Chicago Cubs: Continuing to slam the door in the 1990s
As the 1980s came to a close, Lee Smith was arguably the best reliever of the decade. If any other pitcher would compete for that moniker, it was Jim Reardon, who saved 266 games during the decade, helping the Minnesota Twins win the 1987 World Series. In 1989, a year after Smith was traded to the Boston, the Red Sox signed Reardon as a free agent. As the two best closers of the ’80s swapped closing duties for the better part of a year and a half, the club settled solely on Reardon, trading Smith to the St. Louis Cardinals where he enjoyed the best years of his career.
Both 1991 and 1992 proved to be staple years for Smith as a Red Bird. He earned All-Star honors in both seasons and led the league in saves with 47 and 43, respectively. Smith also earned the Rolaids Relief Award in each of those seasons and finished second in 1991 Cy Young voting, behind Atlanta’s Tom Glavine.
In 1993, he saved 43 games for St. Louis, becoming the first player in National League history to record three consecutive 40-save seasons. (Dennis Eckersley had achieved this in the American League from 1990-92). Smith solidified his status among the great closers, passing his former teammate Reardon, as the game’s all-time saves leader.
Despite his success in St. Louis, Smith was traded to the contending New York Yankees late in the ’93 season, where he pitched eight scoreless innings, nailing down three saves, bringing his 1993 season total to 46.