Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Lancaster, Lancaster County
Born in Lancaster, Bruce Sutter was a Hall of Fame relief pitcher for a number of teams in the National League.
Awards: Baseball Hall of Fame
On January 8, 1953, Bruce Sutter was born in Lancaster County. Sutter was initially drafted in 1970 by the Washington Senators, but instead he attended Old Dominion University. Later, Sutter was discovered by the Chicago Cubs, which was the beginning to his 12 year professional baseball career. He used the split-finger fastball to become the dominant relief pitcher for the Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and the Atlanta Braves. Sutter accumulated 300 saves, made six All-Star Games, and won one Cy Young Award in his career. Sutter was later elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and his jersey was number retired in 2006.
Howard Bruce Sutter was born on January 8, 1953, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The son of Howard and Thelma Sutter, he is the fifth of the six children in his family. Sutter's natural athletic ability was apparent in his youth. He was considered a top athlete at Donegal High School, in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. He performed at a high level in football, basketball, and baseball. As a member of his high school football team, he was the team captain, and in his senior season he was named in his district as the outstanding quarterback. Sutter was also a captain on his high school's basketball team. He assisted his high school basketball team in winning their district championship as a senior. Finally, Sutter was the star right-handed pitcher on his high school baseball team. He led his high school baseball team to the county championship, and he also led his American Legion team to their district title.
Fresh out of high school, Sutter was drafted in the 1970 free agent draft. He was selected by the Washington Senators in the 21st round of the draft. However, Sutter was not interested in playing baseball at the time. He passed up on a baseball career to attend college at Old Dominion University, located in Norfolk, Virginia. Sutter's college career did not last long; after his first year at Old Dominion, Sutter quit and returned home. He began playing organized baseball again for the semipro Hippey's Raiders. The team played in the Lebanon Valley League, located close to Mount Joy, which is where Bruce Sutter was discovered as a baseball star.
While playing for Hippey's Raiders, Sutter caught Ralph DiLullo's eye, who worked for the Chicago Cubs. Sutter soon signed his first professional baseball contract as a free agent with the Cubs on September 9, 1971. The contract was for a $500 bonus for signing, as well as $500 per month salary. Sutter's first minor league assignment was in the Gulf Coast League playing for the Bradenton Cubs. He was a struggling relief pitcher and soon became injured. He only pitched in two minor league games prior to suffering an arm injury, which drove him back home once again.
Sutter decided to sit out the 1972 season, and he filled his time with a new job. He began working in a plant that did all the printing for cigar boxes. This was only temporary because during his time off, and without the knowledge of the Chicago Cubs, Sutter had gotten an operation on the pinched nerve in his throwing arm. When Sutter made his return to minor league baseball in 1973 for spring training, he was unable to throw his fastball, which was particularly unfortunate because Sutter was primarily a fastball and curveball pitcher. However, Sutter's worst nightmare became his saving grace. Sutter met the Cubs's minor league pitching coach Fred Martin. Martin, a former major league pitcher himself, molded Sutter into the dominant pitcher he would be.
Since Sutter could not throw a fastball anymore, he needed to develop another pitcher in order to succeed. Fred Martin had just the pitch in mind. It was the split-finger fastball, which is a devastating pitch that looks like a normal fastball to the batter, but when it reaches home plate it drops down heavily. The split-finger fastball is thrown with the ball wedged between the pointer and middle fingers, and upon release it is pushed through the fingers with the thumb causing drastic top spin. The top spin makes the ball fall when it arrives at home plate. This pitch was perfect for Sutter because he had his large hands, and it got him to the next level.
