Sutter to enter Hall of Fame wearing Cardinals hat

Updated: January 11, 2006, 5:29 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Bruce Sutter is going into the Hall of Fame wearing the cap of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Sutter seemed in a state of shock Wednesday, one day after he was elected to the Hall.

"It's something I thought was never going to happen," he said. "I'm humbled. It still doesn't sound right: Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Bruce Sutter."

He spread his fingers across the baseball, index all the way to one side, middle finger all the way to the other, thumb positioned under it.

And that, he explained, is how he gripped the split-fingered fastball, a pitch that made life miserable for hitters and one that Sutter rode into the Hall.

Sutter developed the splitter out of necessity when an elbow injury and surgery after just two minor league games threatened his career. He used the pitch to save 300 games as the dominant closer of his time and was elected to Cooperstown in his 13th year of eligibility.

Sutter received 400 votes (76.9 percent) of the record 520 cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America and was the only candidate with the required 75 percent needed for election. Slugger Jim Rice was second with 337 votes (64.8), followed by reliever Goose Gossage with 336 (64.6).

He becomes the fourth relief pitcher elected, joining Rollie Fingers, Hoyt Wilhelm and Dennis Eckersley, and is the only player in the Hall who never appeared in a starting lineup. Sutter's job as a closer was to finish what others started.

He is proud of his craft and its practioners.

"You can't compare us with starting pitchers," he said. "Bert Blyleven had more innings pitched and more strikeouts than me and Goose and Lee Smith together. But we had to be prepared to play every day. We're out there every day. The game's all set up to get to us. There was a good chance you'd be warming up and a good chance the ball would end up in your hands."

And when it did, Sutter would spread his fingers across it and throw that maddening splitter, a first cousin of the old forkball, a pitch that would be delivered with a wicked spin that caused it to drop out of the strike zone at the last moment. Batters rarely could adjust in that split second.

Sutter said relievers bring a special mind-set to their task.

"I was always confident in my ability," he said. "You're not afraid of any situation. We didn't always get them out. You've got to have the feeling that you're the best. Everything is to get the ball to you. If you did your job, the game was won and that was great. If you didn't, the whole game was wasted and that's a horrible feeling. It's a position of highs and lows."

Sutter credited two baseball journeymen, pitcher Fred Martin and catcher Mike Roarke, both pitching coaches in the Chicago Cubs organization, with helping him master the splitter.

Signed for $500 in 1971, Sutter came into baseball able to throw fairly hard. "They tried to teach me the slider and I hurt my elbow," he said.

He was advised to rest it but decided on his own to have surgery. When he got to spring training in 1973, his fastball was gone. Martin, a Cubs minor league pitching coach, introduced him to the new pitch.

"Most everyone, the middle finger is dominant. With me, it was this one," Sutter said, holding up his index. "That made it easy to throw. I got it to break real quick."

By 1976, Sutter and his splitter were in the majors. He was 6-3 with 10 saves and a 2.70 ERA as a rookie and then emerged as baseball's best closer, saving 31 games and posting a 1.35 ERA the next season.

When he ran into trouble, Roarke would fine tune his mechanics, picking up where Martin had left off. "I owe a lot to those two, " said Sutter, who won the Cy Young Award in 1979 and led the National League in saves five times.

There was a long-term price, though. "I ended up with three shoulder surgeries," Sutter said.

And a ticket to Cooperstown.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press