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35.  Lee Smith
  1. General
  2. Awards
  3. Career Stats
  • Born: December 4, 1957 in Jamestown, LA USA
  • Weight: 220 lbs.
  • Height: 6'5"
  • Bats: R
  • Throws: R
  • Debut: September 01, 1980
  • Final Game: July 02, 1997
  • TSN Fireman of the Year - 1983
  • Rolaids Relief Man Award - 1991
  • TSN Fireman of the Year - 1991
  • Rolaids Relief Man Award - 1992
  • TSN Fireman of the Year - 1992
  • Rolaids Relief Man Award - 1994
  • TSN Fireman of the Year - 1994

One of the many constant debates amongst those that follow the Baseball Hall of Fame is the role of the Relief Pitcher.  In recent years, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley & Goose Gossage has been inducted along the first reliever of note, Hoyt Wilhelm thus ending the debate of the relievers place in Cooperstown.  A curious omission though has been Lee Smith who when he retired was the career Saves leader.

There can be no doubt that Lee Smith was a dominating reliever.  Annually, Smith was amongst the Saves leaders and led the league on four separate occasions.  He was an intimidator on the mound, and unlike many Relief Pitchers, Lee Smith was far from a one season wonder and was actually a more effective ball player at the start of his second decade pitching than he was during the first.

The question then arises as to why Lee Smith has yet to be inducted to Hall of Fame.  Critics have pointed to appearing for eight Major League teams and his ineffectiveness in two post seasons.  Had Lee Smith led a team to a World Series (or at least been able to have a solid playoff game) his chances may have improved.

What is even more bizarre is the percentages he received form the Hall.  His first year saw him get a healthy forty two percent of the vote which indicated a solid induction chance.  Eight years later and Lee Smith has only climbed up to forty seven percent which may indicate that anyone who has made a decision for Lee Smith has already done so and those who haven’t aren’t likely to change their opinion.  For a stat driven league, Lee Smith’s omission is a curious one indeed.

Should Lee Smith be in the Hall of Fame?

Definitely put them in! - 68.8%
Maybe, but others deserve it first. - 16.7%
Probably not, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. - 12.5%
No opinion. - 0%
No way! - 2.1%

The Bullet Points

  • Country of Origin: Shreveport, Louisiana, U.S.A
  • Eligible In: Wednesday, 01 January 2003
  • Position: Pitcher
  • Played For: New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Montreal Expos, California Angels
  • Major Accolades and Awards: Rolaids Relief Award (3) (NL) (1991 & 1992) (AL) (1994)
    7 Time All Star (1983, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 & 1995)
    Most Games Finished (3) (NL) (1983, 1985 & 1991)
    Most Saves (4) (NL) (1983, 1991 & 1992) (AL) (1994)
  • Other Points of Note: Top Ten MVP Finishes:
    (NL: 1991, 8th)
    Top Ten Cy Young Finishes:
    (NL: 1983, 9th), (NL: 1991, 2nd), (NL: 1992, 4th) & (AL: 1994, 5th)
    11 Top Five Finishes (Saves)
    11 Top Five Finishes (Games Finished)
    6   Top Ten Finishes (Games Pitched)
    5   Top Ten Finishes (Win Probability Added)
    1   Top Ten Finish (WAR for Pitchers)
  • Notable All Time Rankings: 3.    Saves: 478
    3.    Games Finished: 802
    12.  Games Played: 1,022
    76.  Win Probability Added: 21.3
  • Vote Percentage Received for the Hall of Fame: 2003: 42.3
    2004: 36.6
    2005: 38.8
    2006: 45.0
    2007: 39.8
    2008: 43.3
    2009: 44.5
    2010: 47.3
    2011: 45.3
    2012: 50.6
    2013: 47.8
    2014: 29.9
    2015: 30.2
    2016: 34.1
    2017: 34.2
  • Should be Inducted As A: Chicago Cub

Should Lee Smith be in the Hall of Fame?

Definitely put them in! - 68.8%
Maybe, but others deserve it first. - 16.7%
Probably not, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. - 12.5%
No opinion. - 0%
No way! - 2.1%


0 #5 Marty Beets 2018-12-10 16:26
Time to update the list. :lol:
0 #4 Darryl Tahirali 2017-08-28 23:05
Quoting JohnfromNH:
Yes...because it's not an easy job. Witness the many pitchers-GOOD pitchers-that simply can't do it! There is a reason opponents feared seeing pitchers like Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, Mariano Rivera, John Smoltz, or even Flash Gordon coming out of the bullpen.

