COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Smiling from beginning to end, Lee Smith congratulated his new classmates before crediting his family and hometown of Castor, Louisiana, for much of his success.
“It’s been my family. They’re the main reason I’m standing here today,” Smith said. “To my mom and dad — your support has meant everything to me.”
Smith pitched 18 seasons for the Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Reds and Expos and retired as MLB’s career saves leader with 478, a title he held for 13 seasons. That total now ranks third all-time, as do his 802 games finished.
“Family means so much to me. I felt the warmth from the Cub family every day I walked to the ballpark. Even before I got to Wrigley Field, from the fire department across the street, to the grounds crew on the field, to me it truly was the “friendly confines.”
I loved pitching at Wrigley. Yes, there were home runs flying out of the ballpark, especially in late innings of the game, but it helped me learn to pitch. Wrigley taught me to concentrate on every pitch. There was no margin for error.
I have so many positive feelings about Chicago cub fans. Chicago is where I started. They gave me my first opportunity to play in the Major Leagues. Even when I left, I knew I wanted to come back because I love it. Thank you.”
Harold Baines never displayed much emotion in his 22-year career, but the White Sox soft spoken slugger got emotional talking about his late father.
“When you ask me why I’ve never been outspoken or said very much, think of my dad and a lesson he passed on to me many years ago, often when we were playing catch in the yard.
Words are easy, deeds are hard. Words can be empty. Deeds speak loudest and sometimes they echo forever.”
“Chicago became my home. White Sox fans became an important part of my extended family. Driving in the division-winning run on a September night in 1983, remains one of my career highlights.
Chicago is a city that honors and appreciates hard work. I hope this is one of the reasons White Sox fans connected with me. But who could ever imagine an entire stadium led by organist Nancy Faust chanting your name as you step into the batter’s box. White Sox fans, thank you for all the cheers and love over the years. I hope I made you proud along the way.”