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January 7, 2013

Cooperstown 2013: Lee Smith

Eleventh Year on Ballot (2012 - 50.6%)

Chicago Cubs (1980–1987), Boston Red Sox (1988–1990), St. Louis Cardinals (1990–1993), New York Yankees (1993), Baltimore Orioles (1994), California Angels (1995–1996), Cincinnati Reds (1996) and Montreal Expos (1997)

Ranks third all-time with 478 saves. Career ERA of 3.03 in 1022 games with 1251 strikeouts. All-time leader in saves and games finished at the time of his retirement. 13 consecutive seasons (1983-1995) with more than 20 saves, 10 seasons with 30 or more...and three seasons with 40 or more. Led the league in saves four times (1983, 1991, 1992 and 1994). Three-time Rolaids Relief Man of the Year (1991, 1992 and 1994). All-time Chicago Cubs saves leader. Holds National League record for most consecutive errorless games by a pitcher with 546. Seven-time All-Star (1983, 1987 and 1991-1995).

It’s hard to see why Lee Smith’s bust isn’t already a closing out the end of Baseball’s Hall already. In the 11 years since he took his last very (verrrrrrry) long walk off the mound, his accomplishments have not only stood up to the test of time, but have ultimately served as the measuring mark for an entire era of a role he helped to inspire.

Voters have become kinder to closers as of late, the inclusion of Bruce Sutter showed that. However, like Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage before him, Sutter being confined to definition as closer isn’t accurate in the modern, more permanent definition of the role. It was his job to get saves, but also end games as a whole over multiple innings. Big Lee was the best of the one-inning door slammers that are so valued in the game today, and his accomplishments in fortifying that role deserve to be recognized.

A seven-time All-Star, his 478 saves were the all-time record for nearly ten years until Trevor Hoffman finally surpassed it. In between that, the focus on the ninth-inning closer had become the norm, and it still took Hoffman seven seasons of over 40 saves in-between Smith’s retirement and his record breaking date to pass him.

Smith was the best at role that became the norm during his career. He was at once the career saves leader for both the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs, two franchises not short on history. If the point of the Hall is to recognize the peak contributors to the game, there’s no way that another late inning warrior should be recognized in its ranks before Lee Arthur Smith is.

Matt Whitener is a freelance writer national baseball writer and member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. He has been active in the blogosphere since 2009, and is also a published periodical writer as well. He is a featured columnist and creative baseball lead at The Sports Fan Journal online, and continues to put out weekly content at his original blog, Follow on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and on Facebook as well.

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