Former closer Lee Smith was one of seven former players nominated to the Cardinal Hall of Fame on Wednesday. Should he be in the Cardinal Hall of Fame?
Lee Smith was nominated to the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame on Wednesday. The other candidates nominated are Scott Rolen, Ray Lankford, Jason Isringhausen, Keith Hernandez, John Tudor, and Vince Coleman.
This piece will look at the pros and cons of Lee Smith’s candidacy to the Cardinals Hall of Fame. My fellow Contributors at Redbird Rants will be addressing the qualifications of the six other nominees.
Why Lee Smith deserves to be in the St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Fame.
Lee Smith came to the St, Louis Cardinals via at trade with the Boston Red Sox on May 4, 1990. Smith was the primary closer for the Cardinals until he was traded to the New York Yankees on August 31, 1993. Smith left St. Louis as the Cardinals all-time save leader until Jason Isringhausen passed him on June 13, 2006.
During Smith’s four years in St. Louis he had 160 saves in 186 attempts. He also had a 2.90 ERA and a WHIP of 1.151. He saved more games than Baseball Hall of Fame member Bruce Sutter.
Lee Smith was also a three-time All Star (’91, ’92, ’93) during his tenure with the Cardinals. He won the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award twice (’91, ’92) during his stay in St. Louis. The Rolaids Relief Man of the Year was awarded to the top relief pitcher in each league from 1976 to 2012.
Lee Smith’s best year as a St. Louis Cardinal was probably his best year of his career which was in 1991. During that year, Smith saved 47 games in 53 attempts and set a National League single season record for saves. He also had a 2.34 ERA and WHIP of 1.137.
During Smith’s other two years in St. Louis, he had 27 saves with a 2.10 ERA in 1990, 43 saves with a 3.12 ERA in 1992, and 43 saves with a 4.50 ERA in 1993 before being traded in August.
Lee Smith finished his 18-year career in 1997 with 478 saves in 581 opportunities. He had a career 3.03 ERA and a WHIP of 1.256. He currently stands second to Jason Isringhausen in career saves for the St. Louis Cardinals. However, more impressively he is third all time in saves in MLB history. He only trails Mariana Reveria and Trevor Hoffman in career saves.
Why Lee Smith doesn’t deserve to be in the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame.
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The first reason Lee Smith doesn’t belong in the Cardinals Hall of Fame is his relatively short stay in St. Louis. Smith arrived via trade early in the 1990 season and was sent to the Yankees late in the 1993 season. He had only two full seasons and two partial seasons as a Cardinal. The criteria to be considered eligible for membership into the St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Fame is three seasons. Smith just barely qualifies.
Lee Smith also pitched in fewer games and fewer innings than did Baseball and Cardinal Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter. Sutter was considered more of a “workhorse” pitcher because he often worked multiple innings when closing a game. Smith on the other hand, usually worked only one or fewer innings to close a game.
Smith was considered by many a “transitional” pitcher during his career. Closers such as Goose Goosage, Rollie Fingers, and Sutter were expected to pitch multiple innings to close out a game. Closers during Lee Smith’s era were only used for one inning or sometimes less to finish a game.
Therefore, closers like Mariana Reveria and Trevor Hoffman, who pitched only single innings are expected to have more saves. Reveria has over 150 more saves than Smith and Hoffman has over 100 more saves. Hoffman will enter Baseball’s Hall of Fame in the 2018 class and Riveria is expected to join him in his first year of eligibility.
Although not his fault, Lee Smith was not a part of any playoff or championship team during his tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals. Most Cardinal fans remember Bruce Sutter as a member of the 1982 World Championship team. Jason Isringhausen was member of the 2004 and 2006 NL Championship teams, that included a 2006 World Championship.
In conclusion, I feel that Lee Smith should be a member of the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame. However, not this year.
In my opinion, Scott Rolen and Keith Hernandez should enter first. Hernandez’s offense, six gold gloves, 1979 batting championship and co- MVP award, along with his 1982 World Championship are qualifying reasons. Rolen’s offense, three gold gloves, and his 2006 World Championship are reasons that put him ahead of Smith.
Lee Smith was an outstanding relief pitcher during his tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals. If the Cardinals had a 1991 or 1992 version of Smith during the last two years, the Redbirds would have made the playoffs.
Lee Smith should be in the St.Cardinals Hall of Fame…class of 2019. That’s my opinion, let us know yours.