Today's autograph is a man who deserves to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, hands down, no questions asked. The fact that he is not in the Hall in my eyes is an absolute travesty. I am speaking of the former saves record holder Lee Smith.
Lee Smith was born on December 4, 1957 in Shreveport Louisiana. He pitched for 8 teams over an 18 year career in Major League Baseball. He was scouted by great Negro League Player, Buck O'Neil, and drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the second round as the 28th overall pick in the 1975 Major League Draft. Smith started his career as a starting pitcher but struggled in the minors and was moved to the bullpen in 1978. Smith was not happy with the move and tried his hand at college basketball instead at Northwestern State University. In 1979 at the request of former Cubs outfielder, Billy Williams, Smith returned to the AA Midland Cubs as a reliever and played so well he was promoted to AAA in 1980. With the Cubs struggling in last place that year he was given a September call-up.
Smith made his Major League debut on September 1, 1980 against the Atlanta Braves. Smith pitched one inning, giving up no hits, striking out one and walking two. He finished the season with the Cubs and was invited back in 1981 mostly as a middle reliever. A poor pitching year was broken up by the 1981 Baseball Strike. He finished that year with a 3.51 ERA.
The 1981 Cubs closer, Dick Tidrow, had a horrible year and in 1982 Smith, Willie Hernandez, and Bill Campbell all shared closing duties. Smith pitched so well he even started 5 games in 1982. He credits returning Cubs star, Ferguson Jenkins with helping him simplify his delivery and teaching him the forkball and the slider. In 1982, in what would be his last career start, he picked up his first Major League hit, a homerun, against Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. He only managed 2 singles for the rest of his career. He saved 17 games in 1982.
In 1983 he was chosen for his first All-Star appearance though he did not fare well surrendering 2 runs. Although the Cubs continued to lose Smith was pitching great finishing the year with career best 1.65 ERA and 29 saves. He received 1 point in the Cy Young balloting and 8 points in the MVP ballots. He spent his longest tenure with the Cubs pitching for them from 1980 - 1987.
Smith also played for the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, California Angels, Cincinnati Reds, and Montreal Expos before retiring in 1997. He finished his career with, at the time, a Major League Record 478 saves and a 3.03 ERA. In 1991, Smith set a National League record with 47 saves for the St. Louis Cardinals and was runner-up for the league's Cy Young award; it was the second of three times he led the NL in saves, and he later led the American League, once while with the Baltimore Orioles in 1994. He also set the major league career record for games finished (802), and his 1,022 career games pitched were the third most in history when he retired; he still holds the team records for career saves for the Cubs (180), and he also held the Cardinals record (160) until 2006. He is a 7-time All Star, 3-time Rolaids Relief Man of the Year, once in the AL and twice in the NL.
Give me one good reason why this man shouldn't be in the Hall!!!