One longtime Chicago Cub, Ron Santo, was finally inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame this month.
Another person closely associated with the Cubs, Lee Smith, is playing the waiting game.
“The best thing that happened to me is Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage, guys like that were on the ballot for 10 or 11 years (before getting into the Hall of Fame),” said Smith, who was at Parkview Field Monday as part of the Principal Financial Dreams Tour. “ … You look at how many teams have quality closers and you look at where those teams are without a good closer.”
Smith played 18 years in the majors. The former all-time saves leader, Smith finished his career with 478 saves.
He received 50.6 percent of the voting this year. He has been on the ballot since 2003. Players need 75 percent to enter the Hall.
“They are finally starting to understand that relief pitcher thing, the closer role,” Smith said. “And seeing how important it is to a ballclub now.”
Smith was a seven-time All-Star. He finished second in the NL Cy Young award voting in 1991. Smith earned the Rolaids Relief Pitcher Award in 1991, 1992 and 1994.
“Lee was one of the best closers in the game,” said Fort Wayne manager Jose Valentin, who said he faced Smith a couple of times. “He was one of the slowest guys I every saw, not only working, but coming to the mound. But when he got to the mound, the game was over.”
Smith played for the Cubs, Boston, St. Louis, New York Yankees, Baltimore, California, Cincinnati and Montreal. He played eight years with the Cubs.
“It wasn’t like a team to me,” Smith said of his time with the Cubs, “It was like a family.”
Smith is a roving pitching instructor for the San Francisco Giants, meaning he has spent his fair share of time at minor league ballparks.
Monday, he threw a ceremonial first pitch and then signed autographs for fans.
Smith was impressed with Parkview Field.
“There weren’t any stadiums like this, that’s for sure,” Smith said of his minor-league career. “It’s amazing to see all the information that the kids get as players. When I played, we only had one coach. He was the pitching coach, the base-running coach and sometimes the bus driver.
“Now, the information that the kids get, it’s unbelievable. They don’t know how good they have it, the facilities that they get to play in now.”