NORMAL — Lee Smith is part of a rather large society who can’t quite figure out baseball Hall of Fame voting.
"I don't understand it," Smith said Thursday before speaking at the Normal CornBelters' Hot Stove Banquet at the uptown Marriott. "I try not to get too down about it."
The former Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals relief ace received a high of 50.6 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in 2012. A level of 75 percent is required for induction.
But in the latest balloting announced earlier this month, Smith came in at just 30.2 percent.
"My stats are not going to get any better," said Smith. "Maybe it depends on who is on the ballot at the time."
Now 57, Smith recorded 478 saves during a career that began in 1980. He led the National League in saves in 1983, '91 and '92 and topped the American League in '94. With a career ERA of 3.03, Smith struck out 1,251 in 1,289 innings.
"A few years ago I was ahead of Bruce Sutter, (Bert) Blyleven, Andre Dawson, all guys who have since went into the Hall of Fame," Smith said. "This year was tough. They had a lot of (worthy) guys.
"I don't like to put my stats against someone else. They know what you've done in the game. But when you listen to guys like Mike Schmidt say you have Hall of Fame qualities … I try not to get too disappointed when things happen."
Smith believes it's unfortunate that superstars such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are kept from the Hall of Fame because of what many believe was use of performance enhancing drugs.
"They didn't have to cheat," he said. "Those guys were damn good players."
The 6-foot-5 Smith has been a minor league pitching coach for the past 16 years. He is a roving pitching instructor for the San Francisco Giants.
"I love it," said Smith. "The best thing about that is when you work with some kid and teach them some things. They use it and it works and you see that look of gratitude on their face. I enjoy that. I had that same feeling when Fergie (Ferguson Jenkins) and Rick Reuschel taught me."
The imposing but friendly right-hander known as "Big Lee" attended the recent Cubs Convention and noticed the uptick in enthusiasm from the team's fan base.
"It was crazy to see. Looking at the players, man, everybody looked like they're 12," Smith said. "They have a really young team, but I think they'll have a pretty good ballclub this year."
Smith also retains ties to his Cardinals' days.
"I went to a fantasy camp with Steve Kline and saw Danny Cox and Ricky Horton," recalled Smith. "It really brought back a lot of great memories I had in St. Louis."