After a brief battle with cancer, Hall of Fame pitcher and World Series winner Bruce Sutter passed yesterday at age 69, leaving baseball without a pitching pioneer.
Sutter, a full-bearded closer who invented the sharp-dropping pitch that came to rule big league batters for decades and also paid for his elbow surgery as a low minor leaguer, passed away on Thursday.
In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Sutter was born. In the 21st round of the 1970 MLB Draft, the Washington Senators selected the right-handed pitcher out of Mount Joy, Pennsylvania’s Donegal High School. Sutter chose Old Dominion University, and in 1971 he signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs.
When struggling teenage pitcher Bruce Sutter was taught the split-finger fastball by Chicago Cubs minor league pitching coach Fred Martin, it was considered to be nothing more than a novelty, a forkball variant. Sutter mastered the pitch and turned it from a novelty item to one of baseball’s most common pitches.
The split finger, also known as a splitter or a cutter, will abruptly descend just before it hits the plate in an action that resembles a fastball. Sutter brought the pitch with him when he was called up in 1976, and it was a big factor in the 1979 Cy Young Award victory.
After being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1981, he cemented his place in history by getting the game’s final out to end Game 7 of the 1982 World Series.
In a statement, Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “I am extremely saddened by the news of Bruce Sutter’s passing. His career was an extremely successful story in baseball history. By creating the split-fingered fastball, Bruce rose from being an undrafted free agent to the pinnacles of baseball. One of the important individuals who predicted how the use of relievers would develop was Bruce, the first pitcher to be elected to the Hall of Fame without ever having made a start in a game.
He was named to the All-Star team in each of his first five seasons in the major leagues, and by the time of his retirement, with 300 saves under his belt, he was third on the list of all-time savers.
In a statement, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. stated I would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to the Sutter family. His efforts in St. Louis gained him a legion of followers there. Throughout his time in St. Louis and the years that followed, Bruce was a favorite of the crowd. He will always be known for his 1982 World Series-clinching save and distinctive split-finger fastball. He revolutionized the role of the late-inning reliever and was a true pioneer in the sport.
Sutter became the first pitcher to be inducted into Cooperstown who never started a game when he was chosen to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Sutter, who had just received a cancer diagnosis, passed away on Thursday night while receiving hospice care in Cartersville, Georgia, with his family by his side.
Former player and current member of the Tulane coaching staff Chad Sutter, Sutter’s son, said, “Our father always wanted to be remembered as a wonderful teammate, but he was so much more than that. In addition, he was a wonderful husband to our mother for 50 years, a wonderful father and grandfather, and a wonderful friend. The only thing that can be comparable to his love and passion for baseball is his love and enthusiasm for his family.