Close up with the ultimate closer
Catching up with Lee Smith
SHREVEPORT, La. -- He is baseballs all-time saves leader with 478. Former Red Sox closer Lee Smith's saves total is so impressive that John Franco, who is second all-time, is more than 50 saves behind him.
"It's a good feeling to have knowing you are the all-time saves leader in all of Major League Baseball," said Smith. "It's a good thing to have."
Smith retired in 1998 and after a few years off, he went to work as a roving minor league pitching instructor for the San Francisco Giants in 2000. A former teammate and a former minor league manager offered Smith the position. It was the perfect situation for Smith because the Giants Double-A team, the Shreveport Captains, was located in his hometown.
"This is my fifth year," he said recently. "A teammate of mine by the name of Dick Tidrow and my minor league manager Jack Hiatt asked me to come and work with the relief pitchers. If we have a strong area in our organization it's definitely the pitching."
These days, the all-time saves leader is enjoying life in Shreveport. He is engaged to the mother of his nine-month-old twins, Nicholas and Alana. He actually met his fiancée, Cheryl, while playing for the Red Sox.
In addition to his twins, Smith also has three children from a previous marriage: Nikita, 17, Lee Jr., 15 and Dimitri, 11. Since his retirement, Smith has enjoyed being able to spend time with them after being gone so much playing baseball.
"I am enjoying retirement, hanging out and watching my kids grow up," said Smith. "I'm enjoying spending time with them because through their whole childhood I was gone most of the time."
Smith played a total of 18 seasons in the majors, spending a little more than two of them with the Boston Red Sox (1988-90). Smith came to Boston from the Chicago Cubs in 1987 in exchange for pitchers Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi.
"I was really excited (about the trade) because I knew they had a great ball club and it gave me the opportunity to play with Roger Clemens," said Smith. "I had never been in the American League and I had asked to be traded from Chicago. I had no idea who they were going to trade me to."
While in Boston, Smith put together two solid seasons for the Red Sox. He recorded 29 saves in 1988 to help the Red Sox win the American League East. He followed that up with 25 saves in 1989.
"Oh God yeah did I enjoy my time in Boston," said Smith. "The ballclub was unbelievable and we had some really good years."
Just one month into the 1990 season, Smith's stay in Boston came to an end. He was traded from the Red Sox on May 4 to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Tom Brunansky.
Smith went on to pitch for the Cardinals (1990-93), New York Yankees briefly (1993), Baltimore Orioles (1994), California Angels (1995-96), Cincinnati Reds briefly (1996) and finished his career with the Montreal Expos, retiring on July 15, 1997. Prior to being traded to the Red Sox, Smith had only pitched for the Cubs (1980-87).
Overall, Smith made seven All-Star teams (1983, 1987, 1990-95), won the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award three times (1991-92, 1994) and pitched in over 1,000 games.
Smith has come up short of receiving the necessary number of votes to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame twice, but many feel it's only a matter of time.
"I've been on the ballot a few years and I think my chances are looking pretty good," said Smith about getting into Cooperstown. "I think the best thing for all of us relief pitchers was seeing Dennis Eckersley go in as a relief pitcher. Hopefully that will filter down and help out the guys like myself, Goose (Gossage), and Bruce Sutter."