An egregious oversight has finally been corrected.
Since the doors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame were unofficially opened to pitchers who excelled in relief with the selections of Hoyt Wilhem (1985), Rollie Fingers (1992) and Dennis Eckersley (2004) and pried open even further for pure closers with the inductions of Bruce Sutter (2006) and Goose Gossage (2008), etc., there's been a notable name ignored by voters. When he recorded his 358th save in 1993, Lee Smith began his reign as the all-time king of saves, eventually boosting his record all the way up to 478, far more than of any of the previous names mentioned. Yet, for twenty years after his retirement in 1997, Smith was left on the outside looking in.
It wasn't until 2006 that the big man's mark was surpassed by Trevor Hoffman, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame just last year. Still, Lee Smith never achieved the necessary number of votes on the general ballot to join his peers, accordingly falling off of the ballot as Hoffman was admitted. What gives?
While, I must admit, I am a huge Cubs homer and Mr. Smith, despite being a well-traveled mercenary, did the bulk of his damage during his eight-year stint on the North Side of Chicago, I can't be the only one who saw his omission as heinous. Clearly the Today’s Game Era Committee agreed with me, as just last night, they finally righted the wrong and officially elected Lee Smith to Cooperstown. Not only that, his selection was completely unanimous, as all sixteen members included Lee on their ballots.
Phew - what a relief!
The imposing Lee Smith is finally being recognized for his greatness and he won't have to watch another closer go in before him (I think we all know that Mariano Rivera will be joining Lee in the Class of 2018 when the general ballot is completed). Perhaps I'm being a tad hyperbolic here, but I do believe that Smith's being left on the sidelines was the worst Cubs-related Hall of Fame snub since Ron Santo. Thankfully, both wrongs have been rectified.
Being inducted along with Smith is his crosstown peer, Harold Baines - the first designated hitter to be designated Hall of Fame worthy. Without getting too far lost in the weeds, Baines' credentials are comparatively week and much ado has been made about this on the internet. That said, this is a Cubs blog so I'm going to play Switzerland on that issue. Nevertheless, the Class of 2018 will have a distinct Chicago flavor (which I believe is vaguely hotdog-ish, sans ketchup).
When it comes time, Smith will almost undoubtedly be sporting a Cubs cap on his plaque. While he did have three All-Star appearances and first set the career saves record while donning Cardinal Red, Smith is still largely associated with the Windy City club. After all, the newest Hall of Famer did spend twice as many years in Chicago as he did in St. Louis and twirled well more than twice as many innings here. Other marks for Chi-Town include two All-Star teams and being the dominant stopping force behind the immensely loved 1984 Cubs squad, which famously halted a 39-year postseason drought in Wrigleyville. In the end, he's a true, blue Cub, through and through. Let's just not talk about the ill-advised and absolutely dreadful trade that sent him out of town.
As a footnote, Smith also took turns in the uniforms of the Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Reds, and Expos.
As an aside, I noticed an interesting common thread between most of the relievers now enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Of the now seven men to have earned a plaque in the museum, five of them spent time on the Chicago Cubs roster: Hoyt Wilhelm (1970), Dennis Eckersley (1984-86), Bruce Sutter (1976-80), Goose Gossage (1988), and now Smith (1980-87). As of today, only two bullpen arms in the hallowed halls have not suited up in Cubbie Blue: Rollie Fingers and Trevor Hoffman. How's that for a weird bit of trivia?
This isn't to say that the Cubs have been historically great at scouting relievers. After all, only two of these names spent significant time in town (Sutter and Smith), two were waaaaaayyyyy past their prime when they arrived for their short stints (Wilhelm and Gossage), and one worked exclusively out of the Cubs' starting rotation (Eck). In the end, it's simply an amusing coincidence.
I wouldn't mess with the Cubs Hall of Fame bullpen - that's a filthy bunch!
Anywho, it's always awesome to see a former Cub go into the Hall of Fame and, after Smith, it's probably going to be a long time until another one gets that call. Unless the Steroid Era muck gets sorted out and Sammy Sosa sneaks in (doubtful), the next best bet is manager Lou Piniella, who fell just a single vote short on the very same Today's Era ballot as Smith. However, while it appears as though "Sweet Lou's" day in the sun is coming, that committee does not meet again until 2021. Like I said, it's likely going to be a few years.
Of course, Lee Smith knows what it's like to wait a few years. Congratulations on being inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Mr. Smith - it's about darn time! I can now say that I accidentally ran into TWO Cooperstown residents at the local shopping mall.