Since he retired in 1997, the stats for Lee Smith have not changed but today the vote finally did as the former St. Louis Cardinals reliever was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Missing out on enough votes on the writer’s ballots during his eligibilty, Smith received votes on all 16 ballots and was elected along with former outfielder Harold Baines (12 of 16 votes) by the Today’s Era Committee at a meeting this morning in Las Vegas.
At the time of his retirement, Smith led all of MLB with 478 career saves–which stood in place until 2006. Today he ranks third behind Mariano Rivera (652) and Trevor Hoffman (601). Rivera is currently on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in his career and is very likely to join Smith on the induction stage next summer at Cooperstown.
In his 18 seasons, Smith pitched for the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Anaheim Angels, Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos. During his four seasons in St. Louis, Lee recorded 160 saves as he led the National League twice in that category.
The Today’s Era Committee was made up of six former players, three former managers, and one former executive. Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre were among that group. Smith was a teammate of Lee’s in St. Louis.
“It goes beyond stats,” said Ozzie recently. “Yeah, the numbers are there but it’s much more than that–whether or not a guy was a team leader, whether or not a guy was that intimidating factor or made the other organization pitch differently because he was in the lineup. All of those things are factored in.
“Of course, you have the people who are going to have the numbers and how they compare to people in the Hall of Fame already. Those are all things that are mixed up in this thing here that you have to kind of analyze yourself. We get the names and the numbers and things early enough to where we can kind of absorb that and have an idea going in of how we’re going to do it. Even then, depending on who gets up and says something, you may change your mind once you get in there.”
The full balloting was as follows: Lee Smith (16 votes, 100%); Harold Baines (12 votes, 75 percent); Lou Piniella (11 votes, 68.8%); Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel and George Steinbrenner each received fewer than five votes.
“I’ve been on some of the committees that were voting on people that I never saw play, you were voting on executives, and that never made any sense to me,” Smith said. “I think that what they’ve tried to do now, which I think is the right thing to do, is the people they’ve put on the committees are people that had an opportunity to play with and know the people that are on the ballot. I feel that really has made the process much better and glad to be a part of it.”
The Today’s Era Committee will not vote again until 2021 with any elected nominees being inducted in 2022. The Modern Baseball Era Committee will consider candidates whose main career contributions came from 1970 through 1987 this fall for induction next summer.
photo credit: Leon Algee-AP