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Dip, Dip, Dive

Posted By Alex Belth On January 11, 2006 @ 5:16 am In Bronx Banter | Comments Disabled

Goose Gossage was understandably upset [1] that he wasn’t elected to the Hall of Fame yesterday. He told Jack Curry [2] in The New York Times:

“Right now, I don’t think I’ll ever get in,” Gossage said. “Why would I feel good about this? Because Sutter got in, that’s supposed to help me? Let me tell you, I don’t have to take a back seat to anybody.”

…”I was a pioneer in how the bullpen is used today,” Gossage said. “I did the work it takes three guys to do today. Don’t compare what Mariano does today to what I did. It’s two different positions.”

Regardless of how he’s currently feeling, I say Gossage will eventually make it. But he isn’t alone in his criticism [3] of the results. Joe Sheehan [4] ran some telling numbers in his column the other day proving that Gossage was a better pitcher than Sutter. His conclusion?

Gossage had Sutter’s career and another ten seasons of work…There is absolutely no rational argument for having Bruce Sutter on a ballot, but not having Rich Gossage on it as well. You can vote for Gossage alone, you can vote for both or neither, but all ballots that list Sutter and not Gossage are fundamentally flawed, and reflect a lack of understanding of what the two pitchers accomplished in their careers.

Rob Neyer [5] adds:

The voters certainly can’t be supporting Sutter because of his value; if they were voting for value, they would have Gossage ahead of Sutter, because Gossage so obviously was more valuable than Sutter. They must be voting for Sutter as a “pioneer” — a pioneer of the split-fingered fastball (even though he didn’t invent the pitch) and a pioneer of the save situation (even though he was just following orders). Voting for Sutter but not voting for Gossage is simply an irrational act. Nothing personal; I act irrationally at least a couple of times a year, so I can’t exactly hold that against my esteemed colleagues.

Meanwhile, Bruce Sutter was overcome when he learned that he was headed for Cooperstown [6]:

“It’s been 18 years since I threw my last ball,” Sutter said in a conference call. “I didn’t think it would affect me as it did. When I got the call and was told I was in, I gave a ‘thumbs-up’ to my wife and sons and then I broke down and cried.


Sutter, of course, is famous for popularizing the split-finger fastball, a pitch that was taught to him by Fred Martin in 1973 when Sutter played for the Chicago Cubs’ Quincy team in the Midwest League. Previously, Sutter, who had worked as a printer’s assistant the winter before to pay for surgery on his right elbow–a fact that he concealed from the Cubs, was an ordinary pitcher. But he took to the new pitch, a harder version of a forkball, almost immediately. Sutter detailed his story to Roger Kahn in “The Head Game” [7]:

“I threw it,” Sutter says, “and the first time I did it, the ball broke down. Right away it broke down. I don’t know why it came so quickly. I have big hands and long fingers, but maybe, aside from that, it was something in my natural motion. Anyway, it broke great that first time and then it was just a matter of…well, now that I think about it, a lot of things. Learning to throw it for a strike. Learning to bounce it in the dirt. Getting the hitters to chase the one that bounces. Fooling them. Keeping them fooled.”

“All right,” Bruce Sutter begins an unpretentious but profoundly knowledgeable lecutre, “a baseball has two seasm, which run in lines. take the point where those seams are closest together. Put your index finger on one seam and your middle finger on the other. Now speard your fingers about a quarter of an ince so they rest on either side of the seams. If your fingers are long enough, you’ll be sort of reaching around the ball and your fingertips will come to rest on the front seams. The ball is touching the meaty area on the inside of your fingers but actually you grip it–apply pressure–only with the fingertips on the seams at the front of the ball. Very different from the grip for any other pitch.

“Okay. The second thing is positioning your thumb underneath. When you set your grip so that there are those two parallel seams on top, inside your fingers, you find two seams on the bottom of the ball. Nothing complicated. Just the nature of how a baseball is stiched. Your thumb goes on the back seam, not the front one. That makes the ball move out of your hand a little bit, away from the palm.

“Now something else. Pressure the ball more with your index finger than with your middle finger. That’s hard for some to do; they’re used to applying most pressure with the middle finger. It just so happened that I always threw off my index finger, even when I was a little kid, even when the coaches didn’t want that. There it is. Fingers spread, wrapped around the ball. Thumb on the back seam on the underside. Most pressure from the index finger. Let ‘er rip.

“…It was some time before I could control the splitter the way I had to. After a while, I found out that I did my best throwing for the top of the catcher’s mask. That became my target. If I used a wide finger-split, the ball would end up in the dirt. If I split the fingers a little less it would be a strike at the knees. Once in a while, maybe one pitch in ten, to cross ‘em up, I’d play real dirty. I’d throw a straight fast ball that didn’t drop at all.

“Before I learned the splitter, the Cubs were ready to release me from a bottom-level minor league team. Back to the print shop, kid. That’s what it would have been. Two years after I learned the splitter, I was pitching in the major leagues.”

Sutter went on to explain his success:

“I used to play long catch in the outfield before games. I liked to throw long distance. I think that helped my arm. That and certain stretching exercises. Whoever first said pitching is not a natural motion is right. It strains the arm, the elbow, the shoulder. What pitch strains an arm the most? That depends on your physique. Some guys throw sliders for years. Some kill their elbows with a slider. The splitter was easy for me, for it isn’t a pitch for everyone, not even everybody with the hands and fingers to throw the thing.

The biggest question is how do you get batters out. That’s different for different people, too, as you know. Take intimidation. How could a pitcher intimidate Dave Parker, who ran around six foot six and two hundred forty pounds You couldn’t hit him in the head. He was too quick. You couldn’t hurt him with inside pitches. He was too big. You can’t physically intimidate him. No way. But big and strong as these hitters are, I never met one who wasn’t embarrassed by being struck out in [the] clutch. I mean, like this: Ninth inning. Tying run on base. I strike the hitter out. His team gets beat. Some reporter says, hey, how come you swung at a pitch in the dirt? The man, whoever he may be, is going to be embarrassed. Now, next game I’m working on the hitter’s psyche. Pretty soon, all of them start going, “Dammit. That guy’s warming up again. He’s gonna make me look terrible.’ Then they go, ‘Shit, we gotta get a lead before the eighth inning. If we don’t that guy is going to come in and show us up and end the game.’ I haven’t met too many who enjoy looking ridiculous in public.

“I was that guy. I was an intimidator. Not because I was knocking everybody down. Because I’d get everybody out.”

And now, he’s a Hall of Famer. Congrats.


Article printed from Bronx Banter: http://www.bronxbanterblog.com

URL to article: http://www.bronxbanterblog.com/2006/01/11/dip-dip-dive/

URLs in this post:

[1] understandably upset: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/tom_verducci/01/10/sutter.gossage/index.html

[2] Jack Curry: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/11/sports/baseball/11fame.html

[3] criticism: http://www.baseballmusings.com/archives/012710.php

[4] Joe Sheehan: http://www.baseballprospectus.com./article.php?articleid=4696

[5] Rob Neyer: http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/insider/columns/story?columnist=neyer_rob&id=2286632

[6] Cooperstown: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/story/381743p-324146c.html

[7] “The Head Game”: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0151004412/102-9890401-3177757?v=glance&n=283155

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