SABR

Suds Sutherland

This article was written by Ed Bartholemy.

On May 15, 1921, a 27-year-old Oregon native, Harvey Scott “Suds” Sutherland, stepped into the batter’s box at Navin Field in Detroit to face the legendary Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson. Sutherland, a side-arming right-handed pitcher, had made his major-league debut with the Detroit Tigers just a month before, and had quickly made his mark on the American League, winning five games and losing none, and boasting an ERA under 3.00. Suds was doing well at the plate too, batting .385, and Detroit manager Ty Cobb was even using him as a pinch-hitter.

Sutherland had already batted once in the game against the Big Train without getting a hit. In this at-bat, fate stepped in. A Walter Johnson fastball hit Suds on his pitching arm, and from that point his major-league baseball fortunes took a decidedly negative turn.i He gave up eight runs that day, taking his first loss. Suds ended up with ERA of 7.50 over his last six appearances with the Tigers. By the end of the season he had ended up on the wrong side of Detroit manager Ty Cobb, was traded back to the minor leagues, had been banned from Organized Baseball by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and was seriously injured when he was hit in the head by a pitch in an independent league game in Canada. Sutherland stayed active in baseball as a player, manager, and umpire for many more years. But his major-league career had come to a rather strange and sudden end.

Harvey Scott Sutherland was born on February 20, 1894, in Eugene, Oregon. He was named for Harvey Whitefield Scott, the editor of the Oregonian, a Portland newspaper. Known as Harve in his youth, he was the third son of Gideon Manice Sutherland, a farmer from Missouri, and his wife, Clara May Elliott, a native of Knox County, Tennessee. Gideon and Clara had eight children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. Suds and his four brothers were all athletic. The brothers were involved in football, track, and boxing in addition to baseball.

In 1910 Gideon Sutherland was working in a sawmill in Coburg, Oregon, as were Harvey’s two older brothers. Sixteen-year-old Harvey, who had left school after the eighth grade, was in Jasper, Oregon, working as a shoveler in a railroad camp. Two years later he was working as a logger.

On February 20, 1911, young Harvey Sutherland made a tragic mistake.  While out alone hunting and checking traps he had set in the hills near his home in Coburg, Harvey thought he saw a deer about 250 yards in the distance.  He took careful aim and shot.  He hit his target, which turned out to be 17-year-old Clarence Phipps, Harvey's good friend.  Clarence was out hunting squirrels with another boy.  Harvey ran into town to get help, but Clarence had been shot in the head and was killed instantly.   The death was ruled accidental, and no charges were brought.ii

After playing for local teams, Sutherland started his professional baseball career in 1914 with the Baker, Oregon, team in the four-team Western Tri-State League. (Despite its name, it had teams in only two states, Washington and Oregon. A team from Boise, Idaho, had dropped out the year before.) He posted a 16-10 record while pitching for a losing team, tossed a no-hitter, and was selected as one of four pitchers on the league’s all-star team.

It was in Baker that Harve picked up the nickname Suds. His manager, Carl King, thought his players were drinking too much beer. So he said he would levy a $5 fine on the next player caught in a saloon. Sutherland and some of his teammates then walked to the other side of town to visit a saloon called The Frog, hoping to drink without being caught. When they walked in, there was manager King waiting for them with a mug of beer. “There was no use acting licked about it,” Sutherland said later, “though that $5 looked awfully big. So I stepped up to the bar, slapped down a dollar and ordered a beer.” When King reminded him of the fine Sutherland replied, “Thought you meant five buckets of suds.” He proceeded to order five buckets. For his nerve Harve avoided the fine, but from that time on he was called Suds.iii

In July the Baker club, to raise some much-needed cash, sold Sutherland to the Tacoma Tigers of the Northwestern League. The terms were that Suds would finish the season in Baker and would get a trial with Tacoma in 1915. If he made good, Tacoma would pay $600 for his contract.iv On August 4, 1914, Baker sold him again, to Edmonton of the Western Canada League for $300, and Suds was to report immediately. The Oregonian called him the best pitcher in the Tri-State League. The paper also called him “the rawest busher in baseball,” reflecting a temperament that made him a great competitor but got him into trouble as well.v Sutherland pitched in seven games in Canada, compiling a 3-2 record.

