Our Friday feature, Carrie Muskatís fine and extensive compilation Banks to Sandberg to Grace, spotlights a very interesting player, Lee Smith, the closer who left baseball with the record for the most saves at 478 and many believe should be enshrined in Cooperstown.
One of the most vivid memories I have of Smith is the 1984 clubhouse celebration following the Cubs clinching the NL East. It was the first time the Cubs had clinched anything since 1945 so the champagne was flying all over the place. Smith was giving an interview when someone tried to pour the stuff on top of his head to which Lee replied ìNot the fro man, not the fro!î
Much speculation centered on his proclivity to take naps during the early innings of a ballgame. What say you, Mr. Smith?
I took my naps. I was dreaming about what I was going to throw Mike Schmidt. I had to make sure I threw it right the first time. I always relaxed in the game in the early innings. It was Yoshiís job to get me up before the fifth and make sure I had on the right ìuni.î
When I was with the Cubbies and I threw two innings, that was like a day off for me. Now, guys complain if they throw more than an inning. I think Rollie Fingers was the one guy who went three innings more than anybody as a closer. He set the precedent for closers. His saves were a lot tougher. When I threw, it was mostly two innings, two and a third. Rollie went three innings in a tie game. Most closers now donít even come into a game when itís tied.
I wasnít a media-type guy. I wasnít outspoken, or flashy, or anything like that. Nobody wanted to hear from me. I just did my job. How could you write a story about a guy who walks off the mound? I thanked God I got the job done and thatís all that matters. I was sort of quiet. I didnít show up the hitters or anything like that. I just did my job.
Most of the people I remember are the guys on the grounds crew. All the ballparks I went to, I was really, really close to the grounds crew. I like simple people. I never did like guys who were impressed by what you did or how much money you had in the bank. I have some guys from the grounds crew from the Milwaukee Brewers who come to visit me to this day. When I went to St. Louis, the grounds crew from Boston came up to Montreal to visit me. Itís just part of keeping things simple in life. Thatís how I like it.