A beloved Major League Baseball and Hall of Fame relief pitcher, Bruce Sutter, passed away on Thursday, the Daily Caller reported.
Sutter succumbed to cancer at the age of 69 and leaves behind his wife, three children, and six grandchildren, according to ESPN.
He played for the Chicago Cubs, the St. Louis Cardinals — with whom he helped win the 1982 World Series with a Game Seven ninth-inning save — and the Atlanta Braves, and was arguably best known for pioneering the now commonplace split-finger fastball pitch.
We are saddened over the passing of Bruce Sutter.
Sutter was a dominant pitcher and a member of the ’82 World Series Championship team.
He is a member of both the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
Our thoughts are with Bruce’s family and friends. pic.twitter.com/BjxKBnK0Lw
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) October 14, 2022
Injury-plagued career saved by adaptation of split-finger fastball
Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1953, Sutter was drafted out of high school in 1970 by the then-Washington Senators, but because he was only 17 at the time he was ineligible to sign a contract and instead went to college briefly and joined a semi-pro league in his home state, where he caught the attention of a scout for the Cubs.
According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Sutter was signed as an amateur free agent by the Cubs in 1971 and assigned to a minor league team, where he injured his elbow almost immediately and was benched. Without disclosing that injury to the team, he used his own money to have his elbow surgically repaired, but lost the power and speed off of his fastball in the process.
Though he feared his career was finished before it even started, the Cubs stuck with him in the minor leagues and paired him with famed pitching coach Fred Martin, who taught Sutter how to change his grip and throw the then-relatively new split-finger fastball, which tends to befuddle hitters as it drops and moves out of the strike zone upon reaching the plate.
Adding that new pitch to his repertoire revitalized his career and he was called up to the majors with the Cubs in 1976 as a relief pitcher and went on to win the Cy Young Award in 1979. He was later traded to the Cardinals in 1981, where he famously defeated the Milwaukee Brewers in the ’82 Series, then moved on to the Braves in 1984 before ultimately being released in 1989 after he was unable to fully recover from devastating injuries to his shoulder and rotator cuff.
“All our father ever wanted to be remembered as was being a great teammate, but he was so much more than that,” Sutter’s family said in a statement, according to ESPN. “He was also a great husband to our mother for 50 (years), he was a great father and grandfather and he was a great friend. His love and passion for the game of baseball can only be surpassed by his love and passion for his family.”
Hall of Fame career
Sutter was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006 with the distinction of being the first pitcher without a career start to achieve that honor. Over his 12-year career, Sutter racked up 300 saves in 661 games, during which he pitched 1,042 innings, scored 861 strikeouts, and had a record of 68-71 with a lifetime earned run average of 2.83, and was a six-time All-Star, according to ESPN.
“Bruce Sutter was so honored when he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006, and since that time his kindness, his love for Cooperstown and his humility sparkled every time he returned to the Hall of Fame,” Hall of Fame chair Jane Forbes Clark said. “The Hall of Fame family will forever celebrate his achievements on the field and remember his passion for his family and friends. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Jamye, and his children.”
“I am deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Bruce Sutter, whose career was an incredible baseball success story. Bruce ascended from being a nondrafted free agent to the heights of Baseball by pioneering the split-fingered fastball,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “That pitch not only led him to the Major Leagues, but also made him a Cy Young Award winner with the Cubs and a World Series Champion with the 1982 Cardinals. Bruce was the first pitcher to reach the Hall of Fame without starting a game, and he was one of the key figures who foreshadowed how the use of relievers would evolve.”