Sutter braces for latest Hall chance

Latest Hall opportunity could be Sutter's best

Bruce Sutter always seized the opportunities he was given as a pitcher. Now, he faces a truly great chance, and he has no say in whether he will capitalize on it or not.

This year's Hall of Fame voting likely presents Sutter with his best chance to be included among baseball's immortals. As the top returning vote-getter from last year, and with no overwhelming first-year nominees, this is Sutter's clearest path to Cooperstown yet.

It may be the best chance he'll have, too. This is the former Cub, Cardinal and Brave's 13th year on the ballot. He has two more chances, and next year's ballot will include some seriously heavy competition in the forms of Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn and Mark McGwire.

"It's just an honor to be on the ballot," Sutter said last year, "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."

Known as the man who pioneered the split-fingered fastball, Sutter was one of the most dominant relievers of the late 1970s and early '80s. Had injuries not knocked him out of the game at age 35, he might already be enshrined in Cooperstown. Sutter pitched much of the latter stages of his career in intense pain before he finally hung it up.

Sutter will find out next month whether he has been selected. Results of the voting will be announced on Jan. 10, 2006.

Sutter's share of the vote has climbed every year, and he received 66.7 percent in 2005. Players need to receive 75 percent of the vote to be inducted. Every player who has ever received two-thirds of the votes in a single BBWAA Hall of Fame election has eventually been inducted, either by the writers or by the Veterans' Committee.

"There's cases to be made," Sutter said. "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."

Sutter made his Major League debut with the Cubs in 1976, and a year later, he turned in one of the greatest relief seasons in history: 107 1/3 innings, 31 saves, a 1.34 ERA, 129 strikeouts, 69 hits and five home runs allowed. He earned All-Star berths with the Cubs from 1977-1980, and a Cy Young Award in '79, before being shipped to St. Louis after the 1980 season.

In four seasons in St. Louis, Sutter was twice more an All-Star. He racked up 127 saves wearing the "birds on the bat" and finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting three times. Sutter closed out Game 7 of the 1982 World Series, the only world championship for the Cardinals in the past 38 years.

After the 1984 season, Sutter departed as a free agent for Atlanta, but injuries limited him to 112 games and 40 saves over four years with the Braves. He pitched his last game before his 36th birthday.

  Bruce Sutter's resume
Teams: Cubs, Cardinals, Braves
Key stats: 300 career saves, 2.83 career ERA
Awards: NL Cy Young, '79; NL Rolaids Relief, '79, '81, '82, '84
Best HOF vote Pct.: 66.7% in 2005
Peers in Hall: Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers
More stats and bio >

The case for Sutter as a Hall of Famer comes from a number of different angles, and his famous splitter is one of the main ones. Nearly everyone throws it these days, but Sutter was one of the first to turn it into the weapon it is today.

There's also the issue of his impact on the game. Sutter, along with Goose Gossage, came along at a turning point in the history of the relief pitcher. They heralded the beginning of the modern closer role, but Sutter wasn't like today's closers.

He pitched more than an inning at a time, and more than 60-70 innings in a season. Sutter topped 100 innings five times, with one more year at 99. From 1976-85, he averaged just under 98 innings per season, all in relief, and tallied 283 of his 300 saves. Those types of innings totals are almost unheard of from relievers these days, and especially from the guys who close out games.

The induction of Dennis Eckersley earlier this year may open the door to more relievers, but Sutter notes that "Eck" is a special case. Eckersley topped 150 wins as a starter before he was moved to relief.

"We certainly hope so," Sutter said when asked if Eckersley's induction changed the equation for relievers. "But I don't know if Dennis got in only because of being a relief pitcher or if it was because he had a great starting record, too. He was a combination of both. Maybe you'd have to look at a guy like John Smoltz as the next guy to get in."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.