Scott Douglas Sanderson
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 5", Weight 200 lb.
- School Vanderbilt University
- High School Glenbrook North High School
- Debut August 6, 1978
- Final Game May 15, 1996
- Born July 22, 1956 in Dearborn, MI USA
- Died April 11, 2019 in Lake Forest, IL USA
Although he was never a major star, pitcher Scott Sanderson had a solid 19-year career as a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues, finishing with a record of 163-143 and a 3.84 ERA in 472 games.
Born in Dearborn, MI, Sanderson grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and attended Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, IL, where he led the school to the 1974 state championship. He was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 11th round of the 1974 amateur draft but chose to accept a scholarship from Vanderbilt University instead of signing. He was a pitcher with the United States national team during his college years, taking part in two major competitions, the 1975 Intercontinental Cup in Jarry Park in Montreal, QC and the 1975 Pan American Games held in Mexico City. In the '75 Intercontinental Cup, he had the best ERA (0.60) and tied for the best record (2-0) as the USA won the Gold Medal. He fanned 13 in a complete game win over Bronze Medalist Nicaragua and worked three shutout innings of extra-inning relief to beat Silver Medalist Japan. He won Silver in the 1975 Pan American Games. He was selected by the Montreal Expos in the third round of the 1977 amateur draft and signed a contract on June 21.
Scott began his professional career with the West Palm Beach Expos of the Florida State League in 1977, posting a 5-2 record with a solid 2.68 ERA in 10 starts. After the season, he played in the Venezuelan League where he was outstanding, compiling a 9-2 record with a 1.91 ERA, and then winning two more games in the 1977 Caribbean Series. That performance singled him out as one of the Expos' top pitching prospects, and he was fast-tracked through the minors in 1978. He began the season with the Memphis Chicks of the Double A Southern League, but was promoted after nine starts, in which he went 5-3, 4.03. He then went to the Denver Bears of the Triple A American Association, and while his ERA suffered in the thin Colorado air, ballooning to 6.06, he was still an effective pitcher as demonstrated by his 4-2 record in nine starts. On August 1, he was promoted to the National League, replacing an injured Rudy May.
The Expos' Glory Years
Scott Sanderson made his major league debut on August 6, 1978, starting the second game of a doubleheader at Chicago's Wrigley Field (Boxscore). He gave up only one run in 5 1/3 innings, but reliever Mike Garman failed to preserve a 2-1 lead and he ended up with a no-decision. He would remain a key member of the Expos pitching staff from that day on, until he was injured in a collision at first base in Chicago on July 4, 1983. He had to wait until September 2 to record his first major league victory, a 3-2 win at San Diego. His record stood at 1-2 at this point, but he would win three of his next five starts, including a three-hit shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 24, ending the year with a record of 4-2, 2.51. He was named the Expos' Player of the Month for September and nailed down a slot in the starting rotation for the following season.
1979 was the year the Expos suddenly became good. Everything seemed to work that year as they set a team record with 95 wins. Sanderson started the Expos' third game that year, and held a spot in the starting rotation until the end of July. He pitched what was probably the best game of his career on May 8 in San Francisco, when he blanked the Giants on one hit while striking out nine (Boxscore). He lost his starter's job not because he was pitching especially poorly - his record stood at 6-6 with a 3.72 ERA after his July 27 start - but because he had failed to pitch beyond the fifth inning in his previous four starts. With the Expos in a neck-and-neck race with the Pittsburgh Pirates and their two long relievers, Rudy May and David Palmer, pitching lights out, manager Dick Williams decided to send Sanderson to the bullpen for a while to have him regain stamina. The strategy worked as Sanderson only gave up 5 runs in 22 2/3 innings as a long reliever (1.98 ERA) between July 30 and August 27, picking up his first save in the process. When he was needed to start again during the stretch drive, as a result of a slew of doubleheaders, he was ready. On September 16, he held the Cardinals to one run over 10 innings before Dave Cash hit a game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the 10th. In his next start on September 20 in New York, he pitched a complete game shutout, but he ended the year with a rare bad outing, giving up six runs in less than five innings to the Pirates on September 25, to bring his record for the season to 9-7, 3.43. His 138 strikeouts over 168 innings were the third best ratio in the National League that season.
