Johnny Sutton

September 12, 2008
The Two Freaks
(continued from Greg Gross)

Chapter Four

Contrary to what you might guess, a baseball is not hidden inside the glove of Johnny Sutton, but rather a crumpled wad of lined notebook paper the approximate size of a baseball. The wad struck Johnny Sutton in the head with a barely noticeable impact just moments before this off-center picture was taken. He was stepping across the foul line and felt something tap him. He picked it up and looked around but saw nothing. Whoever had tossed it at him had somehow almost instantly disappeared. Johnny Sutton noticed writing on the wad’s inner folds but didn’t have time to open the wad before the photographer brusquely and distractedly waved him into position and snapped the photo with an apathy that would result in the finished product we see here:

Johnny Sutton jammed to the side, his left elbow nearly cut off by the right-hand border while to the right of him the splotchy expanse is wide enough to include half of a figure in a pitcher’s windbreaker. Johnny Sutton no more than a box to check off once and only once. He’s already pitched the last of his 31 major league games, mopping up at the end of the 1978 season in a 4-0 loss to a team, the Kansas City Royals, so intent on resting its regulars for the upcoming playoffs that they used someone named Dave Cripe as their cleanup hitter. Dave Cripe!

Is Johnny Sutton thinking of Dave Cripe as the picture is snapped? Or is he thinking of the photographer’s obvious indifference? Or is he thinking of the whispering premonition that his spot at the far edge of the Twins roster will soon be usurped by the figure in the windbreaker creeping into his one and only baseball card like the Specter of Death Itself? Or is he thinking of the crumpled up wad of scribbled-on paper? Or is he thinking of All of the Above, that dim blue sky into which we all dissolve?

Impossible to know, of course. But there’s a tight, bracing slant to his shoulders, a slight purse to his lips, a weary, wary look in his eyes, and all of it seems to speak of the anticipation of something that probably (89%) won’t be so great but might (11%) be OK. Mirrors throw 89-to-11-ratioed portraits like this back into my face all the time: What is today going to be like? An unscheduled overhand karate chop to the neck? Probably. But maybe, and I’m not counting on it, just maybe some good news will somehow sneak its way past the Iron Curtain-style guards manning the perimeter. This seems to be a part of the portrait of Johnny Sutton, a hope that what he is holding in his hands, hidden to us, hidden for the moment even to him, will be good.

When the photo has been taken, simultaneously commencing and bringing to an end Johnny Sutton’s existence as a Cardboard God, Johnny Sutton steps back toward the fringes of the field that he will soon enough be barred from. He opens his glove and uses his imminently irrelevant pitching hand to unfold the baseball-sized wad resting in the glove’s pocket.

It is a letter, words filling up the whole page. Johnny Sutton checks the bottom of the page first, curious to see who used this unorthodox method to contact him. Maybe it is from a secret admirer. Maybe it is the start of a whole new chapter of joy.

“Sincerely (And We Mean That), The Two Freaks,” the letter concludes.

Johnny Sutton, perplexed, less hopeful, then looks to the top of the page and begins to read.

“Dear Fellow Marginal,” the letter begins. “Before we embark on our urgent message to you, please allow us to introduce ourselves.” 

(to be continued)


  1. 1.  I can not wait to read the letter! What a cliff hanger!!! Not to put any pressure on you, but… HURRY!!!


  2. 2.  I have absolutely no recollection of this guy despite following baseball religiously, and collecting baseball cards, during this time period. He’s like Fred Howard.

  3. 3.  2 : A total surprise to me too, and I obviously once gazed upon this card as a kid, at least for a second.

    Unlike Fred Howard (if anyone’s interested, there’s a link to his post under Chicago White Sox in sidebar), Johnny Sutton seems to have avoided showing up, even peripherally, in any epoch-defining contests. (Unless, like me, you consider the day Dave Cripe scored his only major league run epoch-defining.)

  4. 4.  He looks a little like Porn star John Holmes in the eyes, hair, and the cheesy stache.

  5. 5.  4 : That theory, combined with John Holmes’ stage name, may explain why I felt the urge to use the words “Johnny” and “wad” repeatedly in the first paragraph of the chapter.

  6. 6.  Dave Cripe does have a baseball claim to fame:
    He is one of the main figures in Richard Lyttle’s “A Year in the Minors,” a kid’s book tracing the season of a typical low-minor-league team — in this case, the 1973 San Jose Bees.
    (Cripe was one of the team’s most promising youngsters. Another of the Bees’ young stars: Joe Zdeb.)
    Very, very good book for the young baseball fan; I read it a number of times.

    As for Johnny Sutton, I had absolutely no idea he ever existed.

  7. 7.  Oddly, Mr. Sutton looks like a slightly stoned member of Molly Hatchet dressed in a Twins uniform. Maybe he feels like he sees a kindred spirit in the Two Freaks?

  8. 8.  5 Josh, obviously I need to read your stuff more closely!

  9. 9.  Josh – is Johnny Sutton related to Don Sutton? Okay – I know he’s not, but his hair looks like he could be, but didn’t we all wear our hair like that in the 70s?

    Full name = Johnny Ike Sutton.


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