#42 paves the way. Finally, we can stop listening to arguments about whether the last player to wear that number — fellow closer Mariano Rivera — will make the Hall. It’s not the color line, but a different sort of threshold in baseball has been crossed by a relief pitcher wearing that historic number, the first to enter the Hall of Fame pitching out of the bullpen. Congratulations to Bruce Sutter for his admission to Cooperstown, where he will highlight his Game 7 close of the 1982 World Series by going in as a Cardinal. Thanks to Andrew Tarica, who took the time to write the MLB.com article about his pitching coaches, — an undercovered topic, I think — we’re reminded that he was raised by the "father of the split-fingered fastball," ace Fred Martin, who "taught the young hurler how to throw the derivation of the forkball that he’d mastered back in the Texas League while pitching for the Buffs." That would be the 1941 Houston Buffaloes, whose rotation he aced as the club played its way into minor league greatness. On the Class A Midwest League Cubs in 1973, Martin taught the rookie who’d secretly just had elbow surgery how to throw his signature pitch. 1974 was his breakout season in the minors, with AA Midland, and he was promoted from the AAA Aeros to the Cubs in 1976. After 1979, when Martin died, another Cubs coach, Mike Roarke, picked up his mantle. Tanica quotes Sutter’s movingly matter-of-fact tribute to his 2 mentors: "’I owe an awful lot to those two men,’ Sutter said. ‘Without their help, my stuff was just average.’"
Selected quotations from Tarica’s article:
"When I used to throw hard, I would split my fingers when I threw my change-up," Sutter said. "But I never used my thumb, the way I do with the split-fingered fastball. The pitch has a spin on it, so it’s harder for the hitter to tell whether it’s a fastball or a split-finger.
"They say that if the hitters just laid off of it, it’d fall out of the strike zone. But it’s hard to lay off because they have to make that decision in a split second."
"’We’d go two weeks without winning,’" recalled former Major Leaguer Dennis Lamp, who pitched with Sutter at each stop in the Minors and ultimately with the Cubs as well, ‘but once Bruce started throwing that split-fingered fastball, it was like, "Oh my God." No one had ever seen a pitch like that.
"’It looked like it was over your head, and then it landed in the strike zone. He’d strike guys out and the ball would get by the catcher and roll all the way to the backstop.’"
Written with great debt to Andrew Tarica’s MLB.com article "Sutter Mastered Special Pitch in Minors: Split-fingered Fastball Put Reliever in Cooperstown," published 1-11-2006. Why the replay here? I am interested in pitching coaches as well as relievers (obviously) and wanted to have the information handy.