In 1980, Sanderson was simply outstanding, compiling a 16-11 record with a 3.11 ERA over 33 starts, including 3 shutouts. He and Steve Rogers were the two pillars of an unstable starting rotation, and almost managed to pitch the Expos to their first division title. As it turned out, the Expos and Phillies were tied with identical records of 89-70 coming into the season's last weekend of head-to-head games in Montreal. Sanderson started the first of these contests on October 3 (Boxscore) and only gave up two runs in seven innings, one as a result of Mike Schmidt's 47th home run of the year in the 6th inning. Unfortunately, the Expos only managed to scratch out one run against Dick Ruthven and two relievers. The Expos would lose the next game on a dramatic home run by Schmidt in extra innings, and once again fell just short of the title. The strike-shortened 1981 was a less eventful year for Sanderson, but he continued to pitch well as part of a solid quartet of starting pitchers that also included Rogers, Bill Gullickson and Ray Burris. His record stood at 9-7, 2.96 in 22 starts, but he ended the year on a down note, going 2-3, 4.54 in seven starts in September and October. This explains why he was moved to the back of the rotation for the postseason, only being used to start the fourth game of the Division Series against the Phillies (Boxscore). He did not help his cause, only lasting 2 2/3 innings as the Expos lost the game in extra innings.
Scott was still in the starting rotation for the 1982 season and had another solid, if unspectacular season. He pitched a career-high 224 innings, and also established a personal mark with 158 strikeouts, but only posted a 12-12 record in spite of a solid 3.46 ERA, as the team always seemed to have one thing or another preventing it from hitting its full stride. On July 11 against the Giants, he tied an unenviable National League record by giving up consecutive home runs to Reggie Smith, Milt May and Champ Summers, a reflection of a growing tendency to cough up gopher balls (he gave up 24 that season and would continue to be afflicted by the problem in later years). The highlight of his year came at the bat. On September 11 (Boxscore), playing in windy conditions in Wrigley Field, he lifted a fly ball just beyond the right field fence off Randy Martz for a grand slam on his way to a 10-6 victory. He would only hit one other home run in his career, on his way to lifetime .097 batting average. He ran into problems in 1983 after winning his first three starts of the year. His ERA started rising steadily after that, hitting a high of 5.74 on June 1, when his record stood at 4-4. He started pitching better afterwards, but still lost two of his next three starts until an excellent outing in the second game of a July 4 doubleheader in Wrigley Field (Boxscore), in the last game before the All-Star break. He had given up only one run on three hits over six innings when, leading off the seventh inning, he collided with first baseman Bill Buckner while running out a ground ball and had to leave the game with a knee injury. The Expos were in first place at that time, but sputtered while he was on the disabled list. He made five appearances after his return in September, going 1-1, 4.67, as the Expos faded out of the pennant race.
An injury-filled time in Chicago
After the 1983 season, Sanderson was included in a three-team trade that sent him to his hometown Chicago Cubs. He was the prize catch for the Cubs, as they sent youngsters Carmelo Martinez, Craig Lefferts and Fritzie Connally to the San Diego Padres to acquire him. However, he continually battled injuries during his time with the Cubs. In 1984, he spent all of June on the disabled list, and made only 24 starts. When he did pitch he was excellent, going 8-5, 3.14 to give the Cubs a fourth solid starter behind Cy Young Award winner Rick Sutcliffe, Dennis Eckersley and Steve Trout, as the team claimed a surprise division title. He started Game 4 of the 1984 NLCS in San Diego on October 6 (Boxscore) but left with two outs in the fifth inning after the Padres tied the score at 3 in a seesaw game that would be decided on Steve Garvey's dramatic home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. There was more of the same in 1985, as he only made 19 starts before he was placed on the disabled list on August 14, where he finished the year. He pitched well when he was around, posting a 3.12 ERA in 121 innings, but his record was only 5-6, reflecting a lack of offensive support from a team that couldn't recapture the previous year's magic.
