The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 91-100
NO. 97: RHP LEE SMITH
Lee Smith is on the record saying that, given his choice, he’ll be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer as a member of the Chicago Cubs. He did, after all, spend eight of his 18 big league seasons with the North Siders.
It could be argued, though, that Big Lee — who at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds towered above his opponents from his domain on the pitcher’s mound — did more with his four years in St. Louis.
The Cardinals acquired the right-handed closer in May of 1990 in a trade that sent outfielder Tom Brunansky to Boston.
It was a transitional time for the Redbirds. The “Big Eagle” Gussie Busch had died just seven month earlier and the brewery wasted little time stripping the roster down in preparation to sell the franchise. Smith saved 27 games in that abbreviated season, which saw the Cardinals crumble to sixth place in the National League Eastern Division.
Things were much better the next season. St. Louis won 84 games under new manager Joe Torre and Smith, a 33-year veteran on a young and mostly home-grown roster, had a career year. He saved an MLB-best 47 games with a 2.34 ERA and was runner up to Atlanta’s Tom Glavine for the NL Cy Young.
Smith saved 43 games in 1992 and had 43 more by Aug. 31, 1993, when the Cardinals shipped him off to the Yankees for reliever Rich Batchelor.
In all, Smith saved 160 games with a 2.90 ERA in less than four full seasons with the Cardinals. He had 180 saves in twice the time with Chicago.
For the record, Batchelor, a right-hander, went onto a three-year career that produced five big-league wins, no saves and a 5.03 ERA. Smith retired five years later as baseball’s all-time saves leader.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1990-’93
Averaged 40 saves in four St. Louis seasons | 15-20 W-L | 3-time All-Star| 4.4 WAR
TOP 100 SCORE: 1.90