1982’s World Series-winning save for the Cards was made by the closer.
On Thursday, Bruce Sutter, a Hall of Famer who invented the split-fingered fastball, revolutionized the closer position, and helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the 1982 World Series 40 years ago this week, passed suddenly at the age of 69 not far from his Cartersville, Georgia, home.
The last time Sutter visited Busch Stadium was on April 7 for the team’s annual Opening Day celebrations. Sutter, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, is one of 14 individuals whose number has been retired by the Cardinals. However, due to the lingering illness that ultimately resulted in his death while receiving hospice care, he was unable to attend the Cardinals’ 40th anniversary celebration of the 1982 World Series champion squad on August 13.
Sutter, the only pitcher admitted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame without ever having made a start, spent 12 seasons with the Cubs, Cardinals, and Braves, recording 300 saves and a stunning 2.83 ERA. He set the then-MLB record most saves in a season (45) in 1984, earned the 1979 Cy Young award while saving 37 games for the Cubs, racked up 36 regular season saves for the World Series champion Cardinals in ’82, and recorded his 300th save on September 9, 1988, for the Braves.
Bruce Sutter’s career was described as “an extraordinary baseball success story,” said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in a statement. “I am very sorry by the news of his loss,” Manfred added. “By inventing the split-fingered fastball, Bruce rose from being an undrafted free agent to the pinnacles of baseball. The pitch not only got him into the Major Leagues, but also helped the Cubs win the Cy Young Award and the 1982 Cardinals win the World Series. One of the greatest pitchers in the annals of two of our most illustrious clubs, Bruce will be remembered. I send my sympathies to Bruce’s family, his friends, and all of his fans in Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, as well as around our sport on behalf of Major League Baseball.
The classic play on October 20, 1982, when Sutter struck out Brewers hitter Gorman Thomas and grabbed leaping catcher Darrell Porter at the mound is what people most often associate him with. Ultimately, as the Cardinals won their first World Series in 15 years, the two of them were surrounded by teammates and supporters at Busch Stadium. Ironically, Sutter struck out Thomas with a fastball that was tailing when it was the split-fingered fastball that had made him one of the most effective closers in the game. Following arm surgery in 1973, Sutter learned the split-fingered fastball from Cubs Minor League instructor Fred Martin, and the two are indelibly linked in baseball lore.
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