1986 marked Sanderson's first fully healthy year since 1982, but it also saw his ERA rise by a full run to 4.19, leading to an uninspiring 9-11 record. He shut out the St. Louis Cardinals in his second start of the year on April 23, but never found consistency. He was removed from the starting rotation after a start on September 3 resulted in his 11th loss, and he made his last 9 appearances of the year out of the bullpen, where his ERA was a sparkling 1.23 in 15 innings. He started 1987 on the disabled list once again, making his first appearance with an April 25 winning start in Montreal. After an initial good stretch, he was hit hard as a starter in early June, and, with his ERA standing over 5.00, was moved to the bullpen for the middle part of the season. Having righted things to some extent, he returned to the starting rotation to stay in early August and ended the year at 8-9, 4.29 in 22 starts. Health problems hit him back with a vengeance in 1988, keeping him from making his first appearance until the end of August. He pitched exclusively in relief that year, but was hit hard, giving up 9 runs in 15 innings.
1989 followed a familiar pattern for Sanderson, as he began the year in the starting rotation, pitched relatively well at first and then seemed to tire. In early August, with his record at 9-8, 4.32, he was yanked from the rotation, and would only make three more starts the rest of the year. That period coincided with the Cubs catching fire and passing the Expos before pulling away with the National League East title as Sanderson posted a 3.38 ERA in 14 relief appearances. Unfortunately, he was saddled with the loss in what was probably his best performance of the season: on August 6 in Pittsburgh (Boxscore), he pitched eight innings of shutout relief before giving up a lead-off 18th inning home run to Jeff King. He ended the year with an 11-9 record - his highest win total since 1982, and a 3.94 ERA. In the 1989 NLCS against the Giants, he was used only once. In Game 4 played in San Francisco on October 8 (Boxscore), he came on in relief of Steve Wilson to start the sixth inning with the Cubs down 6-4. He pitched two scoreless innings and was replaced by Mitch Williams after Terry Kennedy hit a lead-off single in the 8th, but the Cubs failed to come back. It was his last game in a Cubs' uniform.
Comeback in the American League
Scott Sanderson was granted free agency after the 1989 season and signed a one-year contract with the World Champion Oakland Athletics. He was a mainstay of their starting rotation in 1990, making 34 starts and pitching 206 innings to finish with a 17-11 record, thanks to some good offensive support, as his ERA was a mediocre 3.88. He was the number three starter behind the outstanding Dave Stewart and Bob Welch, who went 22-11 and 27-6 respectively for a team that won a league-leading 103 games. He was not used in the ALCS as the Athletics swept the overmatched Boston Red Sox in four games: Manager Tony LaRussa gave the Game 3 start to Mike Moore, who had gone 13-15, 4.65 during the regular season but had excelled in the 1989 postseason. In any case, Moore won the game by allowing only one run over six innings, which meant that Sanderson would only be used if the World Series went longer than expected. The Athletics were overwhelming favorites for the Series, after having swept their last two postseason series, and were expected to make quick work of the Cincinnati Reds. In fact, the opposite happened. The Reds scored two runs off Stewart in the first inning of Game 1 on October 16 (Boxscore) and never looked back. Sanderson made the only World Series appearance of his career that day, pitching a scoreless seventh inning with his team already down 7-0. There was never a chance for him to start a game, as the Reds completed a totally unexpected sweep with Moore starting and losing Game 3.
Sanderson re-signed with the Athletics on December 19, but on December 31, his contract was sold to the New York Yankees. 1990 had been a dreadful year for the team, seeing them finish last with a 67-95 record, the worst in the American League. Their starting pitching was a shambles, and Sanderson immediately stepped in as the team's new ace. He did not disappoint being by far the team's best pitcher in 1991, ending the year 16-10, 3.81, not only the only Yankee in double figures in wins, but with 8 more than anyone else on the staff. He made a very weak team competitive every time he took the mound and was rewarded for his effort by a trip to the All-Star Game. His Yankee debut was truly a memorable one, as on April 10, 1991 (Boxscore), he took a no-hitter into the 9th inning against the Tigers before surrendering a wind-blown double to Tony Phillips and combining with Greg Cadaret for a 4-0 one-hit victory. He returned for the 1992 season, the first under rookie manager Buck Showalter, and finally had some help. Melido Perez went 13-16 with an excellent 2.87 ERA while Sanderson fell to 12-11 and saw his ERA rise to 4.93, the highest in his career up to that point, with the exception from his shortened 1988 season. In a flashback to ten years earlier, he had a particularly rough outing on May 2 against the Minnesota Twins (Boxscore). In the 5th inning, he gave up solo home runs to Shane Mack, Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and Randy Bush to tie a major league record before being lifted for Rich Monteleone. The Yankees - and Sanderson - started very strongly before cooling down in the second half of the season and they declined to offer him a new contract at the end of the year.
