‘The 40/40 Club’ – 1980’s – Card #34
Lee Smith – 1982 Topps
The closer gets no respect. Unless your name name is Rivera, Hoffman, or Eckersley that is…
Before these guys established themselves as the best relief pitchersof all-time, Lee Smith was quietly dominating hitters as he was closing out game after game. Upon his retirement, Lee Smith held the record for career saves at 478. He has recorded 25+ saves in 13 of his 18 seasons in the major leagues, and did this for many teams that were fighting for playoff position. Yet, he barely gets serious consideration for a Hall of Fame election, and he seems to be forgotten when talking about the best closers in the history of the game.
Breaking down his numbers a little further, and you will see how dominant Smith was. For his career, Smith pitched 1,290 innings. He has 1,251 strikeouts in total, which is just a hair under 1 per inning. Considering that he got into most of his games in the 9th inning, it’s pretty safe to assume that roughly 1/3 of his recorded outs were due to strikeouts.
A top 10 finisher for the Cy Young award 4 times in his career, Smith was getting consideration for this award when closers were not as highly touted as they are today.
In Smith’s 3 best statistical seasons, between 1991-1993, he tallied 136 saves while striking out 187 batters in just 206 innings of work!!