I was never much of a pitcher. In fact, I only took the hill three times, all in my last year of little league, once when I somehow struck out the side in the last inning of a blowout against a team of asthmatic 8-year-olds, once when I walked seven guys in a row, and then finally once when my straight slowballs got so repeatedly hammered that I actually began to cry.
Needless to say, I never got straight which kind of grips were good for throwing different kinds of pitches. That said, I don’t think Bruce Sutter is showing off the grip for his famous forkball here. I may be wrong, but I’ve always had it that the forkball called for the forefinger and middle finger to be spread wide on the ball.
If I’m right about Bruce Sutter neglecting to reveal his forkball grip here, it’s fitting, for at the time I got this 1979 card, Bruce Sutter’s forkball was to me about the most mysterious and awe-inspiring weapon in all of baseball. It’s just as well I didn’t ever see the grip that produced this devastating pitch. Better to preserve the mystery.
I’d actually only seen the pitch in action once, in the previous year’s all-star game. Once was enough. Back then the all-star game was just about the only time a kid living in rural Vermont would get a chance to see many of the National League stars. I had never seen Sutter before, had not even heard of him, and then suddenly here he was. According to Retrosheet’s play-by-play of the game he came into a 3-3 tie in the 8th inning and got George Brett to ground out. I don’t remember that at-bat, but I distinctly remember the next two, in which he made two of my beloved Red Sox, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans, look like two drunken sailors trying to whack a divebombing sparrow with a barstool. Sutter’s utter domination seemed to inspire the N.L. batsmen, who erupted for 4 runs in the bottom of the inning, and Sutter was fittingly credited as the game’s winning pitcher.
Anyway, the Nagging Question this week grows out of thoughts of that awe-inspiring forkball, and also out of the still-lingering discussion of beloved Shlabotniks in the previous edition of The Nagging Question. Yesterday a friend of one player, Adrian Garrett, brought up earlier in the conversation posted some information that reminded me that even the guys I am all too often apt to casually refer to as journeymen or drifters or even “nobodies” were all tremendously gifted athletes worthy of praise.*
So for today’s edition of The Nagging Question I wanted to momentarily try to set aside my usual predilection for using my old baseball cards as springboards to dive into the polluted canals of personal failure and disappointment.
Instead, I’d like to focus on the jaw-dropping moment. For me it was when Bruce Sutter unleashed a pitch that made guys I’d seen mangle the offerings of other pitchers seem like absolute beginners. I wonder if others can remember having a similar experience as a fan. A spectacular catch, maybe, or a barrage of unhittable fastballs, or a sizzling home run leaving the yard in the time it takes to blink. A moment that not only turned the opposition into seeming beginners but made everyone watching feel like a beginner, too, as if something was happening for the first time, the moment brand new, a gleaming manifestation of the words of the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, who said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities.” In other words:
Who wowed you?
*(note: Bucky Dent is not worthy of praise; in fact, he should either be shunned or put in Pilgrimy shackles at the center of the village and pelted with vegetables, I can’t decide which.)