Facts Put Sutter’s Retired #42 in Question
Was this moment in 1982 the difference-maker?
Was this moment in 1982 the difference-maker?

Posted Aug 4, 2006


Looking at the details of Bruce Sutter’s career leads one writer to object to his number being retired by the Cardinals. Yet, the Sutter decision may actually aid Willie McGee’s case for the same recognition.

On Saturday night in Cooperstown, New York, Bruce Sutter was initially surprised then quickly moved to tears by St. Louis Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt’s announcement that the team will honor him later this summer by retiring his number 42, worn during Sutter’s days as the Cardinals closer in the early 1980’s.

Well, that isn’t entirely true. The Cards are actually adding Sutter’s name to the number 42 that has already been retired by Major League Baseball on behalf of all teams to honor the late Jackie Robinson.

But, the bottom line is that Sutter’s likeness will soon join eleven other former Cardinals greats on Busch Stadium’s left field wall. And his name and number will be posted in a tiny circle below the main advertising board, er scoreboard, in deep center, specially designed for those with Superman-like vision.

I may or may not be in the majority here, but I think DeWitt downgraded the retired number honor and may have inadvertently opened a can of worms when he made the Sutter announcement. And furthermore, I don’t think Bruce Sutter should be wearing a Cardinals cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, either.

What am I upset about, you ask? Why not provide Sutter his due? Isn’t DeWitt just giving Sutter the sleeves out of his vest, anyway, since number 42 is already retired?

While I do wonder if the entire team’s uniform backs will soon take a resemblance to So Taguchi’s number 99 at this pace, this isn’t really about retiring physical numbers at all. It is about the worthiness of the recognition itself.

I turn the above questions around to ask this. Why does Sutter deserve to be listed along with those who the team would have you believe are the nine greatest players to ever wear the uniform, plus Jack Buck and Gussie Busch? In my view, Sutter just doesn’t belong there.

While I have consistently criticized the Cardinals organization for not paying enough attention to their storied history, in the case of Bruce Sutter, I just plain disagree with DeWitt’s call.

As an aside, it does seem to be DeWitt’s decision and his decision only. Scout.com subscribers can read an article I wrote last summer called ”Retirement Mysteries” that bears out the perception there really is no process here. I guess when you own the team, you can pretty much do what you want.

Let’s take a high-level look at the factors that may be behind this decision by DeWitt.

1) Certainly, the event of Sutter’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame was the match that set off the fuse.
2) Sutter was a key contributor to the Cardinals’ last World Championship team in 1982.
3) Three of Sutter’s five league-leading save seasons were as a Cardinal.
4) Many Cardinals fans still remember seeing Sutter play.

Yet, here are some other factoids that DeWitt may or may not have fully considered.

1) Sutter originally came up with the Chicago Cubs and became a star pitching for them before coming to St. Louis.
2) In fact, Sutter was a Cub longer than a Cardinal.
3) Sutter made four of his six All-Star Game appearances as a Cub.
4) Sutter won his only Cy Young Award while pitching in the Windy City.
5) Sutter saved more games, regular season plus post-season, as a Cub than as a Cardinal.
6) Including his three years in Atlanta after he left the Cardinals for the free agent payday offered by the Braves, Sutter actually spent twice as many years wearing major league uniforms other than the Cardinals’.

I am not debating Sutter’s worthiness to enter Cooperstown. His career statistics speak for themselves. While the electors took years to vote him in, the test of time verifies that Sutter is a Hall of Famer.

Yet, considering all information, I believe Sutter should have gone into the Hall as a Cub. Instead, the reality that Sutter’s plaque depicts him wearing a Cardinals cap seems strongly tied to that single event – the 1982 championship - more than anything else.

Maybe that 1982 championship wouldn’t seem quite so special if it wasn’t for the 23 years-and-counting dry spell that has followed. But, back to the main point of this article.

Is Sutter really one of the ten top Cardinals players of all time?

Let delve a bit deeper into to the key factors in Sutter’s retired number recognition decision as they relate to the Cardinals’ long and storied history.

Hall of Fame
Sutter is the 38th player to enter the Hall after having played for the Cardinals. He is the 15th pitcher, along with 23 position players. Obviously, a majority of them, 74% in fact, have not received retired number recognition from the team.

