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07/28/06 10:00 AM ET
Baseball immortality awaits Sutter
Trailblazing reliever, Negro Leaguers headline Hall induction
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- It has been a summer of uncommon rain followed by relentless heat, swelling the banks of Otsego Lake by as much as 40 inches at one point. Docks were submerged and the water had been rendered off limits to swimmers. But today, the skies are expected to be blue and the sun bright on the rolling fields behind the Clark Sports Center as Bruce Sutter and 17 former Negro Leaguers take their place along with the other 260 players, managers and executives whose plaques already hang in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. BaseballChannel.TV and MLB Radio will carry the ceremony in its entirety. It's a moment when heroes can be reduced to mere mortals and a hardened former player can be beset by his own flood, so to speak. "It's going to be an honor to go in the same day as the 17 players and administrators," Sutter said last week during a conference call with the media. "Obviously, I didn't play against them or know a whole lot about their careers, but it's an extreme honor. I'm just excited about it." The weekend begins with Friday's "Play Ball With Ozzie Smith" event on Doubleday Field, featuring two hours of tutelage for fans from the Hall of Fame shortstop, fellow Hall inductees Ryne Sandberg and George Brett, plus Negro League icon Buck O'Neil. The festivities continue at the red brick museum on Main Street, which was given a makeover last year, with various other functions, including a lavish, private cocktail party on Saturday night in the plaque room. Gene Elston, the former voice of the Houston Astros, won the Ford C. Frick Award and was elected to the broadcasters' wing; Tracy Ringolsby, the longtime Rockies beat writer for Denver's Rocky Mountain News, won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and was selected for the writers' wing, thus rounding out the honorees on Sunday's program, which is usually filled with uncommon emotion and grandiose speeches. O'Neil and Sharon Robinson, daughter of the late Jackie Robinson, who shattered Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947 when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, are scheduled to deliver special speeches on Sunday in behalf of their 17 Negro League cohorts, who will be enshrined after five years of research into their records and a special election. With the January selection of Sutter, it also has been a big year for the reliever. The right-handed split-fingered fastball artist -- who plied his craft for the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves in a career that spanned 13 years from 1976 to 1988 and ended when he irrevocably hurt his right shoulder -- became the first pure reliever to be elected. Sutter joins a trio of other pitchers in the Hall whose claim to fame may have been closing games -- Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley. But each was a starter at one time or another. Sutter, who never started a game -- but finished 512 of them to record 300 saves, the 19th most in history -- was asked if his long-sought election was a milestone for relievers.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.