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Did Lee Smith Always Want to Play Baseball?

Lee Arthur Smith is an American former professional baseball pitcher who spent 18 years with eight different organizations in Major League Baseball. He was a dominant closer throughout his career, largely as a reliever, and held the big league record for career saves from 1993 until 2006, when Trevor Hoffman passed him with 478. The Today’s Game Era Committee inducted Smith into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2019. But did you know Smith’s first baseball game was the result of a $10 bet?

Lee Smith, the Hall of Fame pitcher, didn’t start playing baseball until he was a junior in high school, only tried out to win a $10 bet, and began pitching after his team’s star pitcher was killed in a hunting accident.

Lee Smith’s Impressive Baseball Achievements?

Smiths’ final stats were: a 71-92 record, a 3.03 ERA, 1,022 games pitched, 802 games finished, 546 consecutive games pitched without a fielding error, three relievers of the year awards, and those 478 saves to set a National League record.

Following his playing career, Smith worked as a pitching instructor for the San Francisco Giants in Minor League Baseball. He was the pitching coach for South Africa’s national baseball team in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics. (Source: Baseball Hall)

What Exactly was Lee Smith’s First Sport?

Smith was a large, muscular shooting guard for the Castor High School Tigers in the early 1970s, and he had a penchant for sinking buckets. Smith’s high school basketball coach, Ronnie Daniels, also coached the school’s baseball team. He tried to get his star basketball player to take up baseball, but Smith was uninterested. (Source: San Diego Padres)

How Was Smith Drafted Into the Major Leagues?

Smith formed a special bond with Buck O’Neil, the pioneering Black baseball executive who persuaded Smith to pursue a career in baseball. Smith was selected by O’Neil’s Cubs in the second round of the 1975 Draft.

During Smith’s senior year, several major league scouts attended one of his games. But they hadn’t come to see Smith. They were scouting Cliff Blue, the nephew of major league pitching sensation Vida Blue. Smith was pitching against Blue.

I had a good game, and a Dodgers scout who was there asked loudly, Hey, who’s that other guy? That’s how I got the moniker the Other Guy. When the Cubs drafted me, the headline in my hometown newspaper read The Other Guy Drafted by the Cubs.

Lee Arthur Smith, Baseball Hall of Famer

(Source: Sports Collectors Digest)

What Was Smith’s Throwing Speed?

Smith, who stood 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 265 pounds, and threw a 95-mile-per-hour fastball, was an intimidating figure on the mound. Smith set a National League record with 47 saves for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1991, and was named runner-up for the league’s Cy Young Award; it was the second of three times Smith led the NL in saves, and he also led the American League in saves once. (Source: Baseball Almanac)

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