Former Red Sox pitcher Lee Smith elected into Baseball Hall of Fame
By Sean Penney
Former Boston Red Sox right-handed reliever Lee Smith has been elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the veteran’s committee.
While he’ll wear another team’s cap when he’s enshrined in Cooperstown, freshly elected Hall of Famer Lee Smith spent three seasons during the prime of his career with the Boston Red Sox.
Smith, along with Harold Baines, has been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Committee. Election requires 12 votes from the 16-member panel. Smith was a unanimous decision by the committee while Baines barely made the cut with 12 votes, according to CBS Sports.
Smith served as the closer for the Red Sox from 1988 until midway through the 1990 season when he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Tom Brunansky. The trade didn’t pan out well for Boston, as Brunansky hit only .252 with a .762 OPS in four seasons with the club. Once a feared slugger who reached 32 home runs on multiple occasions earlier in his career, Brunansky never hit more than half that total in any season in a Red Sox uniform. Meanwhile, Smith made three consecutive All-Star appearances with the Cardinals before they shipped him to the New York Yankees.
In parts of three seasons in Boston, Smith was 12-7 with a 3.04 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 11.2 K/9. He recorded 58 of his 478 career saves with the Red Sox. Smith was the all-time leader in saves when he retired until his record was broken by Trevor Hoffman in 2006, who was later topped by Mariano Rivera. Smith now sits third on the all-time saves list.
The Red Sox brought in Smith to solidify the back end of a leaky bullpen. He pitched well enough to help Boston return to the playoffs in 1988, only to melt down on the postseason stage. Smith allowed a walk-off base hit to take the loss in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Oakland A’s. He also allowed a pair of insurance runs in the 9th inning of Game 4, essentially putting the game out of reach as the A’s capped off a sweep.
Keep in mind that this was in the pre-2004 era when the Red Sox were still a long-suffering franchise still stinging from the heartache of their collapse in the ’86 World Series. Smith put up solid numbers during his time with the Red Sox but you’ll have to excuse this fan base for questioning the merits of his Hall of Fame election when the lasting memory of his time in Boston was that postseason failure.
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Smith dropped off the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot last year after exhausting his eligibility without reaching the required 75 percent of votes. He topped out at 50.6 percent in 2012. He never really came close to getting elected by the writers, which makes it a bit controversial that the Today’s Game Committee had no doubts about his merits with their unanimous decision.
While it’s a bit surprising that Smith was voted into the Hall of Fame, you can make a fair case for why his inclusion is warranted. He’s third on the all-time saves list and fifth among relief pitchers with a career 25.8 fWAR. Only about a handful of other pitchers who were primarily relievers have made it to Cooperstown and Smith’s numbers are in the same territory as some of those who are already in.
His best years weren’t in Boston but we can still celebrate a former Red Sox player being recognized with the highest honor in baseball.