St. Louis Cardinals

New hall-of-famer Lee Smith had his four best seasons as the Cardinals’ closer

Former St. Louis Cardinal Lee Smith elected to Hall of Fame

Former St. Louis Cardinals closer Lee Smith, who retired in 1997 as baseball's all-time saves leader, was chosen by the Today's Game committee for induction into the Hall of Fame.
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Former St. Louis Cardinals closer Lee Smith, who retired in 1997 as baseball's all-time saves leader, was chosen by the Today's Game committee for induction into the Hall of Fame.

Fans have thus far passed over relief pitcher Lee Smith for induction to the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame.

But veteran players from the group formerly known as the Veterans’ Committee have cleared space for the closer in Cooperstown.

Smith commanded the vote of all 16 members of the Today’s Game Committee and will join Harold Baines for induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 21, 2019. Voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America still have their say — they’ll announce their Hall of Fame picks on Jan. 22. Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay are among those to appear on the ballot for the first time.

Smith spent eight of his 18 big league seasons with the Chicago Cubs, but had arguably his two best years as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He led the National League in saves with 47 in 1991 and 43 in ‘92. He finished second and fourth respectively in Cy Young balloting those seasons.

In four seasons with the Cardinals, Smith had a 15-20 record with a 2.90 ERA and almost as many saves in St. Louis (160) as he did in eight seasons in Chicago. Only Brighton native Jason Isringhausen has more saves (217) wearing the Birds on the Bat.

He saved 47 percent of the games the Cardinals won during those years.

“During his 18-year career, Lee Smith enjoyed some of his best seasons while playing for the Cardinals,” said Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr. “On behalf of the entire St. Louis Cardinals organization, I am pleased to congratulate Lee on his well-deserved selection to the Hall of Fame.”

The eight-time all-star also led the NL in saves in 1983 when he cinched 29 games for the Cubs with a 1.65 ERA in 103.1 innings. His 33 saves with the Baltimore Orioles in 1994 led the American League.

Smith’s 478 saves were the major league record when he retired at age 39, after 25 games with the Montreal Expos in 1997.. Rivera (652) and Trevor Hoffman (601) have since assumed the Nos. 1 and 2 spots on the all-time list.

Smith spent 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot without ever approaching the necessary 75 percent vote of the writers.

Cardinals fans have skipped over Smith in balloting for the team’s hall of fame at Ballpark Village. Former teammates Ray Lankford and Vince Coleman were inducted last summer.

In the meantime, he will be the 49th person with ties to the Cardinals to be enshrined in Cooperstown. He told Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune if given his choice, his hall of fame plaque will depict him wearing a Cubs cap.

Baines, who accumulated 2,866 hits over a 22-year career, was a surprise selection of the Today’s Game Committee. He receied 12 votes, the minimum for induction.

The committee included hall of famers Greg Maddux, Bert Blyleven, Ozzie Smith, Joe Torre, Joe Morgan as well as executives and longtime media members.

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