Sutter never counted on pitch totals
Updated 7/28/2006 2:10 AM ET
Bruce Sutter's approach to pitching — before he became a Hall of Fame reliever — was simple: "They gave you the ball at the beginning of the game and you gave it back to them at the end."
This is how Sutter, who'll be inducted into the shrine in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday, responds to baseball's out-of-control obsession with pitch counts.
There's so much emphasis these days on how many pitches a pitcher has thrown, some teams even post totals on their message boards. For play-by-play announcers, reciting the total has almost replaced balls and strikes.
This has become one of the most disgusting statistics of the past 15 years. Why can't a pitcher let his arm tell him when it's tired?
Sutter, always a tireless workhorse, says when he was with the Chicago Cubs, "I can never remember Rick Reuschel or anybody else on the staff talking about pitch counts. Jim Kaat always told me your arm will rest out before it wears out."
Sutter believes extreme monitoring of pitch counts, especially in the minor leagues, has led to many pitchers going on the disabled list with arm and shoulder injuries.
"Heck, when we were kids we played three or four games before we played our Little League game," he says. "Young pitchers don't throw enough in the minor leagues, and when they get to the majors they don't have the stamina; their arms haven't been built up."
Sutter, 53, says weight training is also to blame. "Guys are getting themselves too tight, and when they come underneath (arm motion) with a slider just a little bit, they pop something. If their foot slips just a little bit, they pull something in their ribs."
More is better, Roberts says
Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, who won 286 games, including 20 or more six years in a row for the Phillies, says Paul Richards started the routine of recording pitch counts.
"That was in the 1950s when he managed the Orioles," says Roberts, who'll be on stage Sunday for Sutter's induction.
One problem is money. Teams invest so much in talented young pitchers that they tell their minor league staffs to be extremely careful. Some teams put a 65-pitch limit on farmhands.
Legendary pitching guru Johnny Sain, who worked in the Braves' system for years, always said young pitchers have less chance of getting hurt with activity than with inactivity. He preferred his pitchers throw a little each day to stay limber.
"My first year in the big leagues I made $17,000," Sutter says. "It was easy to go out and get another $17,000 relief pitcher. I never worried about innings or pitches. I just pitched.
"Until I had my shoulder problems at the end of my career (in Atlanta), I don't ever remember saying I couldn't pitch on a certain day. It didn't matter whether I'd pitched eight days in a row or three innings the night before.
"The most innings I ever worked was five. Most of the time it was two — six or seven outs. If I didn't pitch in the seventh, I was warming up. We only had 10 pitchers in those days, and they were always trying to squeeze an out or two from a starting pitcher. It was different then how the manager used you."
Splitter changed career
Sutter, who finished with 300 career saves and was baseball's premier closer from 1977 through '84, was elected to the Hall of Fame in January, his 13th year of eligibility.
He suffered an elbow injury after only two 1971 minor league games but views that as a career-turning event. Offseason surgery on a pinched nerve kept him out of baseball until '73. When he arrived at spring training in the Chicago Cubs' minor league camp, his fastball was gone.
That's when Cubs roving minor league pitching coach Fred Martin taught Sutter the split-finger fastball, a derivation of the forkball that changed Sutter's career — and life.
"He showed me how to hold the pitch," Sutter says. "According to him, I was the first to throw it and throw it 100% of the time.
"He'd shown Fergie Jenkins, but Fergie used it as a changeup. He didn't throw it as hard as I did and didn't get the bite on it I did."
After the Cubs traded Sutter to St. Louis following the 1980 season, the Cardinals signed him to a four-year, $3.5 million contract, the most money ever paid to a reliever. After saving 45 games in 1984, a season in which he retired 55 of the first 71 batters he faced, the Braves gave him a six-year, $10 million deal as a free agent.
Shoulder injuries — he had three surgeries — and a torn rotator cuff ended his career in 1988. He says pitch count had nothing to do with the injuries.
"I had three shoulder surgeries and needed the fourth," says Sutter, the first Hall of Fame pitcher who never started a game. "Finally, (then-general manager) Bobby Cox said that's enough for you."