Arm surgery in 1973 nearly ended Sutter’s career, but, with the help of Cub pitching coach Mike Roarke, he developed a split-finger fastball. The pitch, which dropped like a rock as it reached the plate, made him an instant success in the Cubs’ bullpen. He saved 31 games while recording a microscopic 1.35 ERA in his sophomore season. In 1979 his 37 saves earned him the NL Cy Young Award.
He continued his dominance from the bullpen with the Cardinals, peaking with 45 saves in 1984. The Cardinals even hired Roarke to monitor Sutter’s pitching mechanics. Sutter won two games and saved two in All-Star Game competition. He holds the NL record for career saves and was voted NL Fireman of the Year four times by TSN.
Sutter signed a six-year, eight-digit contract with the Braves in December 1984. Shoulder problems caused him to miss most of 1986 and all 1987, but he returned in 1988 to again be Atlanta’s closer. He lifted his career saves to an even 300, despite a mid-season bout with Bell’s palsy, which forced him onto the DL. More shoulder problems again threatened his career.