Sutter returns to Cooperstown

Sutter returns to Cooperstown

Bruce Sutter hadn't been back to Cooperstown since his induction ceremony last summer, and while the landscape had changed with three feet of snow outside from a recent storm, the feelings he had when recalling his day in the sun were still powerful.

"It's nice to be back. It's a little bit different-looking than the last time I was here," Sutter said with a laugh. "It's still pretty emotional when I look back. It's still hard to believe it has been a year."

Sutter was back at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as the first guest of the institution's 2007 Voices of the Game series. Before a near-capacity crowd inside the Grandstand Theater, Sutter talked about what it had been like when he received the call on Jan. 10, 2006, informing him that he had finally been elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, in his 13th year on the ballot, to the game's most exclusive fraternity.

"It's hard to describe to anybody how you feel in a moment like that," he recalled. "It's something I wouldn't say I dreamed of, because I never expected it, but when it comes true, what a special feeling it is.

"I hadn't played baseball for 19 years, so I was kind of out in the pasture, as they say, and then all of a sudden, I got brought back in to the field."

Sutter's rise to prominence as baseball's premier closer from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s was due to a revolutionary new pitch -- the split-fingered fastball. And throughout much of this Cooperstown event, he gripped a baseball, almost as a security blanket for someone who isn't comfortable talking about himself.

"It's not something I do a lot of. I was a baseball player, I wasn't a public speaker," he said. "I guess now when I talk it carries a little more weight than it used to. I enjoy being out with the fans, I enjoy talking baseball, but to get up and tell my life story ... I'm not comfortable doing that."

But the former closer for the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves was comfortable enough to tell of the joy and pain that came with his induction on July 30.

"For being a closer all my life, I didn't get nervous about a lot of situations on the baseball field where there were things I could control," he said. "But up here was about as nervous as I've ever been doing anything in my life.

"When I got home, I went and took a physical. I thought there was something wrong with me because I started sweating from the time I drove into Cooperstown and I didn't quit until I got back to Atlanta. And it wasn't that hot. It was just nerves and anxiety. And that's an odd feeling for me."

Sutter admits that being known as a Hall of Famer has taken some getting used to, as he has just started adding "HOF 06" to his autograph.

"It's nice when you go somewhere and they don't say 'future Hall of Famer,' " he said. "When you go back to Cardinals games and you get announced as a Hall of Famer and you are there with Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Red Schoendienst and Ozzie Smith, it's a special feeling."

But a plaque in Cooperstown alongside those of Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Cy Young and Roberto Clemente hasn't much changed the life of the soft-spoken Sutter, though he jokes that his sons think his head got a little bit bigger.

"I'm basically a country person," said Sutter, who grew up in a small town about 70 miles west of Philadelphia. "I'm at home out in the woods, I'm at home in a fishing boat, I live on the top of a mountain just north of Atlanta, so for me my everyday life didn't change.

"And I still carry the trash out."

The Hall's 2007 Voices of the Game series will continue with Hall of Famers Earl Weaver (May 20), Mike Schmidt (Sept. 2) and Fergie Jenkins (Oct. 6); Ford C. Frick Award-winning broadcasters Harry Kalas (June 30), Milo Hamilton (Aug. 4) and Jaime Jarrin (Nov. 3); and former Major League stars Jim Lonborg and Rico Petrocelli in a salute to the 1967 Boston Red Sox (April 14). Legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg is slated to appear on Aug. 18, and as part of Special Abilities Weekend (March 24-25), the Hall will welcome Mike Veeck, owner of several Minor League baseball teams and son of Hall of Fame executive Bill Veeck.

Bill Francis is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.