01/07/2003 1:34 pm ET
Cardinals closers shut out of Hall
By Mathew Leach / MLB.com
It's the same old song, with one new singer, when it comes to closers and the Hall of Fame.
Lee Smith joined Bruce Sutter, not to mention Goose Gossage and Todd Worrell, as relievers who are on the outside of the Hall of Fame looking in. Smith, the all-time saves leader with 478, received only 210 votes for induction (42.3 percent), well short of the necessary 75 percent. Sutter came in a distant third behind inductees Eddie Murray and Gary Carter, receiving 266 of a possible 496 votes (53.6 percent).
In his 10th year of eligibility, Sutter continued his steady climb up the balloting list. Last year, he received 50.4 percent of the vote, which was fourth most. He has five more chances for enshrinement by the Baseball Writers Association of America. It was Smith's first year of eligibility.
Only two relief pitchers currently are in the Hall of Fame: Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers. Smith's strong first-year showing would seem to indicate that his long-term chances for enshrinement are good, though it will likely take a few years. Sutter's odds are probably a bit longer, but he certainly still has a chance.
"I think they're gonna start looking a little closer (at relievers)," Fingers told MLB Radio. "They're looking at the guys that pitched in the era that I pitched. There's a couple right now that I feel should really be given a close look for the Hall of Fame, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter. Both of these guys had over 300 saves. They both pitched at the same time that I did. they both had great earned run averages, Fireman of the Year awards. I think both of these guys have got a real good shot of getting in.
"And now they're talking about Lee Smith. Lee Smith gets (478) saves. He was kind of right in the middle. He pitched in some of the era where you had to go out there and pitch two, three innings, and he also pitched in the era when you only had to pitch one. So who knows? I don't know how the sportswriters are gonna look at it."
Smith and Sutter make for an interesting study in contrasts. Sutter, with 300 saves, ranks 16th on the all-time list and seems likely to drop two more spots in the next couple of years. His claim to Hall of Fame eligibility is not his career totals so much as his brilliant peak. Few relievers were as good as Sutter at his best, and his split-fingered fastball was a revolutionary pitch.
Smith, meanwhile, has a case based on sustained quality. In addition to the saves record, he ranks fifth on the all-time games pitched list. He tallied at least 25 saves in 13 different seasons. Unlike Sutter, he never won a Cy Young Award.
"If nobody else has saved more games than he has, why isn't there a place for him? First ballot, second ballot, I'm not sure how all of that unfolds," Rick Sutcliffe told MLB Radio. "But when you've done something positive more than anybody else has ever done, to me, they've got to have a key for you to get into that building."
Sutcliffe, a teammate of Smith's for three years with the Cubs and a 171-game winner in the big leagues, believes the current crop of star closers will help bring exposure to players such as Sutter, Smith and Gossage. And that might help them get into the Hall of Fame.
"I think there's gonna be a lot more attention brought onto that. Guys such as Trevor Hoffman, Mariano (Rivera), doing what they're doing, you see how important that closer is for a team to win a world championship. With what Francisco Rodgriguez and Percival were able to do with Anaheim this year, (and) we've seen the Yankees and the big three they've had in the past. I think that's going to help guys like Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter and Lee Smith eventually somewhere down the line get in."
The most striking common thread between the two right-handers is that they saw one of baseball's best rivalries from both sides. Sutter got his start with the Cubs in 1976, and pitched at the Friendly Confines until a 1980 trade to St. Louis. His last year in Chicago was Smith's first, and two years later Smith took over as the Cubs' primary closer.
Sutter ended his career in Atlanta, and he tallied more saves as a Cub (133) than with any other team. But he pitched for a World Series champion team in St. Louis, and to many fans he is thought of first and foremost as a Cardinal.
>From Chicago, Smith made a stop in Boston, then was sent to St. Louis. He thrived as a Cardinal, enjoying one of his best seasons in 1991. That year, the imposing flame-thrower racked up 47 saves -- still a team record -- and posted a sparkling 2.34 ERA. He finished as the runner-up to Tom Glavine in National League Cy Young balloting.
Smith tallied 133 saves with the Cardinals before a 1993 trade sent him to the Yankees -- providing him with a second view of another of the game's best rivalries.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.