Wayne County Wanderings: Keith Sutton's Legacy

Aside from the early and unexpected arrival of 90-degree temperatures, Wednesday had been unremarkable to that point.

The newsroom was buzzing with activities: phones ringing, people bustling in and out, friendly banter among editors and reporters rising above the din.

All things considered, it was just another day at The Wayne Independent … until Joyce and Janice burst in with exciting news.

“Kevin!” Janice exclaimed. “Come see what we found.”

And so, I followed them all the way back to one of the deepest recesses of our building here at 220 8th Street; curious, but totally unprepared for what they had discovered.

The Unexpected

There, sitting on the floor was an ancient-looking pallet of dust-covered boxes … boxes filled, as it turned out, with pristine copies of “Wayne County Sports History: 1871-1972.”

I was flabbergasted, much to the amusement of Janice and Joyce.

I really couldn't believe my eyes. This book, which was written by local legend Keith Sutton, has been out of print for a very long time. Still, I get at least a half-dozen inquiries each year from people looking for a copy.

We ran out here at the paper about a decade ago, resorting in the end to selling the last few water-stained copies to folks who wandered in off the street.

Once upon a time, our former circulation manager Joe Hessling and I scoured the entire property (or so we thought!) at the request of the Historical Society, which had also sold its last copy. We came up empty.

And so, I just gave up, jealously guarding my own signed, dog-eared book and refusing to lend it our for fear that I'd never see it again.

Now … somehow, we'd uncovered a treasure trove of perfect copies. They'd been mistakenly mixed in with boxes of tax records and eventually forgotten.

Needless to say, I had trouble focusing for the rest of the afternoon. Keith's book is a local history gem, packed with wonderful stories, rare photos and vintage write-ups.

Christy Mathewson.

Bennie Hessling.

Ruth McGinnis.

Eddie Murphy.

Even the ads in the back are fascinating as many of the local businesses who supported Keith's epic endeavor no longer exist.

This is a book I've read cover to over and used for research countless times in my capacity as Keith's successor: Sports Editor at The Wayne Independent.

The Legend

Keith Sutton was born on April 6, 1909 in Fortenia.

He graduated from Honesdale High School, then attended the Wayne Business School before enlisting in the Army and serving his country during World War II.

Keith spent nearly three years in the 10th Armored Division. For 16 of those months, he was stationed in the European Theater of Operations and took part in the Battle of the Bulge.

When he finally came home from the war, Keith returned to his job at the Wayne Bank. However, he also began contributing stories, photos and articles to The Wayne Independent.

It was a partnership destined to last a lifetime.

Keith eventually became Sports Editor and served in that capacity for more than 50 years. During this time, his soft-spoken nature and gentlemanly demeanor made Keith many things to many people.

He was a beloved local figure, a quiet leader in the community who lent an aura of respectability to every event he covered.

Keith approached each game equally, whether he was at Yankee Stadium or Clarke Romich Field. He gave the same consideration to professionals as well as Little Leaguers.

And, that set him apart.

National Pastime

Keith was a passionate baseball fan.

He loved the New York (and then San Francisco) Giants. Despite the difference in our ages, Keith and I had one thing in common: Willie Mays as an all-time favorite player.

Keith's talent for sports writing transcended Wayne County.

In fact, by the time of his death in 1993, he had become a nationally-respected expert on all things related to the MLB.

He was one of the legendary “Original 16” founders of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), a group whose influence looms large over the sport these days.

Keith spent countless hours at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

He haunted the research room and made an annual pilgrimage on Induction Day. By the mid 1980s, he'd attended a total of 35 and once had a streak of 26 straight.

Keith developed several “areas of specialization” over the years. Among them were one-hitters, hitting streaks, steals of home and inside-the-park homers.

He contributed to Baseball Digest and The Sporting News all his professional life and is cited as a source in countless journal pieces.

Written Legacy

While Keith's been dead for a quarter-century now, his legacy lives on.

Local newspaper archives are fairly bursting with all the articles he wrote during a 50-year tenure.

He was a kind, decent, caring man who tried in his own small way to make our community a better place.

Keith served our country honorably in time of war, then happily lived out the rest of his days in his hometown.

He touched many lives, providing the stories and photos for countless scrapbooks lovingly created by Little League moms all over the area.

Keith may be gone; but, as long as I sit at this desk, he'll never be forgotten.

And now, we have a fresh supply of his seminal book to help breathe new life back into his own story.

If you'd like your own copy of “Wayne County Sports History,” stop by the paper or visit the Historical Society on Main Street.

They're only $10 each and guaranteed to provide hours of fascinating reading.