SABR

Larry Sutton

This article was written by Jim Sandoval.

From program seller to umpire, manager, scout, and owner, Larry Sutton did just about everything possible in professional baseball. It all started when baseball’s first fully professional baseball team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, played a game in the Oswego area of New York. Ten-year-old Larry was hired to sell programs at the game, sparking a life-long love of the game. i

Sutton was one of the early scouts who helped develop the profession for those who followed. In the early 1900s, major-league clubs were beginning to hire one or more full-time scouts, rather than use the informal system of relying on friends, minor-league managers, and local people to recommend players. These scouts were given much leeway by their major-league club in signing players. Up to a certain dollar amount, the scout could generally sign a player without input from his club. Sutton took full advantage of this policy to sign many players. His greatest feat as a scout saw him sign two future major leaguers on the same day, Jeff Pfeffer and Sherry Smith.

Lawrence Sutton was born on July 31, 1858, in Oswego, New York, the son of Irish immigrants James and Mary (Kelly) Sutton. James was a carpenter joiner. The Suttons migrated through Canada, where according to the 1860 census daughter Elizabeth was born about 1851. Sons James, Peter, and Lawrence followed by daughters Mary, Ellen, and Emma Jane completed the family. Larry’s father, James, died May 2, 1865, at the age of 50. His mother, Mary, passed away in 1898.

Sutton’s full-time occupation was in the newspaper business, an occupation that would serve him well when he became a baseball scout. He began working for the Oswego Palladium as a printer’s devil, or apprentice, then earned his printer’s card and transferred to the Syracuse Herald Journal, where he worked in the composing room. He later moved on to Newark as a printer/proofreader.

Sutton’s professional baseball career began when he was asked to umpire a game in 1878 between the Live Oaks team of Lynn, Massachusetts, and the Oswego Nationals club. He went on to umpire college games and then minor-league games in the New York area. He worked for about 15 seasons as an umpire in the Eastern League, Interstate League, New Jersey League, and the New York State League.

He then began a managerial career, piloting the Corning club in 1903 and the Ilion club of the Empire State League in 1904. In 1905 he led Seneca Falls of the Empire State League to a first-place finish. 1906 saw Sutton buy into the local Oswego club in the Empire State League. In 1907 he moved on to manage the Easton, Pennsylvania, club of the Atlantic League.

Sutton had informally worked as a scout while umpiring and managing, occasionally recommending a player to a club in the loose system of the time. In 1909 Sutton signed on as a full-time scout with Brooklyn, with whom he remained through 1915. In December of 1913, he took on the added role of business manager of the Newark club, a job he retained through the 1916 season.

After a minor falling-out with the Brooklyn club, Sutton signed in 1916 to scout for Detroit. He moved on in the same role for Cincinnati in 1917-18, then on to the Philadelphia National League club in 1919. Larry returned to Brooklyn to scout in 1920, where he remained until his retirement in 1936.

Sutton’s scouting exploits began when he recommended Bill Scanlan of Syracuse to the Brooklyn ballclub. They turned him down, so Sutton recommended him to the Ilion club. He was involved in the purchase of future major leaguer Nick Altrock for Syracuse. Sutton’s scouting abilities went beyond that of selecting players alone. He recommended umpires Ernie Quigley and Bob Hart for advancement. Both went on to major-league careers. He also recommended that Brooklyn hire Joe Becker as scout. Becker went on to sign major-league players Johnny Babich, Dutch Leonard, Ernie Lombardi, Sloppy Thurston, Neal Finn, and Gordon Slade.

Besides the traditional methods of scouting players, Sutton used his newspaper background to help acquire information on players. He dropped in on local newspaper sports editors to inquire about players he was interested in, knowing they would probably be familiar with the better local players. He asked about the character of players, whether they had good or bad habits. He said he did not like those players who are heavy batters in the night leagues - who spend too much time in bars and stay out late. He also would query the regular attendees at ballgames about which players they liked and why. In the winters he continued to work as a newspaper proofreader.

Larry finally retired from the newspaper business in 1935, receiving a pension of $8.00 a week from the International Typographical Union. He retired from scouting a year later. After his retirement he lost the use of his right leg, basically confining him to his home. A story about Larry said the last game he attended in person, at Ebbets Field, was Brooklyn against the Reds. This completed the cycle, as the first professional game he attended was with the original fully professional team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.

In 1940, after an old-timers game at Ebbets Field, players came to Sutton’s place, Apartment 5E at 99 Ocean Avenue, to visit with him and reminisce about the “old days.” This was just a few blocks from the ballfield.

Larry married a lady named Nellie and they had four children, Millie, George, William, and one we are unable to identify. After Nellie’s death he married a woman named Mary Ellen. Larry suffered through losing many family members throughout his life, outliving all of his children. His children with his first wife were George, a foreman at the Newark Star who died at age 45, William, who passed away in March of 1939, and Mildred (Millie), who tragically drowned in Oswego on July 28, 1908. The fourth child may have passed away early in life.

Larry Sutton died on June 22, 1944, at his home in Brooklyn. He was buried in the Oswego Rural cemetery. Survivors included his wife, two daughters-in-law, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Larry’s signings include Nick Altrock, Jimmy Barrett, Bill Bradley, Del Bissonette, Rube Bressler, George Browne, Leon Cadore, Forrest Cady, Dad Clark, George Cutshaw, Jack Dalton, Jake Daubert, Hank DeBerry, Howard Ehmke, Bert Ellison, Jim Elliott, Gus Getz, Charlie Hargreaves, John “Dots” Miller, Ralph Miller, Hi Myers, Ed “Jeff” Pfeffer, Morrie Rath, Jimmy Ring, Doc Scanlan, Gordon Slade, Sherry Smith, Casey Stengel, Hollis Thurston, Dazzy Vance, Jackie Warner, Zack Wheat, and George Wiltse.

 

Sources

The Sporting News January 26, 1928, December 19, 1940, June 29, 1944, December 4, 1930.

Zanesville Times Recorder August 22, 1930 “says he sold programs, 1st job, when 1869 Reds played in Oswego…”

Syracuse Herald Journal October 18, 1906, July 10, 1908, September 18, 1912, August 14 , 1919, December 21, 1940, October 23, 1932

Syracuse Post Standard September 1, 1902, October 5, 1902, May 7, 1906, May 28, 1906, July 29, 1908

Syracuse Post Herald November 8, 1903, June 9, 1904, July 12, 1905, November 10, 1905

Lowell Sun obit June 23, 1944

New York Times June 23, 1944

Philadelphia Inquirer December 5, 1913, March 23, 1921

California Evening News January 9, 1917

Janesville (Wisconsin) Daily Gazette January 5, 1917

Lincoln (Nebraska) Evening News June 13, 1910

New Castle (Pennsylvania) News April 30, 1919

Ft. Wayne News June 23, 1916

Trenton Evening Times July 28, 1908

Mansfield News November 22, 1911

Miami Herald September 22, 1914

Atlanta Constitution December 15, 1919

NY death certificate

US Federal census 1860-1930

NY State census 1865

Cemetery records St. Paul’s city of Oswego, New York

Zanesville Times Recorder, August 22, 1930

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