Armed with this new pitch, Sutter played the 1973 season with the Class-A Quincy Cubs, and they played in the Midwest League. He recorded five saves, 76 strikeouts, a 4.13 Earned Run Average or ERA, and a 3-3 Win-Loss record in 85 innings of work. He moved on to play for another Class-A team in 1974. This time he played in the Florida State League for the Key West Conchs for the first part of the season. For the second half of the 1974 season, Sutter played for the Class-AA Midland Cubs, who played in the Texas League. In 65 innings of work, he recorded 64 strikeouts and an ERA under 1.50. Here, he made his only two starts in his professional career. In 1975, he played with the Midland Cubs, and then played for the Class-AAA Wichita Aeros of the American Association in 1976. He began the season with two wins, one save, an ERA of 1.50, and 16 strikeouts in only 12 innings of work. Sutter was then called up to play in the major leagues for the Chicago Cubs, which was his biggest break yet.
On May 9, 1976, at the age of 23, Bruce Sutter made his major league debut against the Cincinnati Reds. Sutter almost instantly became the close for the Chicago Cubs, and he set a record of 6-3 in 52 games with 10 saves and a 2.70 ERA in his first season. In 1977, he recorded 31 saves and was elected to his first All-Star Game. He followed that great season with another one in 1978, recording 27 saves and becoming the winning pitcher in the All-Star Game. In 1979, Sutter continued to play baseball at the highest possible level with 37 saves, which tied the single season record in the National League. In 1979, Sutter also became the third relief pitcher ever to win the National League Cy Young Award, which is awarded to the best pitcher in the National League. He also recorded his second straight All-Star Game win. After his amazing year in 1979, Sutter sought more money and decided to go through salary arbitration with the Cubs. He was now set to make $700,000 in 1980, which was a pretty high number for a relief pitcher at the time. He earned every cent of it in 1980 by saving 28 games, which led the National League. After the 1980 season, Sutter was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.
On January 26, 1981, he became the highest paid relief pitcher in the history of baseball when he signed a 4-year contract worth $3.5 million. Sutter did not disappoint his new team. Over his four years in St. Louis he averaged 32 saves and led the league in saves in 1981, 1982, and 1984. In 1984, he accumulated 45 saves, which was the most saves ever in a season in the National League. He also helped the Cardinals win the 1982 World Series by getting the final 6 outs versus the Milwaukee Brewers. In 1985, Sutter signed yet another big contract.
Sutter signed a 6-year contract worth $10 million with the Atlanta Braves when he was a free agent after the 1984 season. While playing for Atlanta, Sutter struggled through inconsistency and was very injury prone. He recorded 23 saves in 1985, but he missed most of the 1986 and all of the 1987 season due to a rotator cuff that was partially torn. He pitched a limited number of games in 1988, and he finally retired in 1989 because his partially torn rotator cuff was now fully torn. Sutter was 35 and retired after 12 seasons in the major leagues. He ended up staying in the Atlanta area after his retirement. Sutter's injuries still plagued him in retirement: he has gone through three shoulder surgeries, three knee surgeries, two back surgeries, and one elbow surgery. His one son, Chad, is carrying on Sutter's baseball legacy. He played college baseball at Tulane University as catcher. He was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 1999 amateur draft. Sutter's career began with a struggle due to his early arm injury. He overcame this with his innovative pitch, the split-finger fastball. He ended his career with an exceptional résumé.
When Sutter retired, he was in third place on the all-time career save list in the major leagues. Sutter also won one Cy Young Award and was elected to six All-Star Games, where he was the winning pitcher in two games and recorded the save in two other All-Star Games. For his career, he pitched 1040 innings, had a Win-Loss record of 68-71, an ERA of 2.84, 300 saves, and 861 strikeouts. All of this can be attributed to his extraordinary split-finger fastball, which has been described by his colleagues with such words as "unhittable" and "incredible." It was the split-finger fastball that paved his way, but his career was complete on July 30, 2006, when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Following his Hall of Fame induction, Sutter's jersey number 42 was retired in by the St. Louis Cardinals, when they held a ceremony for him at a home game on September 17, 2006. Sutter never gave up through his tough, injury plagued career.