Baseball Card of the Week: 1990 Lee Smith

Aug 8, 2008 at 3:01 pm

I know that I say we have a very special Card of the Week a lot, but this week, I really mean it. Really.

Our Card of the Week this week comes to us from Mr. Tom Carlson, of Webster Groves, Missouri. That alone is enough to make this a special card. Why, you ask? Well, because Mr. Carlson just so happens to be the senior art director here at the RFT. Thanks to Mr. Carlson for sending this along.

This week's card is a 1990 Topps Lee Smith card. When I was little, Lee Smith was my absolute favorite Cardinal. Don't get me wrong, I loved Ozzie Smith like all children in St. Louis, and I loved Willie McGee, and I loved John Tudor. But the first time I ever saw Lee Smith step on to the mound wearing a Cardinal uniform, I was just in absolute awe. He was the most overpowering pitcher I had ever seen. Hitters just had absolutely no chance against him.

Unfortunately, the early '90s were not a particularly good time to be a Cardinal fan. Anheuser-Busch was undergoing a lot of changes, and were no longer interested in owning the Cardinals, at least not in the way that ol' Gussie Busch had been. Whitey Herzog departed midway through the 1990 season, eventually to be replaced by Joe Torre. Many of the scouting and personnel people who had helped to build those great teams of the 1980s departed, and the organization suffered for it.

The Joe Torre era may not have been particularly memorable, but that certainly didn't stop Lee Arthur Smith from doing his thing. He was traded to the Cardinals early in the 1990 season and immediately put the closer's spot on lock-down. After being dealt to St. Louis from the Boston Red Sox, Smith appeared in 53 games for the Redbirds, saving 27, with an overall record of 3-4 and a 2.10 ERA.

In 1991, Smith had one of the best years of his career, saving 47 games in 67 appearances, going 6-3 with a 2.34 ERA. One of the lone bright spots in a year that saw the Cardinals really begin to falter, I can still remember how exciting it was to watch Smith come in to the game and mow down the last few batters of the game.

By '91, he had already lost a little bit off of the fastball that had made him so feared as a young fire-baller with the Chicago Cubs a decade earlier. However, he had added a nasty forkball somewhere along the way that served him well.

Smith had a bit of a down season in '92, losing nine (!) games while still saving 43, with an ERA that crept north of 3. Obviously, that's still very, very impressive, but you could see the cracks beginning to appear in Smith's armor. He only recorded 60 strikeouts in 75 innings that year, showing that his stuff was no longer quite so overwhelming as it had been.

In 1993, Smith was even worse, pitching in 55 games for the Birds, with a 4.50 ERA to show for his troubles. He was traded to the Yankees mid-season that year, largely to get his salary off the books, as the Brewery was cutting the overhead for the team more and more all the time. He pitched well for the Yankees down the stretch that year, appearing in eight games and not giving up a single run.

Smith played on through the 1997 season, but his halcyon days were largely in the past. He went to the Orioles, spent a couple years with the Angels, got traded to Cincinnati, and finished up his career with a one-year stint north of the border in Montreal.

He pitched in 25 games for the Expos in '97, and posted an ERA of 5.82. The writing on the wall was plain to see by that time, and after the '97 campaign, Lee Arthur Smith bowed to the inevitable and retired from the game.

Thanks again to Mr. Carlson for his excellent submission. As always, if you wish to send me anything, please direct all submissions to me at [email protected].

- Aaron Schafer