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Sutter Story: Me and the Splitter

July 30, 2006|From the Associated Press

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Thirty-three years after his career appeared to be over almost before it had begun, Bruce Sutter will receive the ultimate tribute -- induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

When he's enshrined today, Sutter will become the first honoree whose name never appeared on a starting lineup card. And the former ace reliever can thank an injury to his pitching arm for his good fortune.

He was signed as a free agent by the Chicago Cubs and was desperate to make it to the majors. Before the start of the 1973 season, he scheduled -- and paid for with his bonus money -- surgery on his right arm for a pinched nerve incurred while trying to learn how to throw a slider.

"I didn't think they would pay for the operation," he said. "I thought if I told them I was hurt, I was gone."

He was unable to keep the operation a secret for long. Fred Martin, the Cubs' roving minor league pitching instructor, spotted the big scar on Sutter's elbow, then forever changed his life by teaching him to throw the split-fingered fastball, a pitch that looked like an ordinary fastball -- until it reached home plate. Then it plunged precipitously through the strike zone and out of harm's way, leaving bewildered batters flailing at nothing but air.

"He used it like nobody else was ever able to use it. He brought an air of confidence," said Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, Sutter's former teammate on the St. Louis Cardinals. "When he came in, the game was over. He was that good."

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