Wife's health Sutter's primary focus

Wife's health Sutter's focus

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- It has taken 18 years from the day Bruce Sutter had to call it quits as a professional baseball player because of a shattered right shoulder to this Sunday when he will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The journey has been bittersweet to say the least. By the time members of the Baseball Writers Association of America elected him on the 13th try, Sutter had much more pertinent issues to deal with, namely, the health of his wife of 35 years, Jamye.

"My wife and I went through the Minor Leagues and the Major Leagues together and now the Hall of Fame," Sutter said during a press conference on Saturday. "We've been together for a long time. She knows I got hurt. That's what put me out of baseball. She knew that I wasn't happy because I didn't get to leave the game the way I wanted.

"She's going through some tough times now. There's light at the end of the tunnel. The prognosis looks good. It's just that she's got some hurdles ahead of her. And she doesn't want me talking too much about it. That's just the kind of person she is. But this has been and is going to be very emotional."

It's already been a different kind of weekend for Sutter, whose trademark split-finger fastball danced around National League hitters for most of 13 seasons. He came up with the Chicago Cubs, recorded the last out of the victorious 1982 World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals, and had his career disintegrate after he signed a big free-agent contract with the Atlanta Braves.

There were 300 saves along the way. And usually a much-desired Hall of Fame election is celebrated horsing around with the other living legends, 40 of whom are in attendance this weekend. There's some imbibing and the traditional song that the inductee is expected to prepare and perform on Friday night. There's Saturday morning on the links.

But Sutter said he has participated in none of it. Instead he sat on the hotel porch overlooking Otsego Lake on Saturday and tooled with his speech while the golfers teed off. And on Friday night, he retired early.

"A lot of you know my wife's having some problems," he said. "So she was tired and we kind of called it an early evening."

Sutter preferred not to discuss the specifics about his wife's illness, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported this past Sunday that Jamye will have surgery on Aug. 15 to remove a cancerous kidney. She was originally scheduled to have the surgery on April 19, but blood clots were discovered in her lungs during a pre-operative CAT scan and she has been taking a blood thinner ever since.

Jamye was cleared again to have surgery in June, but that date "was a little close [to the induction], if I had gone ahead and had surgery," she told Rick Hummel, the longtime baseball writer for the Post-Dispatch who was the Cardinals beat writer during the years Sutter played in St. Louis (1981-84).

The news marred an otherwise joyful time in the Sutter's Kennesaw, Ga., household.

"Somebody will say, 'Oh, I feel so bad for you. All these wonderful things are happening to you and then you have this bad news," she said. "But, really, it was the most wonderful luck. I went in to have a kidney stone removed. If I had not done that, they would have never seen the cancer and I would have gone on my merry way while this thing was growing.

"And then, if I hadn't had the CAT scan that found the blood clots, I could have died on the operating table. So, all the way around, I've just been really blessed. It's an excellent year. I've apparently had these blood clots for a long time. But, for whatever reason, it's not my time.

"Bruce just got elected to the Hall of Fame. We're building this wonderful new house and we're having [another] grandbaby in October and our [youngest son] is getting married in November. A lot of good things are happening."

Not the least of which was this trip north. Sutter is from Lancaster, in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, and the plan all along was to stop for a spell there on the voyage here. Sutter, now 56, has a ton of old friends and relatives whom he wanted to visit. A whopping 85 of them are in town and will be at the ceremony.

"More than I could ever hope to see this weekend," he said.

He has had a chance to gather with his fellow Hall of Famers, who, as usual, welcomed him with open arms into that select club of 260, including players, managers and executives. There has been some of the usual kidding and jiving.

"They started on me a little bit yesterday," Sutter said. "We had a meeting and they asked me how long my speech was going to be. I told them it was going to be an hour-and-a-half. And one of them said: 'That was longer than you played.'"

The line received big laughs from the gathered media, but the tone of the weekend for Sutter had months ago been set. It's about life, love and those closest to you, particularly on the day of a such a majestic event.

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.