Ed Sukla (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Ed Sukla

This article was written by Eric Vickrey

Ed Sukla (THE TOPPS COMPANY)Ed Sukla made a career in the game of baseball, first in the 1960s and ’70s as a sinker-balling reliever for the Angels and in the Pacific Coast League, and then for decades with the Major League Scouting Bureau. Though baseball was the sport in which he made his living, he was an all-around athlete, also excelling at basketball, football, tennis, bowling, and golf at various points in his life.

Edward Anthony Sukla Jr. was born on March 3, 1943, in Long Beach, California. He was the second child born to Edward Sr. and Mary Sukla, following daughter Connie. Edward Sr. was a sales manager at Yucca Valley Heights Sales and Development and then worked as a real estate agent. For much of Ed’s childhood, the Sukla family lived in Surfside, a private beach colony overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and part of Seal Beach.

Edward Jr. got an early start at baseball when his father formed a youth baseball team called the Seal Beach Lions. Ed spent most days of his childhood on the beach, though despite his natural athleticism, he never tried his hand at surfing. In a 2020 interview, Connie recalled frequently seeing Ed with a group of boys playing football on the beach. During the popular grunion-running season, Ed and Connie would net the small bait fish at night, and Mary would clean and cook them for breakfast the next morning.

Ed attended Huntington Beach High School and starred in three sports for the Oilers. He became the point guard for the basketball team and starting quarterback for the football team. Sukla, slender and brown-eyed, was just 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds when he led Huntington Beach’s football team to a top CIF South ranking in the state.1 According to his obituary, he was also the school’s best pole vaulter even though he didn’t have the time to compete.2

Mainly, however, Sukla was a four-year standout on the baseball team. His accomplishments on the diamond attracted scouts when he was just a sophomore.3 He maintained a batting average of over .300 during all four years and was the team’s pitching ace, recording all but eight of the team’s victories in his senior year.4 For that final season, he received Athlete of the Year honors.5 During summers, he played baseball in the Connie Mack League. Rod Dedeaux, who later retired as college baseball’s winningest coach, offered him a full-ride scholarship to the University of Southern California, but Ed had his sights set on pro ball.6

Following graduation in 1961, Sukla attended a tryout with the Los Angeles Angels. The Halos’ chief scout, the gregarious Ross “Rosey” Gilhousen, signed the right-handed hurler to a contract for $14,000. Sukla received more generous offers from Minnesota and Milwaukee but chose the opportunity to pitch close to home over money.7 It was later reported that Sukla and his father used part of his bonus money to purchase beachfront property, which eventually netted them a “tidy profit.”8

In 1962, Sukla’s first season of professional baseball, he was assigned to Quad Cities in the Class D Midwest League. He began the season with a tough-luck 1-6 record, although he tossed a one-hitter over Clinton.9 This was the first of seven straight winning decisions for the 19-year-old. Sukla finished the season with a 10-8 record and 2.43 ERA. The 1963 season was split between Quad Cities and San Jose, the latter considered the more advanced Single-A team. Between the two teams, he started 16 of 25 games pitched and compiled a 6-6 record and 3.38 ERA.

Sukla went from corn fields to palm trees in 1964 as he was sent to Hawaii, the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. He started a dozen games and was mostly used as a reliever, appearing in 51 games total. He was one of the team’s more successful pitchers, finishing with a 3.11 ERA. Honolulu Stadium, a multi-purpose facility which hosted football games, boxing matches, and track meets among many other events, was known as a hitter’s park in its baseball configuration. “The right field was only 305 feet (25 ft. high screen) and the wind blew out that way,” said Sukla in 1965.10

In September 1965, the Angels were playing the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park. Angels relief pitcher Bob “Moose” Lee took a swing at a heckling fan and connected with a metal rail, fracturing two bones in his right hand.11 To replace Lee on the roster, the Angels called up Sukla. He made his major league debut on September 17 in a game versus the Yankees in New York. He entered the game in the sixth inning with the Angels trailing 4-0, a runner on first, and one out. He struck out Tom Tresh, allowed a single to Clete Boyer, and then struck out Mel Stottlemyre to end the inning. Sukla was again called on to pitch the following day, this time in Baltimore against the Orioles. The game was a slugfest with each team scoring eight runs through six innings. Sukla allowed a two-run homer to Jerry Adair, allowing the Orioles to take the lead. Though he retired the O’s in order in the eighth, including Luis Aparicio and Boog Powell, Sukla took the loss. He did not appear in another game that season.

