Lee Smith: A Life More Smithy

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When discussing the Hall of Fame voting here the other day, Lee Smith's name piqued my interest. During some of his best years he played for the Red Sox so I remember him but I don't remember too much about him other than that to a 7 year old he looked like a giant and I thought he'd make a good wrestler.

I think it was Iracane that said he'd vote for Smith just because he was better than Fingers or Sutter who are already in the Hall. I'd tend to agree, but then again I just said I didn't remember all that much about the man. So I decided to look back at his career and his numbers and pass the savings on to you.

Smith played for 18 years in the majors and his early years with the Cubs are a story of perseverance and great camaraderie between him and some other incredible black baseball players. According to his Wikipedia page (don't worry I checked the references too), he was discovered in Louisiana by Buck O'Neil. He began his minor league career as a starter and then quit to play college basketball at Northwestern State after being demoted to the bullpen. He was coaxed back into the Cubs organization in 1980 by Chicago great Billy Williams and was mentored in his first full season by Fergie Jenkins. Nice friends.

In 1984, Smith threw 101 innings and recorded 33 saves for a Cubs team that made it one win away from the World Series. Smith lost Game Four, coughing up a 2 run tater tot to Babymakin' Steve Garvey and the Padres went on to the series. Smith would make two trips to the postseason in his career (the other in 1988 with the Red Sox) never finding much success. He pitched a total of 5.1 career postseason innings, allowing 5 ER.

In 2 1/4 seasons withe Red Sox, Smith was the AL's premier closer racking up over 10K/9IP and saving nearly 60 games. But once the Red Sox acquired Jeff Reardon, Smith was traded to the Cardinals for Tom Brunansky in 1990.

Smith would go on to play for five teams after the Cardinals, garnering Cy Young and MVP votes in Baltimore in 1994 and making the All-Star team both there and the following season with the Angels. When Smith retired he was the All-Time Saves leader, a record that would stand for nearly 10 seasons. He was the All-Time saves leader for the Cardinals until 2006, and remains the All-Time saves leader for the Cubs. He played on 7 All-Star teams as a member of 5 different clubs. His career 162 game average per Baseball Reference works out to about 31 saves and nearly a K/IP.

I understand the merits of voting in Lee Arthur Smith based on Iracane's Theory Of Relativity, but I don't like much about Fingers or Sutter and it seems like the biggest reason to vote for Smith was that he held the saves record for so long. But with such a short window of statistical dominance, it may be that his record was more about timing. A strong guy, blessed with longevity that came of age at the same time the role of the closer did.

Lee, I love you buddy, but you wouldn't make the cut on my ballot. I do think it's awesome that you have children named Nikita and Dmitri. Perhaps one day you will be inducted into the Russian Baseball Hall Of Fame.


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14 Comments

The save is a stupid stat. That '84 season is pretty awesome, though. It's no Jim Konstanty 1950, though.

This comment isn't directed at CTC, but it must be said now: anyone who says a player doesn't deserve to be in the hall of fame because all that player accomplished was 'longevity' is missing the point. Playing very good baseball for a long-ass time is absolutely amazing and quite rare. Being extremely successful for 20 years in a row is worthy of a vote. Why should Lee Smith suffer because he was employable AND productive for more than twice as long as the average reliever?

I think I'll become a Smithy when I eventually get laid off like everyone else. Metallurgy is fun!

BECAUSE ITS THE HALL OF FAME NOT THE HALL OF VERY GOOD FOR A VERY LONG TIME FAME IS A PREWRECKRISIT THEREFORE PARIS HILTON SHOULD BE IN

@Rob,

Because the measure of his longevity is the save, a stat that holds little water with me. He never pitched more than 70 innings in a season after 1990.

@Co-proprietor:

Except 1992, when he pitched 75 innings for the Cards. But that's not the point. He struck out 1251 hitters in 1289 career innings. That's dominance. His K/BB ratio of 2.57 is one of the top marks all time, equal to Walter Johnson. I think you don't want him in the HOF because he'd go in wearing a Cub hat.

I remember reading an article about Lee Smith (in the old SI days, maybe). It described him, during a close game heading into the middle innings at Wrigley for which he might be called up to close, in the midst of a nap on the cold floor surrounded by a pile of McDonald's wrappers.

The article did not mention Mark Grace's hair-of-the-dog before batting practice.

Well then Lee Smith definitely deserves induction into the hall of sandwiches.

Billy Koch should be in for winning Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year. Best part? He won because of 40+ saves...and 11 wins.

Newsflash, Rolaids: if you have over 10 wins as a closer, it means you suck at holding leads.

Koch won for increasing sales of Rolaids every time he pitched.

Why are you still arguing about this guy? He's a worthy candidate. Now can we discuss Armando Benitez plz?

At least we can all agree that Jesse Orosco being on the ballot is a freakin joke.

Unbelievable! 18 years for majors! He must have been a very strong player.

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