LAS VEGAS –Lee Smith’s big-league journey took him to eight different big-league franchises in a 19-year career that saw him set what was a record with 478 saves, which was later broken by Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera.
And on Sunday, after striking out in 15 times in Hall of Fame voting by veteran members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, Smith’s career took him to the game’s ultimate destination – Cooperstown.
Smith and longtime DH Harold Baines were elected to the National Baseball of of Fame in a vote by the Today’s Game Era Committee, an interesting statement in light of the fact that both of them were identified with specialist positions.
Lou Piniella was listed on 11 of the 16 ballots, one shy of election. The seven other candidates on the ballot – Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel and George Steinbrenner – each received fewer than five votes.
Smith had to wait for the Veterans Committee, but he joined Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Hoffman as the only primary relief pitchers to be honored in Cooperstown. although Rivera is on the ballot this year and expected to be elected.
“They finally let the old geezer in,” said Smith, 61, who signed with the Cubs as a 17-year-old as a second-round draft pick in 1975 on the recommendation of the late Buck O’Neill.
Baines is an interesting case, and would seem to set the stage for the BBWAA membership to elect longtime Mariners DH Edgar Martinez, who is in the final year on the writer’s ballot, and is coming off having received support from 70.2 percent of the voters a year ago, 4.8 percent shy of enshrinement.
Baines was on the BBWAA ballot for only five of what at the time was 15 possible years of candidacy. His strongest support from the BBWAA members was 6.1 percent in 2010, and after 2011 he was dropped from the ballot, having received support from only 4.8 percent, two-tenths of a percent shy of the minimum votes to remain a candidate.
Smith, meanwhile, becomes only the sixth pitcher in the Hall of Fame with 300 or more saves, joining Hoffman (601), Eckersley (390), Fingers (341), Gossage (310) and Sutter (300). He pitched 18 seasons with the Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Reds and Expos. He was a seven-time All-Star.
Baines played 22 seasons with the White Sox, Rangers, A’s, Orioles and Indians, earning the AL top designated hitter award in 1987 and 1988, and being selected to six All-Star games.
The committee reinforced Smith’s accomplishment, all 16 members listing him on the ballot. Baines was on 12 ballots, the minimum 75 percent support needed for election.
The Today’s Game Era Committee considered a ballot of six former players, three former managers and one former executive whose contributions to the game were most significant from 1988 through the present. The Today’s Game Era Committee held meetings today in Las Vegas, site of Baseball’s Winter Meetings.
The 16-member Today’s Game Era Committee commissioned with the review of the 10-name ballot was comprised of Hall of Fame members Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Tony La Russa, Greg Maddux, Joe Morgan, John Schuerholz, Ozzie Smith and Joe Torre; major league executives Al Avila, Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail and Jerry Reinsdorf; and veteran media members/historians Steve Hirdt, Tim Kurkjian and Claire Smith. Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark served as the non-voting chairman of the Today’s Baseball Era Committee.
The Today’s Game Era Committee will next consider candidates in 2021 for the 2022 induction year, as the process to consider candidates occurs two times in a five-year period. In the fall of 2019, the Modern Baseball Era Committee will consider candidates whose main career contributions came from 1970 through 1987. In 2020, the Golden Days Era Committee will consider candidates whose main career contributions occurred from 1950-69. And also in 2020, the Early Days Era Committee will consider candidates whose greatest contributions came from baseball’s origins through 1949.
The Modern Baseball Era ballot was determined this fall by the Historical Overview Committee, comprised of 11 veteran historians: Bob Elliott (Canadian Baseball Network); Jim Henneman (formerly Baltimore Sun); Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch); Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau); Bill Madden (formerly New York Daily News); Jack O’Connell (BBWAA); Jim Reeves (formerly Fort Worth Star-Telegram); Tracy Ringolsby (InsideTheSeams.com and Baseball America); Glenn Schwarz (formerly San Francisco Chronicle); Dave van Dyck (formerly Chicago Tribune); and Mark Whicker (Los Angeles News Group).