Obituary: Scott Sanderson (1956-2019)

R.I.P. to Scott Sanderson, an All-Star pitcher who won 163 games over a 19-year career. He died today, April 11, at the age of 62. His death was first reported on Twitter by Daily Herald columnist Barry Rozner.

Canadian journalist/author/Expos historian Danny Gallagher had reported more than a year ago that Sanderson had his voice box removed and suffered a stroke that had left him bedridden.

Sanderson pitched for the Montreal Expos (1978-1983), Chicago Cubs (1984-89), Oakland Athletics (1990), New York Yankees (1991-92), California Angels (1993; 1995-96), San Francisco Giants (1993) and Chicago White Sox (1994).

Scott Sanderson was born on July 22, 1956 in Dearborn, Mich, but he was a Chicago suburb kid. He attended high school at Glenbrook North in Northbrook and led the baseball team to the 1974 IHSA baseball state championship in 1974. The Royals drafted him in the 11th Round of the Amateur Draft that year. Instead, he attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville until 1977, when he was drafted by the Expos in the 3rd Round of the ’77 Draft.

Sanderson only pitched in 34 career games in the minor leagues, and 5 of those were injury rehab starts when he was with the Cubs. He appeared in 10 games at West Palm Beach in 1977 and went 5-2 with a 2.68 ERA. In 1978, he had 9 starts for AA Memphis and 9 for AAA Denver, and then he was brought up to the majors in August of 1978.

Scott Sanderson’s rookie year, with rookie mustache. Source: The Gazette (Montreal), September 14, 1978.

In 10 appearances, 9 of which were starts, Sanderson had a 4-2 record and a 2.51 ERA. He shut out the Pirates on 3 hits on Sept. 24 for his first career complete game. After that successful rookie year, he became a part of the Expos’ rotation for the next five seasons. He was a 16-game winner in 1980 with a 3.11 ERA, and he had a career-high 158 strikeouts in 1982, to go with a 12-12 record and 3.46 ERA. His excellent control and nasty curve ball made him a tough pitcher to face.

Sanderson spent much of 1983 on the disabled list, appearing in just 18 games with a 6-7 record and 4.65 ERA. He was involved in a 3-team deal during the winter meetings between the Cubs, Expos and Padres. Six players were involved, and the net result was that Sanderson was a Cub. He spent six seasons with the team and was dogged by injuries. He won 8 games for the 1984 Cubs team that broke the team’s 38-year playoff drought, with a 3.14 ERA in 24 starts. Battling through back problems that limited him to just 15-1/3 innings in 1988, he was an 11-game winner for the 1989 Cubs, which also made the playoffs.

Durability was a constant issue for him. He threw more than 200 innings in a season just four times in his 19-year career. Two of those seasons were 1990 and 1991, when he pitched for the A’s and Yankees, respectively. Without any serious health issues, Sanderson won a career-high 17 games for Oakland and then made the ’91 All-Star team with the Yankees. He had a 16-10 record, 3.81 ERA and 130 strikeouts against just 29 walks.

1990 Upper Deck #39.

Sanderson won a combined 11 games between the Angels and Giants in 1993 and won 8 games as the White Sox fifth starter in the strike-interrupted season of 1994. He returned to the Angels for 1995-6 but only appeared in a total of 12 games because of back surgery. His last appearance came on May 15, 1996 when he threw 2-1/3 innings in relief against the Red Sox, allowing 2 earned runs. He was placed on waivers the next day, ending his MLB career.

Sanderson had a lifetime 163-143 record with a 3.84 ERA. He struck out 1,611 batters, had a 1.26 WHIP and averaged 2.2 walks per 9 innings. After his playing days, he stayed active in baseball as a player agent, partnering with agents Michael Moye and Bill Rose. They represented players like Josh Beckett, Todd Helton and Josh Hamilton, according to the Tribune.

Despite the fact that Sanderson was known for his kindness off the field, he was a tough competitor on it. He wasn’t afraid to throw inside, once sparking a wild brawl between the Expos and Braves when he threw behind the head of Claudell Washington.

“It’s give and take,” Sanderson told Chicago Tribune columnist Jerome Holtzman in 1984. “When they’re aware you’ll come inside and push them back, they have to give you some of the outside corner. Pitchers make their living on the outside corner.”

I’m a die-hard Cubs fan dating back to the early ’80s, and that 1984 Cubs team was the one that made me fall in love with baseball. Sanderson had a hard time staying healthy with the Cubs, but he was a reliable pitcher for that team that came so close to the World Series.

The thing I will remember about Sanderson was that he was the most handsome ballplayer who ever lived. Look at any baseball card or any picture of the man. No human being ever looked like he belonged in a baseball uniform more than Scott Sanderson. He was a regular attendee at the annual Cubs Convention fan gathering. I attended the one in 2009, which was the 25th anniversary of the ’84 Cubs. He looked EXACTLY the same. Maybe a little gray in his hair, but otherwise pretty much untouched by time. I hate that he spent his last couple of years in poor health, but I hope he’s at peace now.


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