Lee Smith headed to the Hall of Fame
The man who held the Major League saves record for 13 years finally got the call to Cooperstown. A seven-time All Star, Lee Smith led his league in saves on four occasions, and finished in the Top 5 of Cy Young voting three times. He also set the MLB record for games finished (802) and his 1,022 appearances were the third most in baseball history at the time he retired. Not a bad career for a guy that never dreamed of being a baseball player.
Smith had a fascinating career, and I would highly recommend reading his full SABR bio, but I wanted to pull out a couple specific sections in case you don't have time to go through the whole thing.
First, his early school and sports experiences, and then the anecdote of how he was "discovered" as a baseball player:
During his boyhood Lee endured experiences that shaped his view of the world. He awoke at 5:30 A.M. to catch a bus that passed three all-white schools on the way to his all-black school. After Louisiana integrated its schools in 1969, when he was 11, he crossed picket lines of protesting students and parents to arrive for class. The segregationist feeling died hard: Six times in his senior year at Castor High School, all-white schools forfeited basketball games rather than compete against a team with a black player.
One day in his junior year of high school, as he walked across the outfield of a softball field during practice, a ball rolled to his feet, beyond the outfielders. Lee picked it up and heaved it to home plate. After the softball coach witnessed this, Smith was switched from the softball team to the baseball team.
Even after being drafted in the second round of the 1975 MLB draft, it took some convincing (and some money) by Cubs scout Buck O'Neil to convince Smith to choose professional baseball.
A high-school senior in 1975, Smith planned to play basketball at Northwestern State Louisiana in Natchitoches, 50 miles from Jackson. But in June the Cubs drafted him in the second round of the free-agent draft, at the recommendation of former Negro League player and scout Buck O’Neil. (When he was called up to the Cubs in 1978, Smith became the last player drafted by the Wrigley ownership to make the major leagues.)
After being drafted, Smith sought out former major-league slugger Joe Adcock, who lived in nearby Coushatta, for advice. “Are you going to Northwestern to play basketball or get an education?” Adcock asked Smith.
“An education,” Smith told him.
Adcock’s advice: “Go (to Northwestern State) unless (the Cubs) offer you $50,000.” Smith was startled by the figure. But when O’Neil paid a visit to get his name on a contract, Smith asked for a $50,000 bonus and $8,000 for his education. To his surprise, O’Neil obliged. Smith regretted asking for so little, “I should have asked for $80,000!” he said later.
Smith figured he could play for two years to qualify for the full bonus, then return home to haul pulpwood. “Those first few years, I made more money in pulpwood than in baseball,” he said. “That signing bonus was what kept me in it. I was going to play two years and then come back to the thickets.”
A starter throughout his early Minor League career, when his control did not come around as hoped, Smith was moved to the pen while in AA. It was a move that did not sit well with Smith, and nearly prompted him to give up baseball once again.
Smith resisted the move and briefly played basketball at Northwestern State. “Billy Williams (Cubs coach and Hall of Famer) came to my house. I can’t tell you in public what he said to me, but he convinced me to come back and play baseball,” Smith told a biographer.
Smith returned to Midland as a reliever in 1979. (“The opportunity to pitch every day and be the ‘stopper’ became a thrill,” he said after a few years as a closer.) In 1980 Smith was promoted to Triple-A Wichita, and was among the league leaders in saves. For his efforts, he earned a September call-up to Chicago.
And the rest is more well-known history, but again, I would encourage everyone to check out the full article.
Despite his often tumultuous time with the Cubs, Smith has stated he would like to go into the Hall as a Chicago Cub:
"There's a lot of great teams that I played for because Smitty's been around, but the Cubs gave me my first chance at the big leagues. And actually, the Cubs gave me a (2016) World Series ring, and that's unbelievable.
"I always have really great ties with people I knew through that Cub organization a and other places, but I still have a great love for the Chicago Cubs. Now, I work for the San Francisco Giants, and I tell you what, a great organization, too. But wherever you start out first always has something in your heart that's always there."
Considering he spent nearly three times as long with the Cubs organization than he did with any other it seems likely his wish will be granted.
2016 World Series hero calls it a career
Miguel Montero may have only managed two hits during the Cubs 2016 postseason run, but boy did he make them count:
Former Cub & World Series Champion, Miguel Montero has announced he is retiring and transitioning to an agent.
— Cubs Live (@Cubs_Live) December 8, 2018
His other came during the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series... you know the game winning hit. Montero's RBI single extended the Cubs lead to 8-6. It would prove a critical insurance run as the Indians fought back in the bottom of the inning.
After a 17 minute rain delay, Ben Zobrist & Miguel Montero teamed up in the top of the 10th to give the Cubs the runs they needed to finally end the 108 year drought. pic.twitter.com/mkwEGHJaHf
— Drunk Rizzo ™️ (@DrunkRizz44) November 3, 2018
Montero, who once negotiated his own contract with the Diamondbacks, is becoming a player agent.