2007, the Sutthoffs had one surviving son, 90-year-old Bob, a retired Federal Bureau of Investigation agent residing in Hansville, Washington.

Sources

Boston Globe.

Chicago Tribune.

Cincinnati newspaper clippings (unidentified).

Google Maps.

Leventhal, Josh. Take Me Out to the Ballpark: An Illustrated Tour of Ballparks Past and Present. Black Dog & Leventhal, 2000.

Lowry, Philip J. Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of Major League and Negro League Ballparks. Walker Publishing Co., 2006.

Retrosheet. Information was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet (www.retrosheet.org).

Society for American Baseball Research.

Sutthoff, Robert.

Thorn, John and Palmer, Pete, editors. Total Baseball (Third Edition), 1993.

Washington Post.

Notes

[1] Washington Post, September 22, 1898.

[2] Undated Cincinnati newspaper article, interview with Jack Sutthoff, circa April 1940.

[3] Washington Post, September 8, 1898.

[4] Undated Cincinnati newspaper article, interview with Jack Sutthoff, circa April 1940.

[5] Washington Post, September 16, 1898.

[6] Washington Post, September 22, 1898.

[7] Boston Globe, September 18, 1899.

[8] Society for American Baseball Research, database of minor leaguers, 1900-10.

[9] Undated newspaper article, circa 1903.

[10] Sutthoff, Robert. Interview with author September 12, 2006.

[11] Undated newspaper article, circa 1910.

[12] Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1905.

[13] Chicago Tribune, August 13, 1906.

[14] Undated Cincinnati newspaper article, interview with Jack Sutthoff, circa April 1940.

[15] Sutthoff, Robert. Interview with author September 12, 2006.

[16] Sutthoff, Robert. Interview with author September 12, 2006.

[17] Undated Cincinnati newspaper article, interview with Jack Sutthoff, circa April 1940.

[18] Chicago Tribune, August 19, 1942.

[19] Sutthoff, Robert. Interview with author September 12, 2006.

[20] Newspaper article dated August 7, 1942 (funeral) and Retrosheet.org (burial).

[21] Newspaper article dated June 23, 1977, and Social Security Death Index.

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