COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- As if the weekend wasn't emotional enough for Bruce Sutter, the right-handed reliever who turned the split-finger fastball into an art form and earned a Hall of Fame plaque because of it, learned on Saturday night that the Cardinals are retiring his number. Sutter wore No. 42 when he pitched for the Cardinals for four seasons from 1981 to 1984. His tenure in St. Louis, coming after five years with the Cubs in Chicago, included the 1982 World Series championship, which Sutter climaxed by punching out the Milwaukee Brewers' Gorman Thomas to end the seventh game. Sutter learned of the latest honor during an event the Cardinals staged here in his honor on Saturday night.
"The Cardinals threw a cocktail party for myself and my family," Sutter said after Sunday's induction ceremonies. "During the course of that, Mr. [Bill] DeWitt [the team's chairman of the board and managing general partner] was talking and it came out that they're going to retire my number in St. Louis. It was something I hadn't thought about or didn't know about. "And when I got up [to speak] I couldn't even thank him. I mean, I started crying right away as soon as I saw all the faces of my family. Everybody was waiting right there for me to kind of say something and I couldn't say a word." Sutter will be the 10th Cardinal in history to either have his number or uniform retired, although No. 42 once belonged to Jackie Robinson and is already retired throughout Major League Baseball. The right-hander will join some stellar company: Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Ken Boyer, Dizzy Dean, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson. "He deserves every honor they give him," said Whitey Herzog, Sutter's former Cardinals manager, who was in attendance on Sunday. "I was surprised it took him 13 years to get into the Hall of Fame. Very surprised." Sutter was always on the margin. He recorded 300 saves during an era when a closer came in and might have had to pitch three innings to nail down a game. But his three right shoulder surgeries after he signed a big free-agent contact with the Atlanta Braves in 1985 always made him suspect to voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America, who annually elect former players into the Hall. Sutter made it on his 13th ballot. Sutter pitched parts of 13 seasons, but in only nine of them was he really effective. Because of the shoulder injury, Sutter missed the entire 1987 season and saved just 17 games his final two active seasons before retiring in 1988 at the age of 35.
Including the five-year waiting period, it took him 18 years to be elected to the Hall."The Hall of Fame is not very cut and dry," Herzog said. "If Sandy Koufax is in for being a dominant starter for seven years -- and he was and he deserves to be in -- and Bruce was a dominant relief pitcher for at least seven years, then he deserves to be in a long time before now, is the way I look at it." The question now is whether Sutter's induction paves the way for other closers after him. Lee Smith, who has the all-time lead with 478 saves over the course of his 18 seasons, and Goose Gossage, who pitched for 22 years and saved 310, have long been on the bubble. Sutter said he favors Mariano Rivera, who has 405 saves, as a certain first ballot Hall of Fame selection, and added that Trevor Hoffman, who is 14 behind Smith at 464, also has to get some very serious consideration. Sutter joins a trio of relievers -- Hoyt Wilhelm, Dennis Eckersley and Rollie Fingers -- in the Hall, but he's the first among them who never pitched a single game as a starter. "As far as me paving the way for other relievers, if that's what it takes I would be more than happy to do that," Sutter said. "In my own mind, Goose Gossage and Lee Smith deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. You have other guys like Johnny Franco and Jeff Reardon, who are right there. It's been an important position in baseball for a long time. If you don't have a good guy there, you're definitely not going to win."
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.