Hall of Fame calls on Sutter

Hall of Fame calls on Sutter

NEW YORK -- Bruce Sutter made history on Tuesday. Not only did he become the latest member of baseball's most exclusive club by the slimmest of margins, the right-handed split-fingered fastball artist became the first pure reliever ever elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In a year in which there were no runaway candidates, a select group of 520 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America cast their votes -- the most in history -- anointing only Sutter, who pitched for the Cardinals, Cubs and Braves in a career that spanned from 1976-88, ending when his signature pitch shredded the insides of his right shoulder.

Only three pitchers previously elected to the Hall were known for their closing skills. But Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley all made numerous starts during their illustrious careers. Sutter never started a game, but he finished 512 of them to record 300 saves, the 19th most in history.

"I hope more closers now get in," Sutter said during a conference call only moments after Dale Petroskey, the Hall of Fame president, announced his selection on BaseballChannel.TV. "Goose Gossage is a friend of mine. Definitely a Hall of Fame pitcher in my mind. Lee Smith, a friend and a teammate. He's definitely a Hall of Famer in my mind. I just think that sometimes the voters just try to compare us with the starting pitchers.

"We can't compete with their statistics: their innings and their strikeouts. If you compare [the relievers] to each other, I think that you'll see we're all pretty equal. Without us, it's tough to win."

Gossage and Smith, the all-time saves leader with 478, didn't come close to getting in on Tuesday. Sutter, who turned 52 years old this past Sunday, will be inducted during Hall of Fame weekend ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 30, giving baseball's red brick shrine on Main Street 196 former players, 103 elected by the BBWAA. He'll be in New York on Wednesday for the traditional Hall of Fame electee press conference.

Hall of Fame officials now determine the cap a player "wears" on his plaque in Cooperstown. For Sutter, that announcement is expected to be made at Wednesday's press conference.

  2006 Hall of Fame
  voting results
The complete vote (520 ballots, 390 to gain election, 26 to remain on ballot):
 Player  Votes   %
 Bruce Sutter  400  76.9%
 Jim Rice  337  64.8%
 Rich Gossage  336  64.6%
 Andre Dawson  317  61.0%
 Bert Blyleven  277  53.3%
 Lee Smith  234  45.0%
 Jack Morris  214  41.2%
 Tommy John  154  29.6%
 Steve Garvey  135  26.0%
 Alan Trammell   92  17.7%
 Dave Parker   75  14.4%
 Dave Concepcion   65  12.5%
 Don Mattingly   64  12.3%
 Orel Hershiser   58  11.2%
 Dale Murphy   56  10.8%
 Albert Belle   40   7.7%
 Will Clark   23   4.4%
 Dwight Gooden   17   3.3%
 Willie McGee   12   2.3%
 Ozzie Guillen    5   1.0%
 Hal Morris    5   1.0%
 Gary Gaetti    4   0.8%
 John Wetteland    4   0.8%
 Rick Aguilera    3   0.6%
 Gregg Jefferies    2   0.4%
 Doug Jones    2   0.4%
 Walt Weiss    1   0.2%
 Gary DiSarcina    0   0.0%
 Alex Fernandez    0   0.0%
  Sights and sounds:

• Sutter introduced: Watch | Listen
• Hall of Fame Show: 350K
• Sutter highlights: 350K
Sutter on MLB Radio
Sutter conference call
• Hall president Petroskey makes the
  announcement: Watch | Listen
• Petroskey on MLB Radio:
   Watch | Listen

Sutter received 76.9 percent of the vote -- only 1.9 percent more than the necessary 75 percent to gain election -- as his name appeared on 400 of the 520 ballots, 12 of which were returned blank. Voters -- BBWAA members with at least 10 consecutive years of baseball writing experience -- can place the names of up to 10 former players on their ballots.

This was Sutter's 13th year on the BBWAA ballot, two shy of the end of his eligibility for the writers' vote. His percentage had steadily increased in recent years from 53.6 percent in 2003 to 59.9 percent in 2004 to 66.7 percent last year when Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg were inducted.

But Sutter's 2006 total was the lowest percentage since 1975 in a year in which there was a single electee. Pirates slugger Ralph Kiner received 75.4 percent of the vote that year to make it in.

The last time the writers elected only one player was when Ozzie Smith routed the field in 2002 with 91.74 percent of the vote. The writers have elected at least one former player a year since 1996.

Sutter said he was in shock and then broke down in tears as he told his family the news when the long-awaited telephone call finally came.

"I don't know what you all [the writers] talk about when you're together and how you go about deciding," Sutter said. "I'm just glad you decided on me."

There were a total of 29 candidates on this year's ballot, including 14 first-timers.

Jim Rice and Gossage, who many thought had a chance this time around, garnered 64.8 percent and 64.6 percent, respectively. Andre Dawson, with 61 percent, was the only other player on the ballot who received 60 or more percent of the vote. Smith finished at 45 percent, his highest vote total since he went on the ballot for the first time in 2003.

Thirteen players -- Will Clark, Doc Gooden, Willie McGee, Ozzie Guillen, Hal Morris, Gary Gaetti, John Wetteland, Rick Aguilera, Gregg Jefferies, Doug Jones, Walt Weiss, Gary DiSarcina and Alex Fernandez -- did not receive the requisite five percent of the vote and will no longer appear on the ballot. DiSarcina and Fernandez didn't receive a single vote.

Any possibility of Rice, Gossage or Dawson making it will dwindle in 2007, the year Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr. and Mark McGwire are eligible for the first time.

Sutter said he knew in his gut that if he didn't make it this year it might never happen.

"I was planning a hunting trip next year if I didn't get in this year," he said. "I didn't need to be hanging around the phone. I can tell you that."

Sutter led the National League in saves five times from 1979-84. In an era in which relievers routinely pitched several innings or more an outing, Sutter recorded a career-best 45 saves in 1984 for the Cardinals, a year before he signed what was then considered a huge four-year, $6.5 million free agent contract with the Braves.

Sutter, who starred for the Cardinals' 1982 World Series winners and saved 36 games that year, was never the same in Atlanta. He saved only 40 more games and missed the entire 1987 season because of the elbow injury before his career petered out in 1988, when he made only 38 appearances, saving 14.

Sutter, though, was considered the top closing stylist of his time because he perfected the split-fingered fastball, also known as a forkball, as his out pitch.

"I was short with my fastball and breaking ball," said Sutter, who was born and raised in Lancaster, Pa., and now resides in Georgia. "I would've never made it in the big leagues without that pitch."

The three other relievers already in the Hall started 489 games between them. Wilhelm, who was one of the top knuckleball artists in history, started 52 games. Fingers was used as a starter 39 times. And Eckersley started 361 games before he was turned into a closer by then-Oakland manager Tony La Russa. After that, Eckersley added 390 saves.

Wilhelm was elected in 1985, Fingers in 1992, and Eckersley when he was on the ballot for the first time in 2004. Who will come after Sutter is anyone's guess.

"It's just something you get groomed to do, how you work your arm, how you stretch out your arm and what you get used to doing," Sutter said. "Relievers are just a special breed. I just hope the other guys get the call like I did today."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.