His offseason must have been confusing. The Edmonton team won an arbitration case against Baker, which allowed them retain the rights to Sutherland. This prevented Baker from selling him twice, and prevented Suds from getting his trial with the Tacoma Tigers. He was then acquired by Portland of the Pacific Coast League, which in turn traded him to Spokane of the Western League. Then, at the end of April, he was cut by Spokane. Having been pursued by just about every baseball franchise in the Pacific Northwest, Sutherland somehow found himself without a job. He spent the 1915 baseball season playing semipro ball in Forsythe, Montana.

Sutherland finally got his shot with the Tacoma Tigers in 1916. It was here, in the Class B Northwestern League, that he established himself as a professional ballplayer. He won 22 and lost 7, and in midseason put together a streak of 16 straight wins. Opposing batters hit only .225 against him.vi

Sutherland was listed at 6 feet tall and 180 pounds. He was prone to illness and weight loss, however, and often weighed in at 170 pounds. He was once reported to be pitching at a mere 157 pounds. He had brown hair and gray eyes, and the ruddy complexion of a man who did his work outdoors in the sun. He was a crafty and competitive pitcher who was not overpowering. The Oregonian wrote of Sutherland one spring, “He hasn’t thrown one that travels faster than 12 miles an hour.”vii He used a curve, a screwball, and a change of pace, along with a deceptive delivery that kept the ball hidden, to keep hitters off balance. His brain was generally given more credit for his success than his arm was.

At the end of Sutherland’s successful 1916 season in Tacoma, fellow Northwestern League hurler Dutch Ruether was picked up by the Chicago Cubs. Suds, with major-league ambitions of his own, declared in frustration, “I am through with baseball and am going to British Columbia to work in the mines. I won 22 games and lost seven and won games for other pitchers by relieving them and for this I did not get credit and other pitchers are going to the majors, and there I am. Good night, baseball.”viii

But rather than go down into the mines, Sutherland took a job in Tacoma as an electrician on the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad. His parents’ marriage had broken up. When he registered for the military draft that summer, he listed his mother and some of his siblings as “partial dependents.”ix Sutherland briefly held out for a higher salary, but finally signed to pitch for Tacoma in 1917, seeing it as his only chance to get to the major leagues. His season’s highlight came on May 8, when he tossed a no-hitter against Great Falls. Suds was putting together a solid season, but nowhere near his 1916 standards, when the Northwestern League ended its season in mid-July because of the effects of World War I on attendance. Sutherland ended up getting promoted to the Class A Western League; he was sold by Tacoma to the Sioux Falls Indians, who by the end of the year had moved to Missouri and became the St. Joseph Drummers.

By the time 1918 rolled around, with the US now embroiled in the World War, Sutherland, like a lot of ballplayers, responded to the government’s “work or fight” order by choosing to work in the shipyards. He spent the year in Portland, Oregon, and pitched for the Cornfoot team in the shipbuilding league, which was heavy with local baseball talent. It was a great place to showcase his talents. After the war ended Sutherland caught on with the Portland Beavers of the Double-A Pacific Coast League. He also caught on with a woman named Josephine, who married Suds and joined him in his baseball travels.

Pitching at the highest level of the minor leagues, Sutherland acquitted himself well. He broke even in 1919, with a 14-14 record, and also threw his third minor-league no-hit game. He turned in a stronger year in 1920, winning 21 games, losing 17, and posting a 2.68 ERA. He proved himself a workhorse as well, throwing 352 innings.

Sutherland’s 1920 season caught the eye of the Detroit Tigers player-manager Ty Cobb. Cobb had asked around the Pacific Coast League about players who could help his big-league team, and Sutherland came very highly recommended. Cobb had never seen Sutherland pitch, but he was impressed with his numbers and signed him. Cobb compared Sutherland to Cleveland Indians pitcher Jim Bagby, a control specialist who Cobb thought was the smartest pitcher he had ever faced. When Cobb got to know Sutherland in spring training in 1921 he declared that Suds knew as much about baseball as he did.x This was probably the greatest praise that Cobb could offer.

