In 1991 I remember attending a lot of Cardinals games despite having an up and down season that ended up as a second place team. This team had some exciting players like Ray Lankford’s 44 stolen bases, Todd Zeilie’s 81 RBIs and of course Lee Smith’s 47 saves. In 1991 Lee Smith received the Rolaids Relief Award for his 47 saves and also appeared in the All-Star game. What a fun season it was watching the Big Man mow down his opponents. Now Smith is facing being dropped by the Hall of Fame ballot.
Under the current rules, players may now only appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for a maximum of 10 years. Lee Smith, however, will be on the ballot for 15 years because he was grandfathered in following the rule change. This is his 14th year on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Smith has lost some support in recent years, no doubt due to the crowded ballot. He received 42.3 percent of the vote in 2002, his first year on the ballot, and topped out at 50.6 percent in 2012. Last year it was only 30.2 percent, however. Seventy-five percent is needed for induction.
Smith was something of a bridge between old-school closers (multi-inning saves on the regular) and modern closers (ninth inning only). He led the league in saves four times (1983, 1991, 1992, 1994), and during his heyday from 1982-91, Smith had a 2.79 ERA (142 ERA+) with a 1.23 WHIP in 903 1/3 innings across 545 appearances.
All told, Smith saved 478 games in his career and was the all-time saves king from 1993-2006, until being passed by Trevor Hoffman. He was the first pitcher to reach 400 career saves and is currently third on the all-time saves list behind Mariano Rivera (652) and Hoffman (601).
Smith was selected to seven All-Star Games in his career. He received Cy Young votes in four seasons and finished as high as second in the voting — Smith was second to Tom Glavine in 1991. He also had top-five Cy Young finishes in 1992 and 1994. Smith received MVP votes in four different seasons as well.
While the BBWAA has been more open to voting for relievers in recent years — there are only five relievers in the Hall of Fame (Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckerlsey, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage) and three have been inducted since 2004 (Eckersley, Sutter, Gossage) — they’ve only voted for true pioneers.
Wilhelm and Fingers were among the first dominant relievers in history, and both spent long stretches of time as baseball’s all-time saves king. Eckersley was the first modern one-inning closer. Gossage was a multi-inning fireman on several pennant winners and Sutter is credited with being the first to use the split-finger fastball.
Smith is a bridge between eras, like I said earlier. He did the multi-inning fireman thing like Gossage and the one inning closer thing like Eckersley. He didn’t revolutionize the game with a new pitch like Sutter, but Smith did own the all-time saves crown for more than a decade like Wilhelm and Fingers. And yet, voters have yet to really get behind him.
According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, Smith falls well short of the established Hall of Fame standard for relief pitchers, both in terms of overall value and peak value. Then again, JAWS says both Sutter and Fingers fall short of Hall of Fame caliber, so take it with a grain of salt.
As of this writing, @NotMrTibbs has collected 71 public Hall of Fame ballots and Smith has appeared on 24, or 33.8 percent. Again, 75 percent is needed for induction, and again, Smith continues to sit well below the threshold. It does appear he will receive at least the five percent of the vote needed to stay on the ballot another year.
This is Smith’s second-to-last year on the Hall of Fame ballot, and unless there’s a sudden spike in his voting total next year, it’s unlikely the BBWAA will vote him into Cooperstown. Smith would be eligible for selection by the Expansion Era Veterans Committee, which meets every three years.
Source: Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer