Happy Birthday, Dizzy Sutherland!

Dizzy Sutherland went from a full-time cabbie and weekend pitcher to a tryout with Charlotte and eventually a September call up for the Washington Senators in six months.

Actually, Howard Alvin Sutherland’s life had a few more turns than that…  He was born 09 April 1922 to Ruby Garner and John Sutherland – who met when both were boarders at a home owned by Sutherland’s sister.  Sutherland was about twenty years older than Ruby, and not long after he sired older sister Erma and Howard, he was gone.  Ruby remarried – first to Raymond Groves and then to John DeGroot before finding stability in her married life.

Howard played ball in his home town Washington D.C., and then took a job in construction.  Soon after, however, he registered for the draft and later enlisted in the United States Army for World War II.  Private First Class Sutherland was part of an airborne mission in Italy when, within 30 minutes of hitting the ground and dispatching his parachute, he was taken hostage by German soldiers and spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp where the usually portly kid lost 100 pounds in two years.

Rescued and returned home, he soon married another Washington D.C. native, Mary Rose Redin, on 30 July 1945.  They had two children, Jennifer and Sherry.  To pay the bills, Sutherland took up driving a cab.  On the weekends, the former high school pitcher started pitching semi-professional baseball to help get in shape.  Spencer Abbott, a Senators scout, caught one of his games and recommended him to Senators management in 1948.  The next spring, Sutherland reported to spring training soft from spending too much time behind the wheel.

“But he had guts,” Charlotte manager Rabbit McDowell said, ” and a helluva curve.”

Another story, possibly apocryphal, suggested that Dizzy bragged about his pitching to Senators pitcher Bobo Newsom, who was riding in Sutherland’s cab, and Newsom recommended that someone check it out to see if it was legit.

It worked – Sutherland opened the 1949 season with Charlotte, where he was immediately successful, winning 18 games for a last place team.  The left hander’s curveball was the feature, but he could change speeds and spot a good enough fastball.  The Senators chose to give him a look in Washington – but not before the Disabled American Veterans gave Sutherland a special citation and plaque for having recovered from his prison camp health to pitch professional baseball.   The Sporting News noted:

“Sutherland, aptly called Dizzy, was wounded in three places by shrapnel during the late war, in which he must have set a record for quick capture. He was taken prisoner by the Germans within 30 minutes after he had bailed out with airborne troops over Italy and spent the remainder of the war in a prison camp.

“The Purple Heart holder was still 100 pounds underweight two years ago, finally got on the road to recovery and made vast strides. Now he weighs 200 and had a 17 – 10 record through September 6, for the Hornets, the city’s first last-place team in history. It was for this record and his health comeback that the DAV awarded him a special plaque, after which he went out and defeated Rock Hill, 5 to 4.”

Bisher, Furman. “Washington Cabbie in Winter and Winning Hurler in Summer”, The Sporting News, 14 September 1949, Page 20.

On September 20th, Sutherland got the start against the St. Louis Browns.  “I was scared to death,” Sutherland later said of his performance. “Normally I’m not wild, but that night I couldn’t have found the plate with radar.”  He walked three in the first inning, but a couple of ground balls and a pop up allowed him to escape allowing just one run.  In the second inning, he walked two then allowed a double to pitcher Joe Ostrowski, then another walk and a single.  He was pulled in favor of reliever Dick Welteroth.

He had two chances to work his way up the minor league ladder, but each time the Chattanooga Lookouts went in another direction.  So, he spent two more years with Charlotte – in his three seasons he won 49 and lost just 32 in 110 outings.  That last year, he was the winning pitcher when Charlotte clinched a pennant in 1951.  The next spring, after being sent to Richmond, his pitching days were over.

Sutherland would remarry and pick up four step children in addition to his two daughters.  But his time on earth, like his major league career, ended too quickly.  Sutherland passed to the next league on 26 August 1979.

Sources:

1920, 1930 US Census
1979 Washington Post Obit (undated copy)
Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.Org
FindAGrave.com
Social Security Applications
WWII Application
World War II Enlistment Records
North Carolina Marriage Records

Collett, Ritter. “Journal of Sports”, Dayton Journal-Herald, 01 July 1950, Page 10.

“Taxicab Driver May Make Grade With Nats”, Asheville Citizen-Times, 03 March 1950, Page 29.

Robbins, Zane. “Hornets Clinch Tri-State Pennant”, 27 August 1951, Page 13.

“Nooga Hurlers Sharp in Beating Tigers”, Nashville Tennessean, 11 April 1952, Page 49.

Bisher, Furman. “Washington Cabbie in Winter and Winning Hurler in Summer”, The Sporting News, 14 September 1949, Page 20.

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2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Dizzy Sutherland!

  1. Pingback: Baseball History for August 26th | Mighty Casey Baseball

  2. Pingback: Baseball History on April 9 | Mighty Casey Baseball

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