By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Bruce Sutter made history on Tuesday. Not only did he become the latest member of baseball's most exclusive club by the slimmest of margins, the right-handed split-fingered fastball artist became the first pure reliever ever elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
In a year in which there were no runaway candidates, a select group of 520 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America cast their votes -- the most in history -- anointing only Sutter, who pitched for the Cardinals, Cubs and Braves in a career that spanned from 1976-88, ending when his signature pitch shredded the insides of his right elbow.
Only three pitchers previously elected to the Hall were known for their closing skills. But Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley all made numerous starts during their illustrious careers. Sutter never started a game, but he finished 512 of them to record 300 saves, the 19th most in history.
Sutter will be inducted during Hall of Fame Weekend ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 30, giving baseball's red brick shrine on Main Street 196 former players, 103 elected by the BBWAA. He'll be in New York on Wednesday for the traditional Hall of Fame electee press conference.
Dale Petroskey, the Hall of Fame president, made the announcement of Sutter's election Tuesday on BaseballChannel.TV.
Sutter received 76.9 percent of the vote -- only 1.9 percent more than the necessary 75 percent to gain election -- as his name appeared on 400 of the 520 ballots, 12 of which were returned blank. Voters -- BBWAA members with at least 10 consecutive years of baseball writing experience -- can place the names of up to 10 former players on their ballots.
2006 Hall of Fame
The complete vote (520 ballots, 390 to gain election, 26 to remain on ballot):
Player Votes %
Bruce Sutter 400 76.9%
Jim Rice 337 64.8%
Rich Gossage 336 64.6%
Andre Dawson 317 61.0%
Bert Blyleven 277 53.3%
Lee Smith 234 45.0%
Jack Morris 214 41.2%
Tommy John 154 29.6%
Steve Garvey 135 26.0%
Alan Trammell 92 17.7%
Dave Parker 75 14.4%
Dave Concepcion 65 12.5%
Don Mattingly 64 12.3%
Orel Hershiser 58 11.2%
Dale Murphy 56 10.8%
Albert Belle 40 7.7%
Will Clark 23 4.4%
Dwight Gooden 17 3.3%
Willie McGee 12 2.3%
Ozzie Guillen 5 1.0%
Hal Morris 5 1.0%
Gary Gaetti 4 0.8%
John Wetteland 4 0.8%
Rick Aguilera 3 0.6%
Gregg Jefferies 2 0.4%
Doug Jones 2 0.4%
Walt Weiss 1 0.2%
Gary DiSarcina 0 0.0%
Alex Fernandez 0 0.0%
This was Sutter's 13th year on the BBWAA ballot, two shy of the end of his eligibility for the writers' vote. His percentage had steadily increased in recent years from 53.6 percent in 2003 to 59.9 percent in 2004 to 66.7 percent last year when Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg were inducted.
But Sutter's 2006 total was the lowest percentage since 1975 in a year in which there was a single electee. Pirates slugger Ralph Kiner received 75.4 percent of the vote that year to make it in.
The last time the writers elected only one player was when Ozzie Smith routed the field in 2002 with 91.74 percent of the vote. The writers have elected at least one former player a year since 1996.
There were a total of 29 candidates on this year's ballot, including 14 first-timers.
Jim Rice and Rich "Goose" Gossage, who many thought had a chance this time around, garnered 64.8 percent and 64.6 percent, respectively. Andre Dawson, with 61 percent, was the only other player on the ballot who received 60 or more percent of the vote.
Thirteen players -- Will Clark, Doc Gooden, Willie McGee, Ozzie Guillen, Hal Morris, Gary Gaetti, John Wetteland, Rick Aguilera, Gregg Jefferies, Doug Jones, Walt Weiss, Gary DiSarcina and Alex Fernandez -- did not receive the requisite five percent of the vote and will no longer appear on the ballot. DiSarcina and Fernandez didn't receive a single vote.
Any possibility of Rice, Gossage or Dawson making it will dwindle in 2007, the year Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr. and Mark McGwire are eligible for the first time.
Sutter led the National League in saves five times from 1979-84. In an era in which relievers routinely pitched several innings or more an outing, Sutter recorded a career-best 45 saves in 1984 for the Cardinals, a year before he signed what was then considered a huge four-year, $6.5 million free agent contract with the Braves.
Sutter, who starred for the Cardinals' 1982 World Series winners and saved 36 games that year, was never the same in Atlanta. He saved only 40 more games and missed the entire 1987 season because of the elbow injury before his career peetered out in 1988, when he made only 38 appearances, saving 14.
Sutter, though, was considered the top closing stylist of his time because he perfected the split-fingered fastball, also known as a forkball, as his out pitch.
The three other relievers already in the Hall started 489 games between them. Wilhelm, who was one of the top knuckleball artists in history, started 52 games. Fingers was used as a starter 39 times. And Eckersley started 361 games before he was turned into a closer by then-Oakland manager Tony La Russa. After that, Eckersley added 390 saves.
Wilhelm was elected in 1985, Fingers in 1992, and Eckersley when he was on the ballot for the first time in 2004.