Saturday, August 17, 2013

Unknown Heroes Before My Time Pt. 9: Lee Smith

I started collecting in 1991 so my first cards showed stats from the 1990 season.  Lee Smith started the 1990 season in Boston but was traded early on, so I just missed him.  Now you might think it odd that I am talking about Lee Smith, a potential Hall of Famer, in a series titled "Unknown Heroes", but Lee Smith really did kind of fly under the radar in his time in Boston.  I doubt many people think of the Red Sox when they think of Smith.  They may think of the Cubs or the Cardinals, but not likely the Red Sox first.  It helped that Smith was not an All Star and did not lead the league in saves in either of his full seasons with the Red Sox.

Smith was picked up in a pretty good trade for the Red Sox.  Boston sent Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi to the Cubs for Smith, making the call as soon as GM Lou Gorman learned he was on the block.  Schiraldi and Nipper never did a whole lot after leaving Boston, meanwhile Lee Smith eventually developed into one of the best closers of all time.
Smith was good in 1988, going 4-5 with a 2.80 ERA and saving 29.  He struck out 96 in 83.2 innings and was an overpowering presence at the end of the game for the AL East Champions.  In 1989 he was 6-1 with a 3.57 ERA and 25 saves, while again striking out 96, this time in just 70.2 innings.  It was another impressive season for the big closer.

Boston made the odd decision to sign Twins closer Jeff Reardon prior to the 1990 season despite inferior numbers.  Apparently the idea was to have two closers ready and have a strong bullpen.  Naturally that caused a little dissension and Smith was not happy.  He appeared in 11 games for the Red Sox, going 2-1 with a 1.88 and four saves before being traded to the Cardinals for Tom Brunansky.  Smith became the dominating, potential Hall of Famer in St. Louis.

Smith's tenure in Boston is not the first thing many people remember when they think of his Hall of Fame case, but he did have two strong seasons there.  As a result there is an effect on the after-career cards of him.  He has had exactly one card issued of him after his career with the Red Sox and that was a buyback card.  He has never had an autograph or relic card with the Red Sox.  That is unfortunate.
Nevertheless, his SLU is still my favorite one in my entire collection.

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