Smith Is Not Seeing Red About This Setup Job
Lee Smith spent his first hour in the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse trying to find a good fit.
The 6-foot-6, 269-pound reliever had neither a uniform nor an exact role when he arrived Friday, four days after the Reds acquired him from the Angels in a trade for reliever Chuck McElroy.
Smith was upset at losing the closer’s role in Anaheim, prompting the trade. The Reds got him primarily as a setup man to closer Jeff Brantley, the same type of situation Smith had with the Angels.
Manager Ray Knight told Smith he might get a save opportunity when Brantley has pitched a few days in a row. For now, baseball’s career saves leader is satisfied with the setup.
“It seems like a new lease on life,” Smith said. “I’m glad to be back in the National League, I must say. I just want to show the organization and all of baseball that I’ve still got something left for the game.”
In his first appearance with the Reds, Smith gave up a leadoff home run to Atlanta’s Eduardo Perez in the eighth inning of a 9-1 loss Friday.
Smith, 38, has 471 career saves. He went on the 15-day disabled list last April after off-season surgery to repair a ruptured tendon in his right knee, and Troy Percival took over the closer’s role in his absence.
If Brantley remains healthy, Smith will get few save opportunities with the Reds. Asked if he could be satisfied as a setup man, Smith responded haltingly.
“Well, uh, yeah, I could,” he said. “He [Knight] said that the situation here could come up that we both could get opportunities to get saves. I didn’t see that being in the mix in California. I don’t foresee any problems.”
The biggest problem was getting into uniform for the first time. The Reds didn’t have any pants that fit properly, and even resorted to pulling out a pair worn by Reds broadcaster Joe Nuxhall when he would pitch batting practice. Those were too big in the waist.
“I’ll put duct tape up to my knees and paint stripes on ‘em,” Smith joked.
While clubhouse attendants were adjusting Smith’s uniform, Brantley came over to say hello. Reds General Manager Jim Bowden spoke to Brantley before the trade, to make sure the closer approved.
“What’s up, big man?” Brantley said as he extended his hand. “Good to have you.”
Soon, they were talking about fishing.
Smith also got some laughs out of his first meeting with owner Marge Schott.
At a brief news conference to introduce Smith, Schott read a note that she said was from her dog, Schottzie 02. It began: “Dear Uncle Lee, I think it’s pawsitively great you’re on my team . . . “
She also pulled out a Schottzie hat--a cap with drooping dog ears--and put it on his head.
“Now you’re going to the dogs,” Schott said, laughing.
“My kids are going to be all over that one,” Smith responded.
Smith showed the hat to his new teammates and hoped his three children don’t see television footage of him wearing it.
“I’ll never live that one down,” he said.