How napping through the early innings helped Lee Smith reach the Hall of Fame

Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Baseball

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Former Cubs closer Lee Smith was asked during a Hall of Fame press briefing Saturday what he would say to a manager if asked to be an "opener" for an inning or two.

"It wouldn't work," Smith replied. "Because I was sleeping."

A little later at a separate briefing, Harold Baines was asked what Smith was like as a teammate with the Orioles.

"When he wasn't sleeping?" Baines said with a grin.

Smith was one of the greatest closers in baseball history, recording 478 saves over 18 seasons and, like Baines, getting into the Hall through the Veterans Committee vote. He'll join Yankees great Mariano Rivera, the all-time saves leader, on stage Sunday in a historic day for closers.

But one thing some fans don't know about "Big Lee" is he also was considered perhaps the greatest napper in baseball history, an unofficial designation Smith was only too happy to discuss on the eve of his induction.


"Man, there was nothing like waking up with a three-run lead, dude," he said.

Smith, who dominated the late innings for years with his size and power arm, insisted he could nap anywhere, including the clubhouse floor at County Stadium in Milwaukee.

"I could actually sleep right in the middle of the floor, and guys would step over me," he said. "It was like, 'Man, how do you do it?' I was like, 'Throw a towel over my face and I'm out, man.'

"The trainer's job was to make sure I was up in the sixth inning. I was always able to relax, and I think that helped out (my career) a lot."


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