Bruce SutterHoward Bruce Sutter
Inducted to the Hall of Fame in: 2006
Primary team: Chicago Cubs
Primary position: Pitcher
“He’s the greatest relief pitcher that I’ve seen in my 45 years in baseball,” were the lofty words Cubs manager Herman Franks used to describe his star closer, Bruce Sutter.
Sutter was on the fringes of professional baseball, a struggling minor league pitcher with an injured arm, until he received a gift that changed his life forever. A new pitch, a split-fingered fastball, was taught to him by a wise, old man of the game, and in a matter of years Sutter took this new weapon and blazed a trail as one of the game’s top relief pitchers.
So it was with Sutter when Cubs roving minor league pitching coach Fred Martin stepped into his life in 1973. Martin had been trying to teach Cubs farmhands this new pitch, a derivation of the forkball called the split-fingered fastball, with little success. But he now had an apt pupil in Sutter, who needed something new to keep his big league dream alive. And Sutter took to the pitch, in which the thumb pushes the ball out from between wide-spread fingers, imparting a wicked forward spin to the ball.
By 1977 Sutter was entrenched as the Cubs’ closer, finishing with 31 saves garnering the first of six All-Star Game invitations. The Sutter name became known throughout the baseball world with his remarkable 1979 season, winning the National League Cy Young Award after tying the Senior Circuit record with 37 saves.
Cubs’ starting pitchers certainly appreciated seeing Sutter in the bullpen, with Ray Burris once saying, “He was lights out when he came in. As a starter you knew if you got into the seventh or eighth inning that the game was pretty well sealed.”
Dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals before the 1981 campaign, Sutter proved to be the missing piece for a championship-caliber club. Not only did he average almost 32 saves over the four seasons he was with the Cards, establishing a NL record for most saves in a season with his 45 in 1984, he also helped the team win the 1982 World Series.
“He had the best makeup of any closer I’ve ever seen,” said Whitey Herzog, the St. Louis manager who had also acquired Sutter. “He just cut the percentages down for me from 27 outs a game to 21.”
After leaving St. Louis as a free agent, Sutter spent four injury-plagued years with the Braves.
Though he played only 12 major league seasons, Sutter certainly made his mark as the preeminent closer of his era. Using his revolutionary split-fingered fastball, he finished with 300 career saves, which ranked third all-time when he left the game.
“It was in the Cubs minor league system that I met a man who taught me how to throw a new pitch that would take me from being a suspect all the way to the Hall of Fame,” Sutter said. “His name was Fred Martin.
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Year Inducted: 2006
Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
Position Played: Pitcher
Birth place: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Birth year: 1953
Chicago Cubs (1976-1980)
St. Louis Cardinals (1981-1984)
Atlanta Braves (1985-1986)
Atlanta Braves (1988)
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