Sukla spent the winter of 1964-65 serving active duty in the United States Army. He was stationed at Fort Ord near Monterey Bay and served as a clerk typist in a school for truck mechanics.12 “It was cold at Ord. I tried to throw a few in the barracks but there was no room and I found out later it’s against the rules. And I had no time to throw on the weekend,” Sukla told the Los Angeles Times.13 Shortly after being released from active duty, he reported to his first big league spring training with the Angels in Palm Springs.

To begin the 1965 season, Sukla was sent to Seattle, the Angels’ Triple-A team. Under manager Bob Lemon, the young pitcher flourished. Sukla was used solely as a late-inning reliever in Seattle and racked up ten saves while winning five of his seven decisions.14 After pitching 27.2 straight innings without allowing a run, he was recalled to the big club.15

After catching a morning flight to Los Angeles from Seattle, Sukla was immediately thrust into action against the Chicago White Sox. He picked up where he left off in Seattle by retiring all six batters he faced to nail down a save. Sukla’s best pitch was a sinker, and he also threw a slider which “drew raves” after his first appearance with Los Angeles.16 Angels manager Bill Rigney was impressed: “That was about as slick a performance as you’ll want to see.”17 Sukla continued his scoreless streak through his first seven games with the Angels, allowing just six hits across 9.2 innings with six strikeouts and zero walks.

In his eighth appearance of the 1965 season, Sukla finally allowed an earned run. In a span of four games, he allowed nine earned runs in six innings, bumping his ERA up above 5.00. He earned his first major league win on August 1 versus the Red Sox in a contest that went 11 innings. After a few more rough outings in mid-August, Sukla was sent back to Seattle. He pitched well in the Emerald City, finishing the Triple-A season with a 7-4 record and sparkling 1.38 ERA in 72 innings.

Sukla wasn’t just throwing pitches on the mound. During a game at Sick’s Stadium in Seattle, he spotted an attractive woman seated near the dugout. After asking her out via note delivered by the bat boy, Sukla was initially rebuffed. Diane Vandemore, who was named Miss Seattle in 1964, eventually gave in to his persistence. They got married, although their union would end in divorce six years later.18

Sukla’s success in Seattle earned him a promotion back to Los Angeles for the end of the 1965 season. He pitched well down the stretch for the Angels, earning another win and saving his third game of the year while allowing just one run over six appearances. He then pitched for Ponce of the Puerto Rican League that winter. He was one of the league’s most effective pitchers with a 7-3 record and 1.25 ERA.19

In 1966, the Angels relocated to Anaheim, and the franchise name was changed to the California Angels. The newly constructed Anaheim Stadium was christened on April 19, and the following day Sukla was the winning pitcher in the team’s first victory in their new home. Sukla appeared in five of the team’s first ten games, pitching eight innings without allowing a run. The streak ended when he allowed two home runs against Baltimore on April 26, though he did strike out Frank Robinson that day. Sukla allowed four runs in his next appearance versus Boston and noted that he had failed to keep his sinker down in the zone. “I threw the ball high. It was a disaster,” he said afterwards.20 Sukla pitched in a total of a dozen games for the Angels in April and May before being sent back to Seattle. This was the last time he competed on the big-league stage. For his career, he had a 3-5 record and 5.26 ERA.

For the remainder of the 1966 season, Sukla pitched in 21 games for Seattle with a 3.67 ERA, 29 strikeouts, and just two walks in 49 innings. His season came to an end when he injured his throwing arm. In a 2008 interview, Sukla recalled, “I knew right away I was in trouble. In those days, you didn’t have surgical or rehab techniques. I had a real bad case of shoulder tendinitis. I was never the same.”21 Despite missing the end of the season because of this injury, Sukla received a ring when Seattle won the Pacific Coast League championship.

