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Hall of Fame pitcher, World Series champion Bruce Sutter passes away at 69

Baseball lost a pioneer of pitching as Hall of Famer and World Series champion Bruce Sutter passes away at age 69 after a short bout with cancer.

Baseball lost a pioneer of pitching as Hall of Famer and World Series champion Bruce Sutter passes away at age 69 after a short bout with cancer.
Jimmy Simmons

When Chicago Cubs minor league pitching coach Fred Martin taught a struggling young Bruce Sutter the split-finger fastball, it was thought to be nothing more than a gimmick, a variation on a fork ball. Sutter mastered the pitch and elevated it from gimmick to one of the most ubiquitous pitches in baseball.

With a motion that imitates a fastball, the split-finger, now more commonly referred to as a splitter or a cutter, will suddenly drop just as it reaches the plate. In 1976, Sutter brought the pitch with him when he was called up, and it was a major reason that he won the Cy Young Award just three years later in 1979.

Traded to the St Louis Cardinals in 1981, he carved his name in the annals of history when he closed out Game 7 of the 1982 World Series, recording the final out of the game.

Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement, saying, “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 non-drafted 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.

His first five seasons in the major leagues saw him make the All-Star team, and by the time he retired, he ranked third on the all-time list for saves, notching up 300 of them.

His work in St Louis earned him a legion of fans there, and Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr said in a statement, “On behalf of the Cardinals organization and baseball fans everywhere, I would like to express our deepest condolences to the Sutter family. Bruce was a fan favorite during his years in St. Louis and in the years to follow, and he will always be remembered for his 1982 World Series-clinching save and signature split-fingered pitch. He was a true pioneer in the game, changing the role of the late-inning reliever.”

Sutter was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, the first pitcher who never started a game to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Sutter was recently diagnosed with cancer and passed away Thursday night in hospice in Cartersville, Georgia, surrounded by his family.

Sutter’s son Chad, a former player and member of the Tulane coaching staff, said, “All our father ever wanted to be remembered as was being a great teammate, but he was so much more than that. He was also a great husband to our mother for 50 years, he was a great father and grandfather and he was a great friend. His love and passion for the game of baseball can only be surpassed by his love and passion for his family.”


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