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Cubs Trade Retrospective: Bruce Sutter

Pitcher Bruce Sutter of the Chicago Cubs pitches in a Major League Baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. Sutter played for the Cubs from 1976-80. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images Sport)
Pitcher Bruce Sutter of the Chicago Cubs pitches in a Major League Baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. Sutter played for the Cubs from 1976-80. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images Sport)

Bruce Sutter was almost unhittable in his first couple of years with the Chicago Cubs. His new "split-finger" pitch, taught to him by longtime Cubs coach Freddie Martin, was something most hitters had never seen before. It appeared to be an ordinary fastball, then simply "dropped" as it crossed the plate. Hitters flailed and missed much more often than they hit the ball.

Sutter struck out more hitters than any pitcher who had pitched solely in relief in Cubs history in 1977 -- 129, shattering the team record of 115 set by Bill Henry in 1959. (Carlos Marmol broke this mark with 138 K's in 2010.) He recorded 37 saves in 1979, which was the team record until Randy Myers broke it with 53 in 1993.

Sutter was so good that in 1980, after baffling NL hitters for three full seasons, winning the Cy Young Award in 1979, and making three All-Star teams, an arbitrator awarded him a $700,000 contract (the Cubs had offered half that, $350,000).

In present-day baseball terms, that dollar amount barely buys you a backup catcher. But in 1980, it was the largest arb award to date and the biggest contract in Cubs history. Bill Wrigley, who inherited the team from his father after P.K.'s death in 1977, was horrified.

That resulted in Sutter being dealt after another All-Star (although not quite as good) season in 1980. Cubs fans weren't happy.

What would BCB have been like on December 9, 1980, the day Sutter was shipped to the Cardinals?

Why doesn't Bill Wrigley just sell the Cubs already?

He's clearly not interested in fielding a competitive team.

After having three years of pretty good teams that hung with the leaders for much of the season, this year's team was awful, losing 98 games, the third-most in team history. And that was with Bruce Sutter posting an NL-leading 28 saves, topping the league in that category for the second year in a row.

How many games are the Cubs going to win next year, Bill? Seriously -- how many can this team possibly win in 1981 after GM Bob Kennedy sent Sutter to the Cardinals for third baseman Ken Reitz, an outfielder/1B named Leon Durham, and a player to be named later.

I mean, Reitz is a pretty good hitter. He had 33 doubles this past season and 41 the year before, and Wrigley Field is a decent ballpark for doubles hitters. Plus, he plays a good third base -- he made only eight errors last year and holds the all-time NL fielding percentage record. And he made the All-Star team. Maybe he can finally fill the third base void left when Ron Santo was traded away. Bill Madlock did a good job there, but the Wrigleys sent him away, too. Steve Ontiveros was OK in the field, but most of his value came from those silly Hair Club for Men commercials he did on TV.

Reitz will be here for a while; he's got four years left on his contract and the Cubs kicked in a lot of money -- reportedly an extra $150,000 -- to get him to waive his no-trade clause.

And what are they going to do with Durham? He's played mostly first base in the minors, although the Cardinals did use him in the outfield for 78 games this past season. The Cubs already have a first baseman, and a good one in Bill Buckner, so Durham will have to play the outfield if they're going to play him every day. He hit .310 with 23 HR and 88 RBI in Triple-A in 1979, and he was only 21 that year, so maybe he can hit. Some baseball men love Durham; in the Tribune, Dave Nightingale quotes Cardinals scout Fred McAlister as saying Durham might be "another Dave Parker". That'd work for me -- Parker had a down year in '80, but he could be on a Hall of Fame track.

About the PTBNL, it's rumored to be young outfielder Ty Waller, but if it's not, one guy I'd love to see the Cubs go after is Tom Herr, who started the year playing second base for the Cardinals' Triple-A team and hit .312 there before they brought him up. He doesn't hit for power but he has a good glove and the Cubs could use a good second baseman. Mike Tyson, another former Cardinal, was awful this year. A real sleeper could be a kid who's just about to turn 20 named Andy Van Slyke, who played for the Cardinals' Low-A team at Gastonia; he hit .270 but drew a lot of walks and had 16 outfield assists. If I were Kennedy, I'd ask for Van Slyke to be the guy.

That might make this deal worth it. The Cubs don't really have a replacement for Sutter; Lee Smith, who did pretty well in his September callup, might be able to do the job, but he is only 22 and unproven.

And he's no Sutter. If having to pay your players what the market will bear means the Cubs are going to get rid of all their good players, then the Wrigleys should just get out of baseball for good. It's been 35 years since the Cubs played in the World Series -- enough, already. We want a winner. Who's going to bring it here?