Former Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Lee Smith looked at the glossy promotional photos he was supposed to sign at Menards on Thursday and paused to study the images which showed him throwing for both teams.
Former Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Lee Smith looked at the glossy promotional photos he was supposed to sign at Menards on Thursday and paused to look at the images which showed him throwing for both teams.
He asked, “Which do I sign, the Cubs or the Cardinals? Or do I sign across both legs? Maybe they should put the Red Sox up here in the middle.”
Diplomatically, he had worn a baseball cap displaying the Major League Baseball logo to the appearance at the Menards store, which had drawn a long line of people — many wearing splashes of Cubbie blue or Cardinals red.
But like the top relief pitcher he was for 18 years for mainly the Cubs, Cardinals and Red Sox — with late-career stops with the Yankees, Angels, Reds and Expos — Smith tried to hide his pitches when asked where his loyalities lie.
“You know I was just telling them,” he said of Menards officials, “I’ve been to most of these towns with the (mid-winter) caravans with the Cubs and the Cardinals.
“We talked about those caravans with Milo (Hamilton), Vince (Lloyd) and (Jack) Brickhouse and those guys. Just to think about that, I remember Mike Tyson, Larry Biittner, Fergie Jenkins and all those guys. I just left the Cubs fantasy camp and I got to see a lot of those guys again."
If memories are any clue, Smith seemed to recall more of his Cubs days than those with the Cardinals — he played eight seasons in Chicago and four in St. Louis — but maybe fans won’t let him forget his days wearing blue.
“You’ll see Cubs fans just about anywhere. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I did a thing with the Cubs and we went to Alaska. It’s amazing how many Cubs fans we saw there. It’s really weird.”
Some of the fans in line at Menards are too young to remember the 6-foot-6 fireballer in action. But they’ve seen his career numbers and no doubt jumped at the chance to get something signed by a future Hall of Famer.
Smith’s 478 saves rank second on the career list behind Trevor Hoffman, far surpassing the other relief pitchers already in Cooperstown — Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter. Smith has 130 saves more than Fingers, 178 more than another ex-Cub and ex-Card Bruce Sutter and 168 more than Gossage, voted to the hall just this last year.
“I’ve must have done something,” Smith joked, then added, “but the weird thing is those guys have been on the list a little longer than I have.
“I don’t know why it should matter, but it does.”
Smith claims to not be bothered by the lack of consideration he gets but he got just 43.3 percent of the 75 percent of the votes needed for induction last year — down from the 45 percent he got in 2006.
“I was pretty confident a few years ago but the thing that bothers me is the fact you hear with Goose going in the Hall of Fame, people say, ‘Oh, he got these type of stats as opposed to Mariano Rivera.’ Goose had the same stats eight years ago so I don’t understand how his stats or Bruce’s stats matter that much because our stats don’t change.
“Like anything, you got to pay your dues, man.”
Although he never appeared in a World Series, Smith was a key contributor to the Cubs 1984 run into the playoffs, appeared for the Red Sox in the 1988 playoffs, won three Rolaids Relief Man Awards and his 47 saves for the Cardinals in 1991 were a National League record.
Looking back, he takes pride in the length of his career.
“Longevity and being around for a long time and being consistent for those years at that level is the one thing I think about,” said Smith. “Back then, you didn’t think about your stats.”
Contact Mike Trueblood at firstname.lastname@example.org.