Chicago Cubs: The Heroes of Wrigley Series presents Bruce Sutter

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Stockman /Allsport /

Chicago Cubs: After revolutionizing a specialty pitch, he set to define a new role in baseball that would be known as a “closer.”

In 1977, his first full season in the Majors, Sutter had one of the greatest seasons in history for a relief pitcher.

The 24-year-old used his patent splitter to strike out 129 batters, posting a 7-3 record with a 1.34 ERA and 31 saves in 62 games over 107 1/3 innings pitched.

The team, itself, found themselves in playoff contention for most of the season in a memorable 1977 run.  However, they faded by August which coincided around the time that Sutter landed on the disabled list with a shoulder strain.

Despite the disappointing end to the Cubs promising campaign, Sutter was selected to his first National League All-Star team and put the rest of the NL on notice that he was a force to be reckoned with out of the bullpen.

Again earning an All-Star nod in 1978, Sutter also proved a workhorse out of the Cub bullpen pitching 98 2/3 innings, adding 106 strikeouts and locking down 27 saves in 64 appearances.

He did have 14 blown saves that season, which may seem high in comparison to today’s standards. However, it was fairly common during that era as the newly formed role of the “closer” saw pitchers in that role often enter games sometimes as early as the sixth inning to close out the games.

Perhaps his most memorable season came in 1979 when he led the Majors in saves with 37 and again pitched in over 100 innings for the second time in his career.  He also posted a 2.22 ERA and struck out 110 batters en route to capturing the National League Cy Young Award.

In 1980, Sutter, again, led the league in saves with 28 over 102 1/3 innings pitched.  However, his strikeout total drastically decreased and, for the first time in three seasons, he failed to eclipse the 100 punch-out mark, striking out only 76.

At the time, Sutter was the highest paid reliever in baseball, even over Rich Gossage, earning a $700,000 arbitration salary.  He was looking to sign a long-term deal with Chicago but, unwilling to pay him and fearing he was starting to decline (his low strikeout total as a sign of that), the Cubs instead traded the red-headed closer to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for first baseman Leon Durham and third baseman Ken Reitz.

His tenure with the Cubs officially came to an end with the deal in December of 1980 and his new team, the rival Redbirds, promptly signed Sutter to a four-year contract.