Sutherland was confident about his chances in the major leagues. He had spent the offseason catching smelt with a dip net in the Cowlitz River in Kelso, Washington. Pulling fish out of the river had, Suds said, added an inch of circumference to his arm and strengthened his shoulder. He had recovered the zip on his fastball and the break on his curve that had made him so hard to hit in Tacoma back in 1916. “If I have that stuff,” he declared, “they will certainly have to use dynamite and nitro-glycerin to pry me out of the big leagues.”xi

Sutherland got off to a great start in Detroit in 1921. He found big-league hitters “easier for me than those in the Coast league”; they were all fastball hitters, and his slow stuff gave them trouble.xii But after being hit on the pitching arm by Walter Johnson’s fastball on May 15, he struggled. There was also talk that he had a weak constitution and had wilted in the summer heat.

On June 12, 1921, four weeks after his encounter with Walter Johnson, Sutherland was on the mound in New York’s Polo Grounds facing Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees. Cobb and Ruth were at each other that day. They were calling each other polecats. Cobb mocked Ruth by imitating a gorilla. And they squared off after Ruth struck out in the fourth inning, coming very close to an actual fight.

Sutherland faced Ruth three times. In the first inning Ruth walked on a 3-and-2 pitch. In the fourth Ruth hit a ball over the right-field stands, but just foul, before striking out on a vicious swing at a 2-and-2 pitch. In the fifth, with Roger Peckinpaugh on third, Suds fell behind the Babe 3-0, and Ruth drove his fourth pitch into the upper grandstand in right field for his 19th home run of the year.xiii It was the first, and last, home run Suds gave up in his major-league career.

Cobb must have been furious after Ruth’s home run. He and Sutherland had come to disagree strongly as to how the pitcher should be used, and how he should pitch to hitters. It was perhaps in this same game that Cobb ran in from his position in center field and berated Suds after he had given up a hit. Ty yelled at Suds for throwing a fastball instead of a curve to the batter. Sutherland’s reply was, according to one report, “That’s what I did pitch him, a curve, and yah-h-h to you!”xiv Whatever the precise language, the confrontation contributed to Sutherland’s downfall. He won the argument, but lost his job.

After the game in New York, Cobb was done with Sutherland. Suds got in one more inning of relief work and a pinch-hitting appearance. Then Cobb traded him back to the Portland Beavers, getting pitcher Syl Johnson as part of a package deal. Sutherland’s road back to Portland was a rocky one. He got into salary negotiations with the Beavers (Suds wanted $500 a month and the club was offering $450). In the meantime Sutherland played in a semipro game in Detroit for a team called the Pyotts. The opposing pitcher was Walter William Kinney, who had been banned from Organized Baseball for jumping his contract with the Philadelphia Athletics and playing semipro ball. For playing in a game with a banned player, Sutherland was also put on the ineligible list by Commissioner Landis.

Unable now to report back to Portland, Sutherland went up to Ontario, Canada to pitch in an independent league. There he was struck in the head by a pitched ball. According to Suds, “(W)hen I was taking my shower after the game I keeled over. The crack on the temple caused concussion of the brain and blood clots and everything else. For three days I was semi-paralyzed on one side and couldn’t see out my left eye.” But he made a quick recovery. He was pitching ten days later and claimed, “The injury has not bothered me in the least since.”xv He spent the offseason in the Hupmobile auto factory in Detroit testing brakes.

Commissioner Landis removed Suds from the ineligible list in time for the 1922 season. He returned to the Portland Beavers with typical grace, badmouthing big-league hitters and managers and declaring, “I’ve had my little fling in the big leagues and it’s never again for me. I wouldn’t go back there if I were to become the best pitcher in the world. Hereafter the good old Pacific coast, where the real white folks live, will be my permanent territory and I never want to see the country again east of the Rocky Mountains.”xvi Going back to the Pacific Coast League was not bad at all. It was home. The pay was good. And the quality of baseball was very high. Many quality ballplayers did in fact volunteer to stay in the Coast League instead of playing in the big leagues back east. Suds, though, had not volunteered.