Sukla spent the next nine seasons pitching in the PCL. He spent two more years (1967-68) pitching in Seattle and then another season (1969) in Hawaii when the Angels relocated their Triple-A affiliate. On the road during the 1968 season, he roomed with Jim Bouton and remembered him talking about writing a book.22 In Hawaii, Sukla’s roommate was Bo Belinsky, who had a reputation rivaling that of Hugh Hefner, Playboy Magazine publisher. As Gregory H. Wolf described in Belinsky’s SABR bio, he “made as many headlines with women as for his occasional pitching victories.”23 One can imagine the stories Sukla may have had from that season.

Sukla, also known by the nickname “Suke,” pitched just a few games with the Islanders in 1970 and was released in May. He then joined Eugene in the Phillies organization. After pitching with the Emeralds through 1972, he was released again but landed in the Giants system. He spent three final years (1973-75) with their Phoenix affiliate. In 1974, he won his first six decisions and had an ERA of 1.97 through early June.24 Despite this excellent stretch and his overall consistent performances throughout the years, he never got another call to the majors. In his seasons pitching in the PCL, his highest ERA was 3.98, and he won a total of 74 games during his minor-league career. Sukla was 32 years old when he threw his last professional pitch in 1975.

Former PCL outfielder Mike Floyd shared his memories of Sukla in 2020: “I faced Ed in high school and also when he pitched with Eugene and Phoenix in the PCL. He was a sinker-slider guy all the way, knew how to pitch and hid the ball real well. He had these big old size 12 shoes and wore a huge pitcher’s glove. When he wound up, he’d stick the left foot up, release the pitch from behind that big Rawlings glove and you could hardly pick the ball up. I think he learned those moves from Jim Coates, his teammate in Seattle and Hawaii. He was tough on us righties.”

After his retirement, Sukla remained in the Giants organization as an instructor. He was an aide to Hank Sauer in the Instructional League in Arizona in the fall of 1976.25

From its inception in 1977, Sukla worked for the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, an organization that scouted amateur players and supplied reports to all big-league teams. “It’s like being a movie critic,” he said in describing his role to the Los Angeles Times in 1990.26 He spent over three decades scouting players throughout Southern California. Unfortunately, SABR’s Scouts Committee has virtually no particular information on Sukla’s work. This is not uncommon for bureau scouts, who rarely get cited in media guides or other records. It’s somewhat surprising that a former big-leaguer assigned to a prospect-rich territory in a major media market did not go on the record more often with local and national baseball writers — i.e., being asked for his perspective on high-profile ballplayers or about the scouting life.27 According to his sister, however, Sukla was a private man — as one may also infer from his license plate, FLYNLOW.28

Sukla also got back to Hawaii in 2002 while conducting his duties — the bureau held its first open tryout in the islands that year. Sukla observed the pitchers in the bullpen, two at a time. Occasionally, he stopped a player to offer a suggestion. As seen in Los Angeles a dozen years previously, his role was to identify in the morning who was good enough to stick around for the game in the afternoon.29

In 2007, Sukla received the honor of West Coast Scout of the Year. At a ceremony in Nashville, he accepted his award: a ring “the size of a Super Bowl ring,” said Connie.30 In a rewarding circumstance, the presenter was Roland Hemond, who’d been the Angels’ scouting director when Sukla signed as a teenager 46 years earlier.31 “This award is extra-special to me to have it presented by Roland Hemond,” said Sukla. “I am truly flattered and truly humbled to receive this.”32 Hemond has been cited as one of the top executives in all of baseball and honored by the Hall of Fame for his business leadership.

Sukla, who always dressed to the nines, continued to relish athletic competition in other sports after his baseball career. He became a nationally ranked senior tennis player until injuries forced him to turn his attention to golf, at which he also excelled. “Golf was his passion,” said Connie, who also recalled that he could “run the table at pool” and bowled several perfect 300 games.

In 2006, Sukla was running on a treadmill when he developed pain in his right leg. He was ultimately diagnosed with osteosarcoma and underwent surgery. Despite this, he remained active and kept a positive outlook throughout his nine-year battle with this disease. During this time, he had a second marriage to Mary Ann Roberts, and the couple lived in Irvine, California.

