Bruce Sutter

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Bruce Sutter
Born: (1953-01-08) January 8, 1953 (age 61)
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
May 9, 1976 for the Chicago Cubs
Last MLB appearance
September 9, 1988 for the Atlanta Braves
Career statistics
Games pitched 661
Win–Loss record 68–71
Earned run average 2.83
Strikeouts 861
Saves 300
Career highlights and awards
Induction 2006
Vote 76.9% (thirteenth ballot)

Howard Bruce Sutter (/ˈstər/; born January 8, 1953) is a former Major League Baseball right-handed relief pitcher. He was arguably the first pitcher to make effective use of the split-finger fastball. One of the sport's dominant relievers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he became the only pitcher to lead the National League in saves five times (1979–1982, 1984). In 1979, Sutter won the NL's Cy Young Award as the league's top pitcher.

Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Sutter briefly attended Old Dominion University and was subsequently signed by the Chicago Cubs as an undrafted free agent in 1971. Between 1976 and 1988, he played for the Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves. In the mid-1980s, Sutter began to experience shoulder problems, undergoing three surgeries and retiring in 1989.

Sutter was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2006, his 13th year of eligibility. He was the fourth relief pitcher to be inducted. He was also selected to the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2014. He was hired by the Philadelphia Phillies as a minor league consultant.

Early life[edit]

Sutter was born to Howard and Thelma Sutter in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Donegal High School in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, where he played baseball, football and basketball. He was quarterback and captain of the football team and also served as captain for the basketball squad, which won a district championship in his senior season. His baseball team also won the county championship.[1]


Early career[edit]

After being selected by the Washington Senators in the 21st round of the June 1970 draft, Sutter instead attended Old Dominion University before signing with the Cubs as a free agent in September 1971. He spent slightly over four seasons in the Cubs' farm system. When he was 19, Sutter had surgery on his arm to relieve a pinched nerve.[2]

When he recovered from surgery and returned to the mound a year later, Sutter found that his previous pitches were no longer effective. He learned the split-finger fastball from minor league pitching instructor Fred Martin. Sutter's large hands helped him to use the pitch, which was a modification of the forkball.[2] Sutter had nearly been released by the Cubs, but found success with the new pitch. Mike Krukow, who was also a Cubs minor league player at the time, said, "As soon as I saw him throw it, I knew he was going to the big leagues. Everyone wanted to throw it after he did."[3] Sutter played on the 1975 Texas League (AA) champion Midland Cubs.


Sutter joined the Cubs in 1976, pitching in 52 games and finishing with a 6-3 win-loss record and 10 saves. In 1977 he had a 1.34 ERA, earned an All-Star Game selection, and finished sixth and seventh in NL Cy Young Award and MVP Award voting, respectively.[4] On September 8, 1977, Sutter struck out three batters on nine pitches — Ellis Valentine, Gary Carter and Larry Parrish — in the ninth inning of a 10-inning 3-2 win over the Montreal Expos. Sutter became the 12th NL pitcher and the 19th pitcher in MLB history to accomplish the nine-strike/three-strikeout half-inning. Sutter had also struck out the side (though not on nine pitches) upon entering the game in the eighth inning, giving him six consecutive strikeouts, tying the NL record for a reliever.

Sutter's ERA increased to 3.19 in 1978, but he earned 27 saves.[4] In 1979, he saved 37 games for the club, tying the NL record held by Clay Carroll (1972) and Rollie Fingers (1978) and won the NL Cy Young Award. This year also marked the first of five seasons (four consecutive) in which he led the league in saves. In addition to the Cy Young Award, he won the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award and The Sporting News Fireman of the Year Award.

Cardinals and Braves[edit]

Sutter during his Cardinal days.

After five seasons with the Cubs, Sutter was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Leon Durham, Ken Reitz and a player to be named later in December 1980. He made his fifth consecutive All-Star Game in 1981.[4]

He was a member of the Cardinals team which won the 1982 World Series and is credited with two saves in that Series, including the Series-clinching save in Game 7 which ended with a strikeout of Gorman Thomas and a leaping hug by catcher World Series MVP Darrell Porter; Sutter also earned the save in the pennant-clinching victory in the NLCS.

Sutter joined the Atlanta Braves in December 1984 as a free agent. Sutter, who won both the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award and The Sporting News Reliever of the Year Award again in 1981, 1982 and 1984, tied Dan Quisenberry's major league record for most saves in a season (45) in 1984. The record had been set the previous year and was broken by Dave Righetti (46) in 1986; Sutter's NL record was broken by Lee Smith (47) in 1991.