For the next two years Sutherland, in spite of some health issues, was the pitching ace for very weak Portland Beaver teams. In 1922 he won only 13 and lost 10 in spite of a sterling 2.07 ERA. In a September matchup with the San Francisco Seals, Suds was going along pretty good until the eighth inning, when he doubled over in pain on the mound. When the umpire came to the mound to check on him, Suds told him, “C-c-call t-time. I’ve s-s-swallered my quid.” Suds had swallowed his chewing tobacco. A heavy dose of water and a stomach rub from the team’s trainer soon had him back on the mound to finish up.xvii

Sutherland had an up-and-down season in 1923. Typical of his season, he was roughed up for 18 hits and 11 runs in an early outing, but later threw a gem – an 87-pitch, one-hit complete game. But Suds was unhappy playing for a struggling Portland team. It was good news for him when, at the end of the season, he was traded to the rival Seattle Indians. Sutherland was exchanged for Seattle pitcher Harry Gardner, a swap of successful but unhappy veteran Coast League pitchers. The Oregonian bade Sutherland a fond farewell, calling him “the gloomiest man in baseball.”

Suds, competitive by nature, bet that he would win more games than Gardner in 1924. He did so, but only because Harry Gardner struggled. Gardner retired to his Oregon farm twice during the season, returning both times, and won a mere five games. Sutherland also had a rough year, made worse by back and ankle injuries, and managed to win only nine while losing 13. Still, he was happy in Seattle and enjoyed playing for manager Wade “Red” Killefer (though he retained what the Oregonian called his “dyspeptic leer”). That fall Sutherland bought 940 acres in British Columbia in partnership with one of his brothers, with the intention of raising muskrats, beavers, and other fur-bearing animals. His plan for the offseason was to start building fences, cold work in a British Columbia winter.

A slow start in 1925 led manager Killefer to sell Sutherland to the Wichita Falls Spudders of the Class A Texas League on June 1. He was now playing out the end of his professional career. After starting the 1926 season with an 0-4 record for the Spudders, he was sold to the Dallas Steers of the same circuit. A couple of weak outings caused Dallas to loan him out to the Corsicana Oilers in the Class D Texas Association. Suds faked an illness and refused to pitch at the Class D level, forcing Corsicana to return him to the Texas League. Dallas released Sutherland at the end of the season.

Sutherland continued to work on his fur farm in British Columbia and pitched for the Longview, Washington team, in the Timber League, a semipro circuit. While sitting in the stands at a Coast League game between the Seattle Indians and San Francisco Seals, Suds got another shot at pitching for Seattle and his favorite manager, Wade Killefer. The Indians were very short on pitchers. Killefer spotted his old pitcher sitting in the stands and signed him up. So Suds took a curtain call, helping out Seattle by tossing 90 innings in 1927 before finally ending his career in Organized Baseball.

For a pitcher who didn’t throw very hard, Suds carved out a fine 13-year career for himself, mostly in the very competitive Double-A-level Pacific Coast League. His crafty pitching and his competitive nature enabled him to be a very good pitcher, and his athleticism frequently allowed him to contribute to his own wins with his bat and his glove. He had a reputation for gloominess and stubbornness that was well earned. But he was just as likely to be found coaching a young pitcher or promoting the cause of a young teammate. In later years he often showed up at baseball camps for young players to pass on his knowledge. And he pitched at an annual charity old-timers game pitting Seattle Indians veterans versus old Portland Beavers as late as 1950.

On March 21, 1927, Suds’ father, Gideon Manice Sutherland, died of heart disease in North Bend on the Oregon Coast. He was 64 years old. The next year, on September 13, 1928, Suds lost his mother. Clara May Withinton (she had remarried, to farm laborer George Withinton) died at her home in Fresno, California, at 59.

Sutherland did not leave baseball behind after 1926. He pitched in the semipro leagues around Seattle into the early 1930s, and he took up umpiring, which he continued to do at least into the 1940s. At first, umpiring was an adjustment. Suds said he had to resist the urge to field balls hit at him, or to call out defensive plays.xviii He started with community ballgames and worked his way up the umpiring ladder to high-school and college games. His goal from the start was to become an umpire in the Pacific Coast League, where he had pitched for many years. He did become an alternate umpire, but never worked full-time in the Coast League, which was perhaps wary of his temperament.

And for good reason. According to Suds’ own story of his last game as an umpire, he was working behind home plate when a player got an extra-base hit. Without deferring to the first-base umpire, Sutherland called the batter out for failing to touch first base. When the manager came running toward him to argue, Suds took him down with a punch. He then proceeded to drop three more participants who came at him before the melee ended. Along with his umpiring career.xix

Fur farming did not pan out for Sutherland, so he worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet during the Great Depression. In 1930 he was working as an auto mechanic in Seattle. Over the next few years he was a machinist, a metal worker, and a furniture maker. During World War II he worked in the shipyards in Seattle, the same work he had turned to during the previous war. His draft registration showed that he had kept to his playing weight, at 175 pounds.

