- December 4, 1957
- 6' 5"
- 220 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-01-1980 with CHN
- Allstar Selections:
- 1991 RR, 1992 RR, 1994 RR
An imposing figure at 6-foot-6, Lee Smith retired as the career leader in saves, racking up 478 in 18 seasons with eight teams. He was Fireman of the Year three times and paced his league in saves four times. The right-hander strung together 12 straight seasons of 25 or more saves, a record for durability and performance. When he retired, no pitcher had finished more games (802) than Smith. But his team-jumping (he was traded four times and left teams four times as a free agent) and his lack of post-season success have hurt his Hall of Fame chances.
#46 (1980-1987), #48 (1988-1990 Red Sox), #47 (1990 Cardinals-1996), #49 (1997)
"[I flipped] a coin with Lee Smith to see who throws the eighth inning of the '91 game. We were behind in Toronto, and we were both tired. I won the flip, so I pitched the eighth, and that means he had to stay out there for the ninth. He didn't get to pitch anyway, because we lost. But what I remember most from that is him coming back into the clubhouse and being ticked off because someone stole his glove. I felt guilty because he loses this flip to me, and that glove probably had 300 saves in it, bound for the Hall of Fame." Rob Dibble on his favorite All-Star memory
Smith logged 47 saves, six wins, 67 Ks' and 13 walks in 73 innings, with a 2.34 ERA. His Cardinals still finished a distant second.
Lee Smith saved 15 games in June of 1993, to set a ML record for saves in one month.
June 3, 1975: Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 2nd round of the 1975 amateur draft; December 8, 1987: Traded by the Chicago Cubs to the Boston Red Sox for Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi; May 4, 1990: Traded by the Boston Red Sox to the St. Louis Cardinals for Tom Brunansky; August 31, 1993: Traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the New York Yankees for Rich Batchelor; October 25, 1993: Granted Free Agency; January 20, 1994: Signed as a Free Agent with the Baltimore Orioles; October 24, 1994: Granted Free Agency; December 14, 1994: Signed as a Free Agent with the California Angels; May 27, 1996: Traded by the California Angels to the Cincinnati Reds for Chuck McElroy; October 29, 1996: Granted Free Agency; January 21, 1997: Signed as a Free Agent with the Montreal Expos; September 25, 1997: Released by the Montreal Expos; January 20, 1998: Signed as a Free Agent with the Kansas City Royals.
Unwillingness to stick with one team for too long.
Smith resisted the move to the bullpen when he first came up in the Cubs' farm system. Double-A manager Randy Hundley was the first to try Smith in the pen. After the season, Smith decided to quit baseball and try college basketball at Northwestern Louisiana State. Hall of Famer Billy Williams visited Smith and convinced the young pitcher to return to baseball.
Evolution of a Closer
Lee Smith started his career in the days of two-inning closers and later helped usher in the one-batter closer that became the vogue in the 1990s. From 1983-1985, when he was with the Cubs, Smith averaged 6.2 batters faced per game pitched. From 1991-1993 he averaged 4.1 per game. Baseball had changed the way it used the closer. By contrast, Dennis Eckersley averaged 4.7 per game in his nine years with Oakland. In Goose Gossage's top 11 seasons as a closer (1975, 1977-1986), he averaged 7.0 per game. Bruce Sutter averaged 6.4 for his career (he never started a game); Kent Tekulve averaged 5.7 for his 1,050 relief appearances; Gene Garber 6.8. Through 2001 Mariano Rivera was averaging 4.6 batters faced per game in relief, which is right about what Todd Worrell, Rob Nen and other modern closers had done.
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- Lee Smith