Though Sutter never reached the same level of success as he had with his previous clubs, he was momentarily the highest paid player in baseball, although he agreed to have his Atlanta contract configured so that he was paid $750,000 for six years with the rest going into an insurance fund that was to be structured to pay him $1,000,000 for 30 years.[clarification needed][citation needed]

Injuries plagued Sutter beginning in 1986. A rotator cuff injury cost Sutter much of that season. He underwent shoulder surgery in February 1987, the third procedure performed on his arm, in an attempt to remove scar tissue and to promote nerve healing. To recover from the surgery, he was required to miss the entire 1987 season.[5] He returned to action with the Braves on a limited basis in 1988.[1] That year he earned a 1-4 record, a 4.76 ERA and 14 saves in 38 games pitched.[4]

By March 1989, Sutter was dealing with a severely torn rotator cuff and he admitted that he would be unlikely to return to baseball. "There's probably a 99.9 percent chance I won't be able to pitch again," he said.[6] Manager Bobby Cox said that "Bruce is not going to retire. We're not going to release him. We'll put him on the 21-day disabled list, then probably move him to the 60-day DL later on."[6] Sutter planned to reevaluate his condition after resting his arm for three to four months.[6] The Braves released him that November.[7]

He retired with exactly 300 saves – at the time, the third highest total in history behind Rollie Fingers (341) and Rich "Goose" Gossage (302). His career saves total was an NL record until broken by Lee Smith in 1993; Sutter had set the NL record in 1982 with his 194th save, surpassing the mark held by Roy Face. In his first nine seasons, only Kent Tekulve made more appearances, and he saved 133 of the Cubs' 379 wins between 1976 and 1980.

Retirement and Hall of Fame[edit]

Bruce Sutter's number 42 was retired by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006.

Sutter appeared on his thirteenth Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2006. Sportswriter Matthew Leach of referred to this ballot as Sutter's best chance for induction; he pointed out that Sutter would only be eligible for two more Hall of Fame ballots. Nearing the end of his eligibility, Sutter said he did not think about induction very often. "It's just an honor to be on the ballot, but it's not something I think that much about. I have no control over it. ... It's out of my hands. It's the voters, it's in the voters' hands. There's nothing I can do about it. I can't pitch anymore... There's a lot of guys that I think should be in that aren't in. It's for the special few people to get into the Hall of Fame. It shouldn't be easy to get in," he said.[8]

On January 10, 2006, Sutter was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his 13th year of eligibility by receiving 400 votes out of a possible 520, or 76.9%. He was the fourth relief pitcher inducted, the first pitcher inducted without starting a game[9] and the first inductee to end his career with fewer than 1700 innings pitched. Sutter's Hall of Fame plaque depicts him wearing a Cardinals cap and his trademark beard.[10] Before Sutter, Ralph Kiner (1975) was the last player elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA so late in their eligibility period; Kiner was elected in his 15th and final opportunity.

Sutter's number 42, which he wore throughout his career, was retired by the St. Louis Cardinals during a ceremony at Busch Stadium on September 17, 2006. He shares his retired number with Jackie Robinson, whose number 42 was retired by all MLB teams in 1997.[11] In January, 2014, the Cardinals announced Sutter among 22 former players and personnel to be inducted into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum for the inaugural class of 2014.[12]

On August 23, 2010, he was named a minor league consultant for the Philadelphia Phillies.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Sutter remained in Atlanta with his wife and three sons after retirement. His son Chad was a catcher who played for Tulane University and was selected by the New York Yankees in the 23rd round (711th overall) of the 1999 amateur draft. Chad played one season in the minor leagues and later joined the coaching staff of the Tulane baseball team.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Groff, Tyler. "Bruce Sutter". Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Retrieved November 1, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Smith, Claire (July 30, 2006). "A reliever's long road trip". Retrieved November 1, 2013. 
  3. ^ Kurkjian, Tim (July 28, 2006). "Mastery of splitter led to Sutter's success". Retrieved April 7, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Bruce Sutter Statistics and History". Retrieved April 7, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Bruce Sutter recovering from surgery". Rome News-Tribune. February 12, 1987. Retrieved April 7, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c "Sports People: Baseball; Sutter's Hopes Are Dim". The New York Times. March 29, 1989. Retrieved October 31, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Bruce Sutter Career Ends". Bangor Daily News. November 16, 1989. Retrieved November 1, 2013. 
  8. ^ Leach, Matthew. "Sutter braces for latest Hall chance". Retrieved November 1, 2013. 
  9. ^ Sutter elected to baseball Hall of Fame
  10. ^ "History for Sutter, Negro Leaguers | News". 2014-03-27. Retrieved 2014-04-07. 
  11. ^ "Cardinals pay tribute to Sutter | News". Retrieved 2014-04-07. 
  12. ^ Cardinals Press Release (January 18, 2014). "Cardinals establish Hall of Fame & detail induction process". Retrieved January 29, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Phillies bring in Sutter to mentor young arms | News". Retrieved 2014-04-07. 
  14. ^ "Chad Sutter Bio". Tulane University. Retrieved April 7, 2014. 

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