Posted: Wednesday, January 11th 2006 at 3:05am
Sutter elected to Hall of Fame; Rice and Gossage fall short
By The Associated Press
Bruce Sutter tried to treat it like just another day. He took out the garbage. He bought some cigars. He picked up the dry cleaning. He stopped by IHOP for a plate of pancakes.
Then, he settled in front of his television to watch a movie.
"I had been told 'no' 12 times," Sutter said. "You don't expect things to change."
This time, he finally got the call he thought would never come: Sutter was elected to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday, becoming just the fourth reliever to receive baseball's highest individual honor _ and the first who never started a game in the big leagues.
The guy who perfected the split-finger fastball and was among the first generation of dominant closers received 10 more votes than he needed to get into Cooperstown. Sutter was the only player elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America; Boston Red Sox slugger Jim Rice and reliever Goose Gossage were among those coming up short.
While Sutter tried to downplay his Hall of Fame chances, his three sons figured this would be the year he finally got in. For the first time, they all gathered at his suburban Atlanta home to await the call.
"We're on the computer all the time, reading everything," said Chad Sutter, who coaches at Tulane University in New Orleans. "I felt good going to sleep last night. I just felt like it was his time. Everything came together."
When the telephone rang, Sutter figured it was the someone from the Atlanta Braves _ the last team he played for _ calling to say he had come up short again. Then he saw "New York" pop up on his caller ID and thought to himself, "Oh, maybe this is it."
When Sutter found out he had made it, he flashed a "thumbs-up" sign to his wife, sons and daughters-in-law. They all started screaming. He broke down and cried.
"I didn't think it would affect me or hit me as hard as it did," he said.
Sutter was listed on 76.9 percent of the ballots, collecting 400 of a record 520 votes cast by BBWAA members. Players needed 390 votes (75 percent) to gain election.
Rice fell 53 short, finishing second with 337 votes (64.8 percent), one ahead of Goose Gossage.
Sutter was the first player elected on the 13th try or later since Ralph Kiner in 1975. Rice was appearing for the 12th time and has three years remaining on the writers' ballot. Gossage was on the ballot for the seventh time.
It might be difficult for Rice and Gossage to gain votes next year, when Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn and Mark McGwire appear on the ballot for the first time. Each voter may select up to 10 players.
"Right now, I don't think I'll ever get in," Gossage told The New York Times. "Why would I feel good about this? Because Sutter got in, that's supposed to help me? Let me tell you, I don't have to take a back seat to anybody."
Andre Dawson was fourth with 317 votes, followed by Bert Blyleven (277), Lee Smith (234), Jack Morris (214), Tommy John (154) and Steve Garvey (135).
Pete Rose, baseball's banned career hits leader, received 10 write-in votes in what would have been his final year of eligibility. He was stricken from the ballot after going on the banned list for betting on games.
Other relievers who preceded Sutter into the Hall of Fame were Hoyt Wilhelm (elected in 1985), Rollie Fingers (1992) and Dennis Eckersley (2004). Cooperstown's newest member said Gossage and Smith should be in, too.
"I just think sometimes that the voters try to compare us with the starting pitchers," Sutter said. "We can't compete with their statistics, their innings or their strikeouts. I think if you compare us against each other, I think you'll see we're all pretty equal. ... Without us, it's tough to win."
Sutter was a six-time All-Star and the 1979 NL Cy Young Award winner, compiling 300 saves during a 12-season major league career with the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis and Atlanta that ended in 1988. He had a 68-71 record with a 2.83 ERA and was third on the saves list when his career was cut short by a torn rotator cuff (he now ranks 19th).
He credited Fred Martin, a Cubs minor league pitching coach, with teaching him the splitter late in the 1973 season, and Mike Roarke, another Cubs coach, with helping him refine it.
"I had no chance if I didn't have that pitch," Sutter said. "I wouldn't have made it to the big leagues. I wouldn't have gotten out of Double-A."
The strain of throwing all those splitters may have cut short his career. Sutter signed a six-year contract with the Atlanta Braves before the 1985 season, a deal worth about $10 million, but his shoulder began hurting just six weeks into the season. He pitched through the pain and saved 23 games, but he wasn't nearly as dominating.
Sutter missed much of 1986 and all of the following season because of his ailing shoulder. Then, after one more season with the Braves, the finisher was finished.
"My only regret is coming to Atlanta and hurting my shoulder," Sutter said. "I was never the same again. They cut on me and cut on me, but there was nothing they could do. I feel bad about that."
Orel Hershiser (58 votes) and Albert Belle (40) were the only players among the 14 first-time candidates to receive 5 percent, meaning they will remain on the ballot next year. Among those dropped were Will Clark, Dwight Gooden, Willie McGee and Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.
Sutter will be inducted into the Hall during ceremonies on July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y. The Veterans Committee doesn't vote this year, but a special Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues selection committee meets Feb. 27 in Tampa, Fla.
Sutter remained in the Atlanta area with his wife and children, learning to live with the inevitable fallout from nine trips to the operating room. He had three shoulder surgeries, three more on his knees, another on his elbow. Since retiring, he's had two back operations, the latest just six months ago.
"I can't even change a light bulb," he said. "But I would do it all over again."
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