Lee Smith, born in 1957, is Major League Baseball's all time Saves leader with 478. In one stretch of 14 years, during which he played for the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox, the St. Louis Cardinals, the New York Yankees, the Baltimore Orioles and the California Angels, he finished no worse than 7th in the league in saves, and led the league four times. He was a three time Rolaids Relief Award winner. At 6'6" and 225 pounds he was all about intimidation; he would walk slowly to the mound from the bullpen before letting loose with his upper-90's fastball.
Lee began his career with the Chicago Cubs in 1980, but he didn't become their closer until 1982, when he saved 17 games. The following year he led the league with 29, and would rattle off a then-unprecedented four straight seasons with 30 or more saves. He was traded to the Red Sox following the 1987 season, but it was apparent he didn't need to get used to pitching in the American League, as he posted his lowest ERA in four years in his first season in Boston.
Barely a month into the 1990 season he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for slugging Outfielder Tom Brunansky. It was in a Cardinals uniform during the 1991 and 1992 seasons that he would become one of six players to win consecutive Rolaids Relief Awards. Both seasons saw him lead the league in saves, and in 1991 he finished second in the Cy Young Award voting to Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves.
In August of 1993 Smith was traded yet again, this time to the New York Yankees for their stretch run. He would pitch 8 scoreless innings for them, striking out eleven while allowing only four hits. He filed for free agency at the end of the season and signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles, where he would lead the league in saves with 33 in the strike shortened year and win his third Rolaids Relief Award. He went to the California Angels after the season.
Smith began 1995 on a tear, rattling off saves in his first 18 appearences. He ended with 37, good for second in the league. It would be his last year as a full-time closer, as he was used as a set-up man in 1996. He began 1997 with the Montreal Expos, but his career was all but over. He tried to come back, first with the Kansas City Royals and then with the Houston Astros, but both times failed to secure a roster spot, so he retired.
Smith's saves record is likely to be broken due to the higher save totals pitchers have been racking up in recent years. John Franco is number two on the saves list, with 422, but his days as a closer are over. The most likely challenger seems to be San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, who has 352, but his chances were dampened by an injury that may force him to miss the entire 2003 season. Assuming he doesn't pitch this year, he will have to save games at his current pace for just over three more years. At 36 on opening day in 2004, this could be difficult. San Fransisco Giants closer Robb Nen also has a shot, with his 314 saves. He, too, will miss the entire 2003 season with an injury, and will begin 2004 at 34 years of age. The next highest total among active closers is Troy Percival of the Anaheim Angels, with 267.
Sources: www.baseball-reference.com, www.baseballlibrary.com, www.espn.com