Icons of the Ivy: Lee Smith
The Cubs all-time save leader, Lee Smith almost never etched his name in the Cubs’ record books.
Scouted by the legendary Buck O’Neil and selected in the second round of the 1975 draft by the Cubs, Smith struggled early in his minor league career as a starter, so the team moved him to a bullpen role. Disappointed with the move, Smith nearly quit the team, before a talk with another Cubs legend, Billy Williams, talked him out of it.
“When the Cubbies decided to make me a relief pitcher, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m through with the game of baseball, I’m gonna go home,’” Smith recalled on an episode of Icons of the Ivy. “I can’t say on air what Billy actually said to me, but, you know, he saw where the game was changing.”
Both he and Cubs fans were glad he was talked out of walking away from the game. Smith would go on to record 180 saves over 8 seasons with the Cubs leading the league in saves in 1983 with 29. When smith retired in 1997, he was MLB’s all-time save leader with 478 saves.
Smith posted a 2.92 ERA with the Cubs and recorded at least 30 saves the next four seasons he played at Wrigley Field. He had 7 All-Star game appearances and was named the relief pitcher of the year 3 times in his 18-year big league career.
“There is nothing more menacing than watching Lee Smith make the slow walk from the bullpen to the mound at Wrigley Field,” Cubs’ historian Ed Hartig said.
Smith was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.