NORMAL -- Many baseball observers believe Lee Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Smith hopes that belief someday translates into his own plaque in the Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine.
"I surely hope we get that," said Smith, who threw out the first pitch and signed autographs at the Corn Crib Saturday. "It was good to see Bert Blyleven (elected). I hope he gets out of the way and helps me get some of the votes.
"But to actually be thought of in the same breath with some of those guys, Fergie Jenkins and a good friend of mine Harmon Killebrew, is really a good feeling."
Smith ranks third on baseball's career saves list with 478. The hard-throwing right-hander pitched from 1980 to ‘97 including stints of eight years with the Chicago Cubs, three years with the Boston Red Sox and four years with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 53-year-old Smith became eligible for Hall of Fame voting in 2003 and has received from 36.6 to 47.3 percent of the votes each year. Hall induction requires 75 percent of the vote.
"I used to be sitting by the phone when I first came on the ballot," he said. "You've got to bide your time and not get too worked up about it. It's frustrating and a good feeling all in one.
"Hopefully in the next few years they will understand the aspect of closing in the major leagues. It's not an easy job to do. We finally are getting a little more respect. With Bruce Sutter and Goose (Gossage) getting in, I think that will help in the long run for guys like me and guys after me."
Currently working as a roving pitching instructor in the San Francisco Giants farm system, Smith said he enjoyed his time in Chicago and St. Louis but has to root for the Cubs when the heated rivals meet.
"I've got a couple guys on that coaching staff who are my buddies, Bobby Dernier and Ivan DeJesus," said Smith. "But in my heart, I've always been a Cardinal fan. I love the city and who wouldn't want to pitch in St. Louis in that era?
"You've got the big ballpark and Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee behind you. And the city itself is baseball knowledgeable. I have a lot of love for both of those cities."
Maybe someday Hall of Fame voters will show a bit more love for "Big Lee."