Ed Sukla passed away on September 24, 2015 at the age of 72.

 

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Connie Marangi for sharing information and memories about her brother’s life and career. Thanks also to Rod Nelson of SABR’s Scouts Committee and Mike Floyd for sharing his memories of playing with and against Sukla.

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Mike Floyd and fact-checked by Chris Rainey.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author relied on Baseball-Reference.com

 

Notes

1 Al Carr, “Pitcher Doffs Khaki, Heads for Angel Duty,” The Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1965: 9.

2 Ed Sukla obituary, Orange County Register, October 4, 2015 (https://obits.ocregister.com/obituaries/orangecounty/obituary.aspx?n=ed-sukla&pid=176011735)

3 “Son of Former Hi-Desert Man Signs Angel Contract,” Hi-Desert Star, July 6, 1961: 10.

4 “Son of Former Hi-Desert Man Signs Angel Contract.”

5 “Son of Former Hi-Desert Man Signs Angel Contract.”

6 Telephone interview between Connie Marangi and the author, October 12, 2020 (hereafter “Connie Marangi interview”).

7 Connie Marangi interview.

8 Al Carr, “No-Boundary Catholic Schools Surveying Sources of Athletes,” The Los Angeles Times, February 28, 1965: 198.

9 Jerry Jurgens. “7th-Inning Blow Ruins No-Hit Bid,” The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), July 9, 1962: 14.

10 Carr. “Pitcher Doffs Khaki, Heads for Angel Duty.”

11 “Angels ‘Slugger’ Has Broken Hand,” Ventura County Star-Free Press, September 17, 1964: 32.

12 Carr, “Pitcher Doffs Khaki, Heads for Angel Duty.”

13 Carr, “Pitcher Doffs Khaki, Heads for Angel Duty.”

14 “Rookie Sinks Lopez; Weary Ed Sukla Saves Angels as White Sox Lose,” The Miami News, July 3, 1955: 9.

15 “Rookie Sinks Lopez.”

16 Al Carr, “Beach Youth Strives to Stay with Angels.” The Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1965: 4.

17 “Rookie Sinks Lopez; Weary Ed Sukla Saves Angels as White Sox Lose.”

18 Dan Raley, “Where are they now? Top Scout Showed Early Eye for Talent at Sick’s Stadium,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 29, 2008 (https://www.seattlepi.com/sports/baseball/article/Where-Are-They-Now-Top-scout-showed-early-eye-1271930.php)

19 Al Carr, “Reliefer Seeking Job with Angels,” The Los Angeles Times, February 12, 1966: 107.

20 “Sports Notes,” The Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1966: 212.

21 Raley, “Where are they now?”

22 Raley, “Where are they now?”

23 Gregory H. Wolf, “Bo Belinsky,” SABR BioProject: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/bo-belinsky/

24 Bob Eger, “Run-Conscious Sukla Spurs Giants’ 130-Year-Old Pen,” The Sporting News, June 22, 1974: 33.

25 Ed Prell, “Pads Defend AIL Crown,” The Sporting News, October 2, 1976: 34.

26 Jeff Riley, “Baseball Tryout Is Some Players’ Last Chance for Glory,” The Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1990: 246.

27 None of Sukla’s MLSB reports were submitted to the Scout of the Year Foundation to be included in the Diamond Mines exhibit in Cooperstown in 2013, prior to his passing.

28 Ed Sukla obituary.

29 Al Chase, “Isle youths get MLB tryout,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, June 22, 2002: 15.

30 Connie Marangi interview.

31 Lisa Winston, “Four Scouts Scoop Up Well-Earned Honors,” mlb.com, December 3, 2007. http://www.milb.com/gen/articles/news_milb/y2007/m12/d03/c327363.jsp. Accessed 10/13/2020.

32 Winston, “Four Scouts Scoop Up Well-Earned Honors.”

Full Name

Edward Anthony Sukla

Born

March 3, 1943 at Long Beach, CA (USA)

Died

September 24, 2015 at Irvine, CA (USA)

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