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No need to be split: Sutter deserves it

No split here: Sutter deserves it

Of all the worthy candidates on the 2006 ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the one candidate most deserving of election was Bruce Sutter.

So justice was once again served during this exercise in baseball democracy, when the Hall of Fame announced Tuesday that Sutter, in his 13th year on the ballot, had finally gained enough votes for induction.

This election, like every other balloting for induction to the Hall of Fame, left some other extremely deserving candidates on the doorstep, but still outside. Jim Rice, Goose Gossage, Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven all received substantially more than 50 percent of the 520 votes cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. But all fell short of the necessary 75 percent of the vote.

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There is no disputing the worth of any of the above careers. But the Baseball Hall of Fame remains the most exclusive club of its sort in professional sports. If the voters are going to err -- and as human beings, we might -- they will err on the side of caution. This approach leads to annual disappointment among candidates and fans of candidates. But it also maintains election to the Hall as a standard of true greatness.

And that is where Bruce Sutter comes in and deserves to enter. Sutter himself received 400 votes, or 76.9 percent of the votes. He had 10 votes to spare for this election. Last year, when he had received 66.7 percent of the votes, he had been 43 votes short. But that was another step in a long, but steady climb in this process for Sutter, whose support had been increasing on a yearly basis.

His election is a landmark of sorts for the Hall. He is the first pitcher elected who made every single appearance of his Major League career in relief. Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley are the relievers who have reached the Hall, but they also functioned as starters during their careers.


  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

What makes Sutter, out of all the stars on this ballot, particularly deserving of election? In his prime, there was simply nobody better. Part of this is objective. The numbers of his best seasons clearly reflect that notion. There is no question that Bruce Sutter was a pioneer of the closer's role and there is also no question that he was a pioneer of the split-fingered fastball that essentially revolutionized the way the game was pitched.

But part of this election is subjective, whether or not the candidate in question passes the eyeball test for greatness.

I remember vividly one afternoon at Wrigley Field. Sutter enters the game with the Chicago Cubs up by one run. We watch him warm up. The gentleman sitting next to me observes him, and says knowingly: "Sutter just doesn't have it today."

Bruce Sutter then strikes out the side on 10 pitches. So I turn to this fellow journalist, smirking a bit, and I say: "So Sutter didn't have it today?" And this fellow responds: "Hey, what about that one ball?" A good laugh is had by all.

And that was just about it. The surprise with Bruce Sutter's performance was not going to be the nine strikes, but the one ball. At his best, he was simply unhittable. He was a pioneer of closing. He was a pioneer of the splitter. But beyond all that, he was a terrific relief pitcher, whose best work was as good as anybody who ever performed in that capacity.

OK, if he was so great, why did it take him 13 tries to get to 75 percent of the votes and thus to Cooperstown? There are a couple of reasonable responses to that.

Closing is a relatively new role in baseball and like every other change that occurs in baseball, a sport that is built around its tradition, it requires some time for adjustment. In this case, it has taken the electorate some time to accommodate itself to the notion of voting for closers, not to mention figuring out what factors make a closer's Hall of Fame candidacy viable.

In Bruce Sutter's individual case, he had five tremendous seasons with the Cubs. These were five tremendous seasons that could have been, because of the nature of those Cubs teams, relatively unnoticed by the larger baseball world. It is true that he went on to close for a World Series champion, the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals. But then his career was cut short by arm problems, so he was limited to 12 seasons. So in terms of what recognition his career might have received, he was shorted on both ends, by injury at the end, and by pitching for teams with which recognition was unlikely at the beginning.

But this election is a richly deserved happy ending for the Bruce Sutter story. On my Hall of Fame ballot this year, Gossage, Rice, Blyleven and Lee Smith also received votes. And I firmly believed that each of them deserved to be in the Hall.

But there was one vote that carried even more conviction than that. That was the one for Bruce Sutter. I believed that he was the best pitcher from his era who had not yet been elected to the Hall of Fame. Now, much better late than never, he will get his due; the ultimate recognition that he is among baseball's absolute best.


Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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