Bruce Sutter, MLB Hall of Famer and Cy Young Winner, Dead at 69

by Chris Haney
(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

On Thursday, Hall of Fame pitcher Bruce Sutter, who popularized the split-fingered fastball, passed away at age 69. Doctors recently diagnosed Sutter with cancer and he died in hospice surrounded by his family, according to one of his three sons. The Baseball Hall of Fame announced Sutter’s passing and shared that he died in Cartersville, Georgia.

Bruce Sutter played in the MLB for 12 seasons from 1976 to 1988. He was one of baseball’s most dominant relievers in the late 70s and early 80s. In fact, Sutter led the National League in saves for five years and won the Cy Young Award in 1979.

He was a six-time All-Star who earned 300 saves during a career spent with the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, and Atlanta Braves. Sutter went 68-71 with an overall 2.83 ERA in 661 games pitched. He threw in 1,042 innings and struck out 861 batters.

“We lost a good friend last night in Bruce Sutter,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said on Friday before Atlanta’s NLDS game in Philadelphia.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred shared a statement on Sutter’s passing as well.

“Bruce was the first pitcher to reach the Hall of Fame without starting a game,” Manfred’s statement said. “And he was one of the key figures who foreshadowed how the use of relievers would evolve. Bruce will be remembered as one of the best pitchers in the histories of two of our most historic franchises.”

More Details on Bruce Sutter’s Famous Split-Fingered Fastball

While with the Chicago Cubs’ farm system in the early 1970s, Bruce Sutter sustained an elbow injury. He was scared the Cubs would cut him over the injury, and therefore scheduled and paid for his own operation to fix his arm.

Following the surgery, he lost velocity on his pitches and couldn’t throw as fast. In 1973, during spring training, Sutter learned the split-fingered fastball from Cubs minor league pitching instructor Fred Martin. The pitch would not only save his career, but would turn Sutter into a dominant MLB closer.

“Nobody was throwing what he called the split-finger,” Sutter once said, according to ESPN. “It was a pitch that didn’t change how the game was played, but developed a new way to get hitters out. Everybody who throws the split-fingered fastball owes a great deal of thanks to Fred Martin because he was the first one to teach it.”

Bruce Sutter didn’t invent the pitch, but he became largely responsible for pioneering the split-fingered fastball. The bearded closer utilized the sharp-dropping pitch that became a popular pitch for decades to come. Yet when he started using the now-famous pitch, Sutter was simply trying to extend his big league career.

“I wouldn’t be here without that pitch,” Sutter said previous to his 2006 Hall of Fame induction. “My other stuff was A-ball, Double-A at best. The split-finger made it equal.”

Sutter is survived by his wife, three sons, a daughter-in-law, and six grandkids. His son, Chad Sutter, spoke with the Associated Press on Friday. Chad said his father “didn’t suffer and he went and went quick and he went peacefully, surrounded by all of his loved ones.”

The family shared that funeral arrangements are pending.