These were pre-Internet days so the main source of info and news about my teams was the newspaper. We had the Chicago Tribune delivered to the house seven days a week. The Sun-Times came on Sundays. Often my dad would pick up the Daily News and bring it home after work.
It was a battle at my house between my dad and my two brothers for the sports section. If I did not get it right away, it was in sorry shape with milk, coffee, and various food stains by the time I got it. Regardless, I put a good hour or two each day into that Tribune sports section reading all of the articles and columns then studying box scores and stats.
I took great joy in the summer of 1976, at age 9, checking the stats daily to see if Bill Madlock was still leading the N.L. in batting average, and to see if Rick Monday was still in the top 10 for homers, and to see if Bruce Sutter could crack the top ten for saves.
I loved to watch Sutter pitch and to listen to commentary from Jack Brickhouse, Lou Boudreau and Vince Lloyd on TV and radio. This was the first time I had ever witnessed the split-finger fast ball. Sutter's splitter was amazing. It would just die and frustrate hitters.
The summer of 1977 was amazing for 10-year-old me. The Sox were in the pennant race while the Cubs were hot in the first half and Sutter mania took over. The church by my house had the following on its marquee all summer: "Only God Saves More Than Sutter." I just knew if the Cubs were ahead in the late innings that Sutter would come in and make the opposing team's hitters look silly while flailing way at the splitter.
By the end of the decade, just about all of my heroes on all of the Chicago sports teams were gone. They either left in free agency or the teams traded them away. Hence, I lost a lot of interest in Chicago sports during the 1980's. To this day, I am in complete bewilderment when the Chicago teams don't sign their best players or trade them away. As a result, I can't be all in like I was as a kid because I know I will be let down when the teams don't keep my guys.
Bruce Sutter was one of my guys. I was devasted in 1980 when the Cubs traded Sutter to the Cardinals for Leon Durham. Sutter was the last of my heroes from 1976 to go, the Cubs had already dumped Madlock and Monday a few years earlier.
The Cubs did not need Leon Durham. They needed starting pitching. While they had a young Lee Smith, he was unproven. There was nobody in the league as deadly as Sutter. He was the best reliever in baseball. Why trade him? We all know how well Leon Durham worked out.
In 1981, I did not want to watch Lee Smith. I wanted to watch Sutter. It was painful to see him with the hated Cardinals. Then the players went on strike in June of 1981. What a mess! Probably my worst year as a baseball fan because I had spent all of my free time up to that point in my life either playing baseball or watching baseball or listening to it on the radio. Even though both the Cubs and the White Sox stunk in 1981, I still wanted to watch them. I did not know what to do with myself that summer.
As the 1980's progressed, I tried not to watch Sutter with the Cardinals then the Braves. It still hurt to see him playing elsewhere. Though, I was thrilled to see him win a World Series with the Cardinals in 1982 because I knew that would never happen with the Cubs. I was also thrilled when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. To this day, I have not seen a pitcher throw a better splitter than Sutter. It was a thing of beauty, especially that summer of 1977 when Sutter-mania spread throughout the Chicago area. He was the best and he was our guy.
Sutter was still my guy when he died yesterday. I was crushed upon learning the news. In my mind, skinny, little 10-year-old me is throwing down his glove and kicking the infield dirt (picture Tanner from the Bad News Bears -- that was me). RIP Mr. Sutter. Thanks for all those thrilling moments. I can't say how much I enjoyed those five years you were in Chicago. The image of the bottom dropping out of that splitter in Wrigley Field is forever etched in my mind. Say hello to Jack Brickhouse, Lou Boudreau and Vince Lloyd for me.