At long last, former Chicago Cubs closer Lee Smith earned election to Cooperstown following a vote by the Today’s Game Era Committee.
Long considered one of the more intriguing players on the fringe of Hall of Fame conversation, former Chicago Cubs Lee Smith can finally breathe a sigh of relief. The right-hander finally got the call over the weekend and will head to Cooperstown as a member of the Class of 2019.
The 11-person Today’s Game Era Committee unanimously elected Smith to the land of baseball immortality – ending years upon years of speculation over whether or not the right-hander, a former closer, deserved to be enshrined with the game’s all-time greats.
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When Smith retired in the late 1990s, he boasted 478 saves – the most in big league history. He now ranks third behind the likes of Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, but his role in establishing the importance of a relief pitcher cannot be overstated.
In today’s game, relievers seem to dominate headlines. We’ve even seen teams ride their bullpens to World Series titles in recent years. So how can the guy who wrote the book on slamming the door not be included in Cooperstown? Thankfully, we no longer have to consider that question.
"“I never, never, never gave up hope,” Smith told MLB.com, “and then when they started the second-chance ballot, I thought my chances got a little better. Today was probably the most nervous I’ve been with this Hall of Fame voting thing.”"
Writing the book on closing out ballgames
Smith played 18 years in the big leagues, spending eight of them with the Chicago Cubs. All told, he appeared with seven other organizations, as well, but, for our intents and purposes, we’ll focus on his time on the North Side, where he began his career.
After three solid campaigns to begin his long run in the bigs, Smith really took a step forward in 1983, when he earned his first All-Star selection. The big righty led the league with 56 games finished and 29 saves. That season began an incredible run of consistency that spanned from ’83 to 1995 where he saved at least 25 games.
From 1983 to 1987, Smith finished at least 55 games for the Cubs, emerging as one of the game’s elite late-inning arms. After earning his second All-Star selection in ’87, Chicago traded Smith to the Boston Red Sox for Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi.
Staying the course on a daily basis
When he closed the book on his illustrious career, Smith led the league in saves on four separate instances, won the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year three times and ranks 78th all-time in WPA. Really, this guy wrote the book on being a big league closer. Period.
"“If I could go home and put my head on the pillow and say, ‘I did the best I can that day.’ If you go out there and you make quality pitches day in and day out, good things are going to happen.”"
I’ve personally met Smith multiple times and, aside from what he accomplished on the diamond, I’ve rarely met a nicer guy. So, here’s to you, Lee. Congratulations on joining the game’s most exclusive club.