Suds and Josephine never had a family. Eventually they separated, though they maintained an amicable relationship. Josephine moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, with her brother and Suds moved back down to Portland, where he worked as a mechanic for Safeway Scaffolding. He still loved the game of baseball. He and his younger brother Carl would get together around the dining-room table and tell stories and argue about about the old days when they both played ball.

Harvey Scott “Suds” Sutherland died on May 11, 1972, of acute congestive heart failure, heart disease, and pulmonary emphysema at the age of 78. He was buried in Pioneer Cemetery in Gresham, Oregon.

 

Sources

A number of books tell similar versions of a story of Suds giving up a home run to Babe Ruth on June 12, 1921, and Cobb coming in from center field to yell at him. The following were referenced for this biography:

Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg, 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010), 153.

Tom Stanton, Ty and the Babe: Baseball's Fiercest Rivals: A Surprising Friendship and the 1941 Has-Beens Golf Championship (New York: Macmillan, 2008), 85.

Bill Jenkinson, The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs: Re-Crowning Baseball's Greatest Slugger (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2007), 139.

The Great Book of Detroit Sports Lists (Philadelphia: Running Press, 2008), 63.

Reference to contemporary accounts of the game found that all prominently featured Cobb and Ruth coming near to blows, but did not mention the mound visit by Cobb. Newspaper pieces published between 1922 and 1972 on Sutherland’s relationship with Cobb feature a similar mound argument between Sutherland and Cobb, but none of these indicate that the hitter was Ruth. Sutherland confirmed these newspapers stories to the press and to his nephew. It seems that over time the two events (Ruth’s homer and the mound altercation) have been combined in memory. Since including Ruth makes the story better, it would be odd for newspaper columnists to have taken him out of a story he, and one of his 714 home runs, would figure so prominently in.

Most of the material for this article was found in contemporary newspapers found at Genealogybank.com, NewspaperArchive.com, Google News Archive, and Chronicling America. In particular, articles from his “hometown” papers the Oregonian, the Seattle Daily Times, and the Tacoma Times provided helpful feature articles that went beyond the daily game accounts and often provided commentary from Suds himself on the major events of his career.

Ancestry.com provided the Sutherland family background and general biographical information, especially the US Census 1880-1940, and Harvey Scott Sutherland’s World War I and World War II draft registrations.

Minor league season stats come from SABR’s minor-league database at baseball-reference.com when available. In other cases they are taken from newspaper sources.

Two of Sutherland’s relatives were very helpful. A distant cousin, Laine Sutherland, who has been researching the Sutherland family history, shared some of her research with me. She also put me in touch with Stan Sutherland, a nephew of Suds, who kindly shared his memories of the uncle he used to visit in Portland, Oregon, during the 1960s.

 

Notes

i Portland Oregonian, February 21, 1922.

ii Portland Oregonian, February 21, 1911.

iii Portland Oregonian, October 13, 1928

iv Portland Oregonian, July 9, 1914.

v Portland Oregonian, August 5, 1914.

vi Detailed year-end statistics for the Northwestern League were compiled by official statistician J. Newton Colver and published in the Anaconda (Montana) Standard on September 17, 1916.

vii Portland Oregonian, March 8, 1922.

viii Anaconda Standard, September 20, 1916.

ix Harvey Scott Sutherland World War I Draft Registration, June 5, 1917.

x Flint (Michigan) Daily Journal, May 2, 1921.

xi Portland Oregonian, February 22, 1921

xii Portland Oregonian, February 21, 1922.

xiii Fort Wayne (Indiana) News Sentinel, June 13, 1921, summarized Ruth’s at bats pitch-by-pitch.

xiv Northwest Magazine, Seattle Sunday Times, July 13, 1969.

xv Portland Oregonian, February 21, 1922.

xvi Portland Oregonian, February 21, 1922.

xvii Portland Oregonian, September 14, 1922.

xviii Portland Oregonian, October 12, 1928

xix Email, Stan Sutherland, May 27, 2012.

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