Lee Smith on Hall of Fame voting: “You should let the numbers speak for yourself”

January 05, 2011 | Ryan Chell

Lee Smith

Former Major League baseball closer Lee Smith was once called “the best one inning pitcher” at one point in his career.

A former Oriole for one season in 1994 but mainly known for his stretch run with the Cubs throughout the 1980’s, Smith became the definition of what a closer should be.

In his career, he pitched a total of 1,022 innings with an ERA of 3.03 and along with 1,251 strikeouts. And after retiring from the game in 1997, he held the career saves mark of 478 until 2006, when his mark was finally usurped by longtime Padres closer Trevor Hoffman and Yankee great Mariano Rivera.

His 180 career saves for the Chicago Cubs in his eight-year run in the Windy City are a franchise high. He made the All-Star game seven times during his career, and was named Reliever of the Year three different times-twice in the NL with the St. Louis Cardinals and once in the AL for his 1994 campaign with Baltimore.

Hoffman and Rivera will most likely be  Hall of Famers when their eligibility for Cooperstown comes along, so why would Smith still be waiting for his call?

Smith joined Drew Forrester on “The Morning Reaction” Tuesday-the day before the candidates who will be inducted into Hall of Fame-and despite being eligible since 2003-five years after he retired-he still doesn’t understand sometimes why his name hasn’t been called.

“I don’t know what the criteria are for the people that vote for the Hall of Fame,” Smith told Forrester. “A lot of the guys maybe haven’t seen me and Bert Blyleven and the rest of the guys play. That could have something to do with it.”

Smith told Forrester that he feels like not just his numbers-but all the players that are eligible for an induction into Cooperstown-should be the determining factor in getting in.

“You should just let the numbers speak for yourself,” Smith said.

Smith often times has been compared with other relievers who have made the Hall of Fame solely as relief pitchers and closers-guys like Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers, and Hoyt Wilhelm.

And sadly for Smith, he doesn’t have the Cy Young that Sutter has on his resume or the MVP-Awards like Eckersley and Fingers do. And some of his numbers just don’t compare to the likes of those inducted before him.

Sutter meanwhile was the first pitcher to be inducted into the Hall of Fame with less than 1,700 innings pitched, and Smith-unfortunately moving into an era where closers pitched only one inning-saw his innings pitched-numbers decline as his career went on.

It’s something that really makes Smith uncomfortable at time seeing how he stacks up against the competition-and he’s not even PLAYING baseball anymore!

“I don’t like to sit here and compare my numbers to guys like Goose and Bruce Sutter,” Smith said. “You should let the numbers speak for itself.”

But fortunately for him, the voters may have taken notice. Since 2007 when he received 40% of the Writers Association votes to be inducted(78% is needed), he has increased in percentage every year and he is eligible to remain on the Writers’ Association ballot until 2017 as long as he receives at least 5% of the vote.

Could this finally be the year he gets in? Or at least another year in progress in his eventual wait to get in?

We’ll have to wait till Wednesday to find out.

And even if he doesn’t get in, just to be in the equation and in the mix for the Hall of Fame is something that still does excite the former closer.

“I’m not one of those guys who likes to toot my own horn and all that good stuff,” Smith admitted. “But to really just hear your name put in there with the Hank Aaron’s and the guys like that..and to be considered a Hall of Fame player, it’s unbelievable.”

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