JohnfromNH, if you're responding to my question, you still didn't answer it.

I've heard arguments from both sides about whether those last three outs are the hardest ones to get. Smoltz, who was both a starter and a closer, has stated that they are, and other players, both hitters and pitchers--an d both Hall of Famers and not--have agreed. Conversely, a closer geared to pitching in the ninth with the lead may be ineffective in any other situation.

Which then raises larger issues: Is the closer actually the best pitcher in the bullpen? Does he need to be? If not, why are only closers getting Hall of Fame consideration?

Lee Smith was the prototype of this contemporary closer, and BBWAA voters, who are getting savvier, did not buy him as a Hall of Famer, keeping him at about a third of the required votes in his final year of eligibility. Older closers such as Fingers and Goose Gossage, who came in as "firemen" to douse a late-inning rally and stayed in to finish the game, have been critical of the one-inning closer.

And look at how the leverage question arose in the 2016 postseason: Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona used Andrew Miller, arguably the best pitcher in the Cleveland bullpen, in high-leverag e situations-- regardless of which inning it was. It was an audacious tactic that caused a great buzz among SABR-heads and traditionali sts alike, and Cleveland at least made it to the World Series--whic h went to seven exciting games.

Similarly, Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter got ripped for NOT using his closer Zach Britton in a non-save situation in the 2016 AL Wild Card game. Would Britton NOT have given up the game-winning home run to the Toronto Blue Jays' Edwin Encarnation, as had the Orioles' Ubaldo Jimenez? We can't know, but Britton was not used in an extra-inning s elimination game in the hope that would be able to record the final three outs should Baltimore had taken the lead. In other words, the best arm in the Orioles bullpen had no impact whatsoever in an all-or-nothi ng game.

Pitching philosophy has changed radically over the last 30 years, and the Baseball Hall of Fame is going to be slow to catch up. Already, today's starting pitchers will need to be evaluated differently than starters from decades past.

Similarly, relief pitching evaluation for legacy needs to change. Is the closer really the only relief pitcher who matters, and thus merits Hall of Fame recognition? Scot Shields was named Sports Illustrated's "Setup Man of the Decade" for the 2000s. He didn't even make the 2016 ballot. Not that he would have received more than a hometown courtesy vote, but if the nature of the game is changing to the point that having a quality setup pitcher (or two) is as important has having a closer, let alone a shortstop or a right fielder, shouldn't that be reflected as legacy too?

This may seem to be far afield from the initial question, but it isn't. Just as wins have proved to be a poor measure of a starting pitcher's effectivenes s, the save will prove to be a poor measure of a relief pitcher's effectiveness.

And thus the question remains: If a closer starts the ninth inning with a three-run lead and retires the side in order, did he really "save" the game? Or was that actually done by an Andrew Miller or a Scot Shields earlier in the game--when the leverage was higher and the outcome more in doubt?
+1 #3 JohnfromNH 2015-03-29 23:09
Yes...becaus e it's not an easy job. Witness the many pitchers-GOO D pitchers-tha t simply can't do it! There is a reason opponents feared seeing pitchers like Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, Mariano Rivera, John Smoltz, or even Flash Gordon coming out of the bullpen.
+1 #2 Darryl Tahirali -0001-11-30 00:00
AstralArtist , I think the honor for establishing the legitimacy of the relief pitcher goes to Hoyt Wilhelm, who might not have the gaudy save numbers relievers have today but who codified the position as a permanent one. (And he did so as a knuckleballe r to boot!) But then again, the entire philosophy of pitching, particularly relief pitching, has changed in the last 30 years.The save is the cheapest, most overrated statistic in baseball. If a guy comes into the ninth inning and retires the side without allowing the lead to disappear, did he really "save" the game?
+4 #1 AstralArtist -0001-11-30 00:00
Smith's omission from Cooperstown borders on the insane. In my view, Smith is for all intents & purposes the 2nd relief pitcher in baseball history (after Rollie Fingers) to establish that position as a ligitimate critical role a ball club's lineup.

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