Oct 14, 2022 American Press Bruce Sutter wasn’t searching for a way to Cooperstown when he started experimenting with the split-fingered fastball. He was merely trying to keep his job.
Shortly before being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, Sutter stated, “I wouldn’t be here without that pitch.” My other work was at best Double-A or A-ball. The split finger equalized it.
Sutter, a full-bearded closer who invented the sharp-dropping pitch that came to rule big league batters for decades and who also paid for his own elbow surgery as a low minor leaguer, passed away on Thursday. He was 69.
One of Sutter’s three sons, Chad, revealed to The Associated Press that Sutter was recently diagnosed with cancer and was currently receiving care at a hospice facility. Bruce Sutter passed away in Cartersville, Georgia, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Sutter, a six-time All-Star, earned the 1979 Cy Young Award and set a five-year saves record for the National League. Over the course of a 12-year career, he recorded 300 saves for the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Atlanta Braves.
When Sutter was playing, closers frequently got more than three outs. For 188 of his saves, he lasted more than one inning, and five times in a season, he went over 100 innings.
At his baffling best, he pitched two flawless innings to seal the Cardinals’ victory over Milwaukee in Game 7 of the 1982 World Series, retiring future Hall of Famers Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, and Ted Simmons.
According to son Chad, Sutter valued team victories above all else.
He received all of these accolades and other things, but they weren’t even displayed in the home because his only concerns were winning, earning the respect of his teammates, and being a good teammate. That was his primary driving force,’ Chad Sutter told the AP on Friday over the phone.
Being a teammate was what mattered most to him, he said. “The awards, you know, after he retired, it was kind of the moment where he was like, “Man, I did OK, you know.”
After Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, and Dennis Eckersley, Sutter was the fourth reliever to be chosen for the Hall of Fame. Since then, the list has grown to include Mariano Rivera, Goose Gossage, Lee Smith, and Trevor Hoffman.
Before Friday’s NL Division Series game at Philadelphia, Braves manager Brian Snitker remarked, “We lost a wonderful buddy last night in Bruce Sutter.”
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed his “great sadness” over the development.
Manfred said in a statement that Bruce was “one of the important people who foretold how the use of relievers would grow” and “the first pitcher to join the Hall of Fame without starting a game.” Bruce will go down in history as one of the greatest pitchers for two of our most illustrious franchises.
1953 saw the birth of Sutter in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was only 17 and too young to sign when he was selected by the Washington Senators in the 21st round of the 1970 draft.
A Cubs scout saw him while he was pitching for the semi-pro Hippey’s Raiders in the Lebanon Valley League after a brief college stay at Old Dominion.
Before suffering a right elbow injury while trying to learn a slider in 1972, Sutter threw twice for the Cubs squad in the rookie Gulf Coast League. Sutter planned his own surgery and used his bonus money to pay for the procedure because he was worried that the Cubs would release him if they found out he was injured.
Sutter, who couldn’t throw as hard as he once could, had the good fortune to pick up the split-fingered fastball at spring training in 1973 from Cubs minor league pitching instructor Fred Martin.
Sutter once remarked that “nobody was throwing the split-finger,” as he liked to call it. It was a pitch that didn’t alter the rules of the game but did create a novel strategy for getting hitters out. Fred Martin, who passed away in 1979, deserves a lot of credit for being the first person to teach the split-fingered fastball.
The pitch had been around for a while, most notably being promoted by former major leaguer Roger Craig, but it wasn’t being thrown well. It consists of the ball being held between the index and middle fingers and quickly dipping as it approaches the plate.
Sutter stated, “It came to me easily, but it took a long time to learn how to control it.” I could toss rather forcefully. I might walk 10, but I might also strike out 16 players. Really, I was crazy.
1976 was Sutter’s MLB debut with the Cubs. In 1979, when he had 110 strikeouts, a 2.22 ERA, and 37 saves, he earned the Cy Young Award.
Sutter’s total record was 68-71 with a 2.83 ERA. He pitched 1,042 innings in 661 games, striking out 861 batters.
For the Cardinals from 1981 to 1984, he pitched.
He really valued being a St. Louis Cardinal, according to the Sutter family’s statement. We appreciate all of the love and support over the years from the Cardinals, his teammates, and most importantly the best sports fans in the world.
Sutter worked in Atlanta for three seasons in all. With the Braves in 1988, he recorded his 300th and final save.
According to Cardinals owner and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr., “Bruce was a fan-favorite throughout his years in St. Louis and in the years to come, and he will always be remembered for his 1982 World Series clinching save and famous split-fingered pitch.” He revolutionized the function of the late-inning reliever and was a true pioneer in the sport.
42 years after MLB retired the number in honor of Jackie Robinson, the Cardinals retired Sutter’s jersey.
Sutter is survived, according to the Cardinals, by his wife, three sons, a daughter-in-law, and six grandchildren.
The Sutter family released a statement on Friday saying, “Our father always wanted to be remembered as a wonderful teammate, but he was so much more than that.” He was a wonderful father, grandfather, and friend in addition to being our mother’s husband for 50 years. Only his love and devotion for his family can rival his love and passion for the sport of baseball.
In the words of Chad Sutter, his father “didn’t suffer, he went and he went soon and he went sweetly, he died surrounded by all of his loved ones.”
Funeral plans, according to the family, were still being made.
Jim Kaat, a Hall of Fame pitcher and Sutter’s teammate on the 1982 World Series-winning Cardinals, remarked, “I feel like a brother went away.” I was closer to Bruce than almost any other teammate. We spent a lot of time together, but as it often occurs when a person’s profession ends, they part ways. However, we kept in touch and regarded each other as dear friends.