LOS ANGELES -- Lee Smith would like to be there, he really would. But he doesn't plan on crashing Trevor Hoffman's party unless he is formally asked. The big guy with the all-time saves record of 478 has his own job -- roving Minor League pitching coordinator for the Giants. But that season is virtually over. Hoffman went into Friday night's game against the Dodgers needing only four more to tie Smith, who now has the time to attend when the big one is registered. "It's totally up to Trevor," Smith told MLB.com via telephone on Friday morning from his home in Shreveport, La. "I ain't going to show up and throw any rain on the man's parade, brother. I'd like to talk to him myself. I want to talk to him personally. I don't just want to show up. I ain't like that. I understand he's a laid back type of individual, just like me."
For his part, Hoffman would love to have Smith on hand. Heading into this weekend's crucial four-game series at Dodger Stadium that has wide playoff implications, Hoffman has 38 saves on the season and 474 in his 14-year career. With 17 games to go, there's no telling when the big save will occur, or how many opportunities Hoffman will even have the remainder of the regular season. "It would be great [to have Smith there]," Hoffman said. "I have the utmost respect for him and his career. It's an awfully lofty number. And to be able to be creeping up on it is quite an honor. For him to be there would be pretty neat." About arranging the logistics, Hoffman added: "It's not my place. I don't know his travel plans. Obviously, you can't predict how long it's going to take [to set the record], either. The closer we get, it's something we can talk about. If it happens in St. Louis the last week of the season, it would be cool, him being a Cardinal for a while. But I can't get involved in that. It's up to the higher beings." Smith pitched for eight big-league clubs over 18 seasons from 1980 to 1997. His stay with the Cardinals spanned portions of four seasons from 1990 to 1993. He was traded there by the Red Sox, and left by the same route to the Yankees. But Smith is widely known for his years with the Cubs in Chicago, where he played his first eight seasons. Hoffman and Smith's careers did intersect. Hoffman came up with the Marlins in 1993 and was traded to the Padres on June 24, 1993, in the five-player deal that sent Gary Sheffield to Florida. By the time Smith retired, Hoffman had already saved 135 games. Asked what he remembered about the 6-foot-6 Smith, Hoffman said: "He was a pretty big man. In the brief time I did have with him, he asked me for a bat. I don't know if he was making a collection, but I signed one to him." Smith has plenty of mutual respect for Hoffman, who Smith said hasn't been given his due nationally because he's played so long in the National League's most remote outpost. Smith said that when the Yankees' Mariano Rivera became just the fourth closer to pass the 400-save plateau earlier in the season, his phone rang off the hook. But interview requests about Hoffman's pursuit of his record have been tepid at best.
"I've gotten about five calls," Smith said. "Considering all the stuff about Rivera, I was telling the guys, 'What about Trevor?' This guy has been having a terrific career, and nobody seems to put him in the same breath as Rivera. Trevor is a control pitcher who's done an amazing job, but he gets no publicity. I guess the Yankees being in a large market and San Diego being such a small market has something to do with it."
Hoffman, though, countered that the lack of national exposure is not an issue.
"It doesn't really cross my mind, to be honest with you," he said. "It's something I can't control. It's part of the geographical situation of where we're at. It is what it is. I'm not too worried about it."
Smith also remains under the radar. Despite a large differential in career saves, Bruce Sutter, who finished with 300, was elected and inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. Smith didn't even come close, garnering only 45 percent of the vote from eligible baseball writers -- 75 percent is needed to get in. While Sutter went to Cooperstown, Smith went to Italy along with former big leaguers Jim Lefebvre and Bruce Hurst to conduct Major League Baseball's annual European Academy.
Though Smith said he's baffled by the consistent Hall of Fame snubbing, he said that going to Europe was an incredible experience.
"It was awesome," he said. "I mean, we had five kids there who were about 15 years old looking me eye-to-eye. I ain't used to having 15-year-olds doing that. They don't play much baseball over there, but the overall picture is good. It was a learning experience from both sides."
About his own lack of Hall of Fame recognition, Smith added: "I don't know, really. Maybe I wasn't outspoken enough. Rather than chew guys up in print, I'd go out and throw the ball and just sit down. I wanted to do more outside appearances in my day, but I was told that I wasn't marketable. What does that mean? You think about the numbers a guy puts up. I'm the only career leader in an important category who isn't in the Hall of Fame. Now they say that the save stat is watered down. But most of those guys probably never saw me pitch."
The subjective nature of the save over the years is a discussion Hoffman doesn't even want to address, except to say that "there's a lot of bitterness out there."
Certainly it should be a hot topic of conversation, if a couple of saves from now, Smith and Hoffman do get together.
|"I have the utmost respect for [Lee Smith] and his career. It's an awfully lofty number. And to be able to be creeping up on it is quite an honor. For him to be there would be pretty neat."|
|-- Trevor Hoffman|
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.