Rick Sutcliffe, who won the National League Rookie of the Year Award, the Cy Young Award and Roberto Clemente Award during his Major League Baseball career, is coming home to receive an honor that leaves him humble and thankful.
Sutcliffe, a former star at Van Horn High School who was known for his ferocious nature on the mound and his big heart away from the playing field, will receive the Buck O'Neil Legacy Award at 7:30 tonight in a ceremony at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (1616 East 18th Street, Kansas City).
“In 1979 I won the Jackie Robinson (Rookie of the Year) Award, and I never thought it could get better than that,” said Sutcliffe, who started his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. “But I never met Jackie Robinson or got to shake his hand.
“In 1984 I was a unanimous winner of the Cy Young Award (given to the most outstanding pitcher in each league, while starring for the National League's Chicago Cubs), but all I know about Cy Young is that he won 511 games around the turn of the century.”
In 1987 he received baseball's highest humanitarian honor, the Clemente Award, named after the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer who died in a plane accident Dec. 31, 1972, while delivering food and supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
“When I won the Clemente Award, I knew it couldn't get any better than that,” Sutcliffe said as he longtime friend and fellow Van Horn graduate Rick Taylor drove him home from KCI Airport. “But again, I knew about Roberto, but I never met him.
“Now, I've won an award named after Buck O'Neil.”
Sutcliffe, who now is an award-winning baseball commentator for ESPN, paused for a moment, to collect his thoughts, as he spoke about the Kansas City baseball icon who has a statue in front of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“But Buck O'Neil – I knew Buck. I loved Buck. I don't know if you can receive any higher honor than the Buck O'Neil Legacy Award. We spoke at the same dinners, we went together to All-Star Games and World Series.
“I played golf with Buck. And during his 11th hour, Rick (Taylor) and I were on the short list to visit him at the hospital. I was holding his hand moments before he passed away (Oct. 6, 2006, at the age of 94).”
Although Sutcliffe still owns a home in Lee's Summit, he spends most of his time in San Diego, to be close to his daughter and his 10-month-old grandson.
“I left San Diego today and it was 80,” he said, “and let's see, it's below 30 back home. But I wouldn't have missed this ceremony for anything. Buck's legacy and the Negro Leagues Museum are so important to me. I wouldn't miss this for anything.”