The last time Lee Smith took the mound in a Major League game was on July 2, 1997. He did not record a save but in traditional fashion, pitched not one but two innings.
As a reliever, Smith racked up 1258.1 innings in the 1016 games he pitched over his 18 seasons. His 478 saves ranks as the third most in Major League history trailing only Mariano Rivera (652) and Trevor Hoffman (601).
However, Lee Smith has yet to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and is now on his final ballot for the BBWAA voters before he will have to wait for consideration from the Veteran’s Committee. Last year, he received only 34.1% of the necessary 75% of the required vote.
With Hoffman, Tim Raines, and Jeff Bagwell earning over 67% last year and the additions of Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, and Ivan Rodriguez amongst the new names this year, it could again be difficult for Smith to get the necessary support. Which is a shame, because Smith has already had to wait too long for his rightful place in Cooperstown.
In fourteen consecutive seasons, Smith recorded at least 25 saves. These were commonly not appearances of the one batter or even one inning variety. In his 458 games out of the Chicago Cubs bullpen, Smith threw 681.1 innings.
Just looking at his games from 1982 through 1987, Smith pitched more than 2.0 innings in a game 139 times–some of those occasions were for three or even four innings.
Then as the game began to change, so too did his workload, in particular when he closed for St. Louis in the early ’90s.
Those three seasons with the Cardinals, Smith recorded his highest single season save totals–47 in 1991 followed by 43 in ’92 and ’93 before he was traded to the New York Yankees and saved three more games to finish the season.
Overall, Smith finished with 1251 strikeouts in 1289.1 innings pitched.
He was a seven time All-Star and three-time winner of the NL Rolaids Reliever of the Year.
Need a more modern statistic? Check out his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) as Smith finished with a 29.4 mark. By comparison, Bruce Sutter was at 24.5, Rollie Fingers 25.0, and Goose Gossage 41.8.
All deserving and already in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully, this year Smith will take his rightful place alongside them.
photo credit: Leon Algee-AP