Sanderson had to wait until spring training was starting to catch on with the California Angels in 1993. He pitched fairly well for his new team, with a 4.46 ERA over 21 starts, but his record stood at 7-11 when he was placed on waivers. Sensing a bargain, the San Francisco Giants, locked in an epic pennant race with the Atlanta Braves, picked him up on August 3 and inserted him in their starting rotation. The Giants lacked a solid third starter behind the outstanding Bill Swift (21-8, 2.82) and John Burkett (22-7, 3.65) and the experienced Sanderson stepped into the breach with aplomb. Over 8 starts and 11 appearances down the stretch, he went 4-2, 3.51, striking out 36 in 48 2/3 innings (against only 7 walks). His last win came on September 19, however, and his last start, a no-decision against the Padres, on the 24th. He was only used once over the season's crucial last ten days, a solid 2 1/3 inning outing in relief of Salomon Torres on September 29 against Colorado. To this day, Giants fans wonder what would have happened had manager Dusty Baker given him the ball in the deciding last game of the season, October 3 in Los Angeles. Instead, the call went to the rookie Torres, who gave up three runs in a little over three innings before the bullpen poured more fuel on the fire. The Giants lost 12-1, as Sanderson's one perfect inning in relief stood out among a slew of wretched pitching performances. The Giants finished the year at 103-59, one game behind the Braves.
The End of the Line
Sanderson was granted free agency once again after the 1993 season, and not surprisingly, after that spectacular display of no confidence from his manager, chose to go elsewhere. He signed with the Chicago White Sox and spent the strike-shortened 1994 season with the Pale Hose. While his ERA was high at 5.09, he gave his team a chance to win every time he took the mound as the team's fifth starter, as his 8-4 record in 14 starts attests. He was pulled from the starting rotation after not making it out of the second inning in a game against Detroit on July 18 and made his last three appearances out of the bullpen. That is where he stood when the season was ended by the 1994 strike with the White Sox in first place in the American League Central.
He returned to the California Angels after the strike was settled in April 1995, but only made seven starts before being shut down by an injury on May 31. His ERA had been a decent 4.12, with an excellent K/BB ratio of 23 to 4, so the Angels gave him another chance in 1996. He made three starts in April during which he was hit hard, and then was sat down for ten days before being racked in another start on May 11 against the Indians. His last Major League appearance was as a mop-up man in a 17-6 loss to the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park on May 15. He came into the game with the Angels already down 13-5 in the 5th inning and gave up the Red Sox's last four runs over 2 1/3 innings before letting Dennis Springer finish things up. He was released by the Angels the next day, putting an end to a 19-year career.
Following his career, he worked as a player agent for a time. He also filled in on Cubs radio broadcasts from time to time. He passed away in 2019, at age 62, from cancer.
Scott Sanderson was never a star, but he was a better than average starting pitcher for a very long time. Unfortunately, his years with the Chicago Cubs, which should have been the best in his career, were slowed by injury. What is most interesting is that he almost always played with good teams, and while never the staff leader, was always an important contributor to their success. He always had good control - he never walked more than 66 batters in a season, and even that came in 206 innings in 1990 - while his strikeout rate was consistently above average. His major flaw was a tendency to give up home runs, which may explain why he never truly shined in Wrigley Field. But overall, his career is nothing to be ashamed of. Far from it.
- AL All-Star (1991)
- 15 Wins Seasons: 3 (1980, 1990 & 1991)
- 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 4 (1980, 1982, 1990 & 1991)