Jaffe: For Lee Smith, HOF relief may finally come in Today’s Game Era ballot

From SABR member Jay Jaffe at FanGraphs on November 15, 2018:

Over the course of his 18-year career, Lee Arthur Smith was consistently considered to be one of the game’s top relievers. Physically intimidating — officially listed at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds but reported as big as 6-foot-6, 269 pounds — and mellifluously middle-named, Smith pitched for eight teams, earned All-Star honors seven times, led his league in saves four times (and finished as runner-up in four other seasons), and placed as high as second in the Cy Young voting. He passed Jeff Reardon on April 13, 1993, to grab the all-time saves record and held it at 478 until September 24, 2006, when Trevor Hoffman finally surpassed him.

When Smith retired in 1998, just two relievers had been elected to the Hall of Fame: Hoyt Wilhelm (1985) and Rollie Fingers (1992). Since then, that number has tripled via the elections of Dennis Eckersley (2004), Bruce Sutter (2006), Rich Gossage (2008), and Hoffman (2018), with Mariano Rivera poised to join them via the 2019 BBWAA ballot. Smith appeared to be on track to join that company, debuting on the 2003 ballot at 42.3% and inching his way to 50.6% by 2012, his 10th year of eligibility. But over his final five years of eligibility, he got lost in a deluge of polarizing, high-profile candidates whose continued presence on the ballot made it tough to find room for Smith. By 2014, his share of the vote was down to 29.9%, and he never got back to 35%.

Read the full article here: https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/for-lee-smith-relief-may-finally-come-via-todays-game-ballot/

Originally published: November 16, 2018. Last Updated: November 16, 2018.