Saturday, January 30, 2010

Kind-of Cubs Hall of Famer: Bruce Sutter

This is the fourth Kind-of-Cub Hall of Famer I've looked at. The first three, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dennis Eckersley, and Richie Ashburn, clearly have no business having a Cubs cap on their plaque.

But Bruce Sutter's situation isn't the same. I think Cubs fans can make a decent argument that Sutter should have a Cubs hat on his Cooperstown plaque.

Bruce Sutter was signed by the Cubs in 1972. An arm injury almost ended his career until roving instructor Fred Martin taught him the split-fingered fastball. That pitch saved his career.

Sutter was promoted to the Cubs on May 8, 1976. By the end of the season he had established himself as the team's closer. He was 6-3 in 52 games and added 10 saves. I remember watching him pitch on WGN and them showing replays of the split-finger just dropping off the table. It was an amazing thing.

Sutter's first card, from 1977

In 1977, the Cubs got off to a torrid start and Sutter was one of the reasons why. By late June they had a 8 1/2 game lead and were still holding on with a 2 game lead at the All-Star break. But Sutter got hurt in mid-July and by the time he returned from the DL in late August, the Cubs were 8 games out of first. Still, he saved 31 games.

Topps 1978 - It must have been a chilly day at Candlestick, that Sutter is wearing his jacket. And I got one of those jackets, a Starter jacket, in 1980. I thought I was very cool!

A healthy Sutter in 1978 saved 27 games and picked up the win in the All-Star game.

Topps 1979 - I thought this card would look even better if he had his fingers in the split-fingered grip.

His time with the Cubs peaked in 1979, when his 37 saves (which tied the NL record) and 2.23 ERA helped him win the Cy Young Award. He also picked up the win in the All-Star game for the second straight season.

Topps 1980 - Wearing the ugly pinstriped pajama uniforms.

But, he also became arbitration-elegible and won. His salary for 1980 would be a staggering (for the era) $700,000. The Cubs cheap owner William Wrigley had no choice but to pay that in 1980, but after the season, Sutter and his contract was traded to the Cardinals. In 1980, he saved only 28 games, but that was still enough to lead the league.

His last Topps card with the Cubs was in 1981, though he was traded before the season started. He is shown with the Cardinals in the 1981 traded set.

Here is Donruss, 1981, which has Sutter in a Cubs uniform, though he is listed as a Cardinal. Donruss didn't believe in the airbrush.

Fleer had an 1981 card of Sutter, though the best reliever in the NL is shown holding a bat!

In his five years with the Cubs, Sutter won the All-Star game twice, was a Cy Young Award winner, and twice led the league in saves. He pitched in 300 games and saved 131. He spent one less year with the Cardinals, pitched in 51 fewer games, and saved four fewer. But, he was in the World Series with the Cardinals and maybe that recognition got him the STL on his plaque instead of a C.

1 comment:

  1. Bruce Sutter is one of the nicest ball-players I have ever met.