The Cardinals announced that Hall of Fame pitcher and World Series champion Bruce Sutter has passed away. He was 69 years old.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement in regards to Sutter’s passing: “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. 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. Bruce will be remembered as one of the best pitchers in the histories of two of our most historic franchises. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my condolences to Bruce’s family, his friends and his fans in Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta and throughout our game.”
Sutter was initially drafted by the Washington Senators in 1970 but decided to attend Old Dominion University instead. The next year, as Manfred mentioned, Sutter signed with the Cubs as a nondrafted free agent. He underwent surgery in the minors but found his pitches to be less effective after returning to action. He started working on a splitter to improve his repertoire, a pitch that would come to define his career.
He made his MLB debut with the Cubs in 1976. He was an effective reliever right away, throwing 83 1/3 innings over 52 appearances, registering a 2.70 ERA and notching 10 saves. He took a step forward the next year, throwing 107 1/3 innings in 62 games with a 1.34 ERA and 31 saves. He made the All-Star team that year, the first of six teams he would eventually make in his career.
Sutter continued along in that fashion for the next few seasons, racking up saves while pitching multi-inning outings. In 1979, he was given the Cy Young award for his efforts, a rare feat for a relief pitcher. He saved 37 games that year while recording a 2.22 ERA in 101 1/3 innings.
He was traded from the Cubs to the Cardinals prior to the 1981 campaign and would spend four seasons in St. Louis, largely continuing with the same level of excellence he had established in Chicago. 1982 was certainly a season to remember for both Sutter and the Cards. The club went 92-70 during the regular season, winning the NL East on the back of a 36-save season from Sutter. They swept the Braves 3-0 in the NLCS, with Sutter earning the win in Game 2 and the save in Game 3. They then faced off against the Brewers in the World Series and eventually emerged victorious in seven games, with Sutter winning Game 2 and then saving Game 3 and Game 7. (Video of Sutter recording the final out via MLB.com’s YouTube page.)
Sutter reached free agency and signed with Atlanta prior to the 1985 season, though his effectiveness started to wane as he got into his 30s. He posted an ERA above 4.00 in his first two years in Atlanta, missed the 1987 season entirely due to shoulder surgery, before returning in 1988 to post a 4.76 ERA in what would be his final season.
He wrapped up his MLB career with exactly 300 saves, which was the third-most in history at that time, behind only Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage. He also collected 68 victories while posting a 2.83 ERA in a career that included 1042 1/3 innings. He made six All-Star teams, won a Cy Young award and a World Series title. After lingering on the Hall of Fame ballot for over a decade, Sutter was eventually elected in 2006, his 13th year on the ballot.
MLBTR sends our condolences to his family, friends, loved ones and former teammates who are mourning him today.