Tenure with the Club
Sutter was a Cardinal for just four seasons, 1981 through 1984. That stands out like a sore thumb in comparison to the other nine Cardinals retired number and Hall of Fame players. Unlike Sutter, every one of them spent the majority of their major league careers in St. Louis.

As a Cardinal

Yrs Player

Yrs Manager

Yrs Coach

Yrs Player

 

 

 

 

Other Tms

Bruce Sutter

4

 

 

8

Ozzie Smith

15

 

 

4

Red Schoendienst

15

12+

17

5

Stan Musial

22

1 (GM)

 

 

Enos Slaughter

13

 

 

6

Ken Boyer

11

2+

2

4

Dizzy Dean

6

 

 

3+

Lou Brock

16

 

 

3+

Bob Gibson

17

 

1

 

Rogers Hornsby

13

2 (plyr/mgr)

 

11 (parts)

World Championships
Sutter’s Cardinals teams celebrated one world championship. Looking at other Cardinals-affiliated players in the Hall of Fame with at least four seasons in the uniform, we find nine other players with as many rings as Sutter, yet whose numbers have not been retired by the team. In fact, five of the “non-retired number” Hall-of-Fame players were a part of more World Series-winning teams as Cardinals than Sutter.

The “Hall of Fame Nine”

Hall of Fame Player

StL Years

StL Rings

StL Ret. #

 

 

 

 

Pop Haines

18

3

no

Jim Bottomley

11

2

no

Frankie Frisch

11

2

no

Chick Hafey

8

2

no

Burleigh Grimes

4

2

no

Ducky Medwick

11

1

no

Steve Carlton

7

1

no

Leo Durocher

5

1

no

Grover Cleveland Alexander

4

1

no

While I am not suggesting all nine of these men should be recognized, I have already put forth cases in support of four of them. “Sunny Jim” Bottomley (1922-32), Frankie Frisch (1927-37), Jesse “Pop” Haines (1920-37) and Joe “Ducky” Medwick (1932-40, 1947-48) were highlighted in my recent story ”Why McGee’s Number Should Not be Retired”.

I honestly believe that an objective assessment would conclude that any one of the four has a better case to have his number retired than does Sutter.

Yet, while many of today’s fans don’t know Jim Bottomley and don’t care, Sutter has passed the “recent Cardinals player recognition test” that the old-timers fail.

And that seems to be what weighed most heavily in DeWitt’s decision to recognize Sutter – the fact that he’s still around and we remember him.

But, wait! Willie McGee also passes that test. Speaking of number 51…

What about Willie McGee?

On the surface, my Sutter beef might seem to have nothing to do with all the current commotion over the fan-based grass roots movement to retire the number 51 worn by Willie McGee. Yet, let’s take a closer look.

I could argue either side as to whether Sutter helps McGee’s Cardinals chances or hurts them, but if I was in the “Retire #51” camp, I would be all over this like a lawyer on a loophole.

On the positive side, the two players’ eras overlapped, including the 1982 champs. And McGee proudly wore the uniform far longer than Sutter. Of course, literally hundreds of other players did, too.

The baseball world has judged McGee the player to have had a lesser impact on the game than did Sutter. Number 51's Hall of Fame chances are in the deep, deep freeze and will remain there for many years.

Perhaps DeWitt could choose to defend himself against the McGee camp by declaring that under his watch, the Cardinals are only retiring numbers worn by those who have entered Cooperstown. If that was the case, personally I could buy that, though I understand why others would disagree violently.

But even so, that doesn’t mean DeWitt should retire the number of EVERY player with Cardinals ties who is inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame while he is owner. That is where I remain - against Sutter’s recognition.

My objection against retiring McGee's number, however, has been softened just a bit. Once DeWitt let a four-year Cardinal player into the retired number fraternity, he threw the doors of second-guessing wide open.

After all, Willie McGee played three times longer than Bruce Sutter wearing the Birds on the Bat and the two won their only World Championship together. Why can’t McGee, a non-Hall of Famer like retired number 14, Ken Boyer, have his number retired too?

A darned good question when put that way.

And, while you’re answering that one, Mr. DeWitt, talk to me about the “Hall-of-Fame Nine”, too. Now that Sutter is joining your growing club, it looks like you’re going to need a much bigger wall out there in left field, anyway.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

© 2006 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

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