January 8th is the Hall of Famer and former St. Louis Cardinals’ reliever Bruce Sutter’s birthday. Let’s give him best wishes and remember his iconic Cardinal career, especially 1982.
The St. Louis Cardinals would not have won the 1982 World Championship without the split-finger fastball of Bruce Sutter. His 36 saves in 1982, not only helped propell the Cardinals into the postseason, but had the series clinching save in game seven of the World Series.
Many Cardinal fans will remember, including yours truly, his strikeout of the Milwaukee Brewer’s Gorman Thomas to end game seven and catcher Darrell Porter‘s leap into Sutter’s arms. Sutter’s postseason performance in 1982 included two wins, three saves, seven strikeouts in six games and 12 innings.
1982 solidified Sutter in St. Louis Cardinals’ lore, but his career didn’t start or end in that World Championship season. In fact his career started with the rival Chicago Cubs.
The Chicago Years
Bruce Sutter was actually first drafted by the old Washington Senators in 1970, but elected to attend college at Old Dominion University in Virginia. At the age of 18, he signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Cubs and in 1982 was assigned to the Gulf Coast Cubs.
Injuries to Sutter eventually pushed him into the bullpen and he developed his split-finger fastball under minor league pitching instructor, Fred Martin. Sutter then began to rise in the Cubs minor league system and was called up to the major league team in May of 1976.
He became an immediate star in the bullpen, recording 10 saves in 1976 and 31 saves with a 1.34 ERA in 1977. During his five years with the Cubs, he had 2.39 ERA with 133 saves and a WHIP of 1.055. Sutter also had four All Star appearances and won the 1977 Cy Young Award.
The Cardinal Years
Bruce Sutter came to the St. Louis Cardinals in December of 1980 in trade that sent Leon Durham, Ken Reitz, and a player to named later to the Cubs. Sutter hit the ground running in St. Louis during that strike shorten season earning 25 saves with a 2.62 ERA, a WHIP of 1.069, and earning his sixth All Star appearance.
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In 1983, Sutter took a step back from his usual outstanding performance, seeing his ERA rise to 4.23 and his saves drop to 21. However, in 1984, Sutter rebounded and had his best year. Earning a career high of 45 saves, he also had 1,54 ERA, with a 1.076 WHIP and made his sixth and final All Star appearance.
During Sutter’s career with the Cardinals, he earned the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year and the Sporting News Reliever of the Year in 1981, 1982, and 1984. After 1984, however, Bruce Sutter’s career begin to take a dive.
Post Cardinal Years.
After becoming a free agent in 1984, Sutter signed a six-year, $4.8 million dollar contract with the Atlanta Braves. In fact, the Braves wanted Sutter so bad, they added another $4.8 million dollars in deferred payments at 13 percent interest. Sutter could continue to draw $1.3 million for 30 years after the original six-year contract.
Sutter never came close to achieving what he did with the Cubs and Cardinals during his years with the Braves. Injuries began to plague Sutter during the 1985 season that required off season surgery. In 1986, he saved only three games in 18.2 innings with a 4.43 ERA. He was out of the game in 1987 and attempted a comeback in 1988, finally retiring after the 1989 season.
Bruce Sutter finished his career with 300 saves, that lead the National League until Lee Smith broke his record in 1993, as a St. Louis Cardinal.
Bruce Sutter’s post career has been filled with honors. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, and his uniform number 42, was also retired by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. Finally, Sutter was inducted into the St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Fame Museum’s inaugural class of 2014.
One person doesn’t make a team, but Bruce Sutter’s contribution to the 1982 World Series Championship can’t be overstated. He was arguably the best relief pitcher of his day, and Cardinal fans won’t forget him. Happy Birthday, Bruce.