Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Congratulations, Bruce Sutter

Bruce Sutter, Hall of Famer.

Although I've noted that some question his selection, Cardinals fans who suffered through the late 1970s will find no fault with the election of Bruce Sutter to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The St. Louis Cardinals in the late 1970s were classic underachievers. Talented, but basically losers. And I can't remember how many games that those teams blew because they had no closer. Let's just say it's in the neighborhood of "lots".

Frustation is not the word that could describe the feeling of heading into the eighth or ninth inning with a one or two run lead, and "coming from ahead", as Jim Rome would say, to lose. The word is RAGE. Explosive, quivering anger. As an immature teenage Cardinals fan at that time, I would sometimes break whatever was nearby when the Cardinals couldn't hold yet another lead (something that was mine, I wasn't suicidal).

This Cardinals futility had went on for 3 or 4 years, which I think produced a flickering ember down inside that was ignited in 1980, leading to the destructiveness. I decided it was time to get a handle on this when I ripped the cover off my tape player after a second blown lead against the dreaded Cubs in two days. I thought to myself that this was getting expensive, and not worth it. God's grace, I'm sure.

So imagine my thrill at the December 1980 winter meetings when the Cardinals' new GM Whitey Herzog traded Leon Durham and Ken Reitz to the Cubs for Mr. Sutter, the best closer in the game at that time. My blown game nightmare, and that of millions of my cohorts, was surely over. And he did not disappoint. In game seven of the 1982 World Series, once the ball was handed to Sutter, I knew we had won. He just locked the game shut.

Sutter really did change the way the late innings played out. He was a closer, yet not in the sense of today's one out or one inning closer. I remember Sutter being brought in as early as the 7th inning to close out a game, something almost unheard of now except in the playoffs. His split finger fastball, which he also revolutionized, was unhittable when he had it going right, making him as much a lock as Mariano Rivera has been in today's game.

And he looked like a grizzly bear the whole time.

Here's to you, Mr. Sutter. And regardless of whether he enters the Hall with a Cub hat or Cardinal hat, he deserves to be there.

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