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Bruce Sutter, baseball Hall of Fame closer and pioneer of split-finger fastball, dead at age 69

<i>David Durochik via AP</i><br/>St. Louis Cardinals Bruce Sutter in action during a game from his 1982 season.
David Durochik via AP
St. Louis Cardinals Bruce Sutter in action during a game from his 1982 season.

By Homero De la Fuente and Steve Almasy, CNN

Baseball Hall of Fame reliever Bruce Sutter, who saved his career while popularizing the split-finger fastball, has died at the age of 69, Major League Baseball announced Friday.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called Sutter’s 12-year career in which he led the National League five times in saves 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,” Manfred said. “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.”

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Sutter was a “struggling minor league pitcher with an injured arm” when Cubs minor league pitching coach Fred Martin taught him the split-finger fastball — in which the thumb pushes the ball out from between wide-spread fingers — in the spring of 1973.

“Fortunately for me, it clicked right away,” Sutter said at his National Baseball Hall of Fame induction in 2006.

The deceiving pitch looks like a fastball before quickly diving as it arrives at home plate.

Sutter made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs in 1976. He would win the 1979 National League Cy Young Award when he saved a league-record-tying 37 games.

He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals before the 1981 season, where he featured as the team’s closer and notably recorded the final out in Game 7 of the 1982 World Series to clinch the title for the Cardinals.

Between 1979 and 1984, Sutter led the league in saves each year except 1983, and he recorded 300 career saves, which ranked third at the time of his 1989 retirement. He ended his career with the Atlanta Braves where he battled arm injuries.

“He had the best makeup of any closer I’ve ever seen,” St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog said of Sutter, according to the Hall of Fame. “He just cut the percentages down for me from 27 outs a game to 21.”

When Sutter was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he was the fourth reliever to be enshrined.

“When I played, I never needed the spotlight, nor did I want it,” he said during his induction speech. “I simply wanted to play baseball and be respected by my teammates and the opposing players.

“So today my name (Howard Bruce Sutter) goes on this plaque. This day is not about me. It’s about the many people who have helped me along the way.”

Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. sent his condolences to the Sutter family on behalf of the organization.

“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,” DeWitt said. “He was a true pioneer in the game, changing the role of the late-inning reliever.”

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