Lee Smith was one of the most dominant relievers in Major League Baseball throughout his career, setting the record for career saves at the time of his retirement. The Hall of Famer has several rookie cards that appear in some of the most beloved sets of the 1980s. There are also a generous number of condition-sensitive cards, inserts, and certified autographs that have stretched from his playing days all the way up to recent releases. This list looks at the best Lee Smith cards to add to your collection.
Lee Smith gained notoriety as a tall, intimidating, hard-throwing closer for the Chicago Cubs. Since the Cubs games were frequently on television nationwide during the summer, baseball fans from across the country were able to witness Smith pitch on a daily basis. He also appeared in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off during the scene at Wrigley Field where Cameron and Ferris catch a foul ball. Beyond retiring as MLB's all-time saves leader, he also managed to simultaneously hold the all-time saves record for both the Cubs and Cardinals franchises when he retired.
Leading the way, Lee Smith rookie cards appeared in the 1982 Donruss, Fleer, and Topps sets. As an All-Star-level player throughout his career, there has never been a shortage of cards available to collectors. Because the majority of Lee Smith cards aren't difficult to find, most of his important cards remain affordable. However, as his candidacy for the Hall of Fame gained momentum, many of his early cards have become more popular with collectors, especially those who are looking for graded copies.
The all-time great relief pitcher still appears in current card releases, frequently as a member of the Cardinals or Cubs. While the two fan bases may not see eye to eye about what happens on the field, collectors of these heated rivals have found enjoyment in tracking down affordable autographs, relics, and serial numbered cards of Lee Smith in their preferred uniform.
The following guide looks at 10 of the best Lee Smith cards. This list highlights cards from his entire career and into his retirement, ranging from rookie cards in the early 1980s through modern releases.
Top 10 Lee Smith Baseball Cards
Bolded sets go directly to detailed product profiles and checklists when available.
10. 1998 Upper Deck Lee Smith #155
Back in the 1990s, Upper Deck used to put various subset cards with unique foil stamping in their sets. This includes the "Final Tribute" cards that were marked with a giant "F" inside a circle. The exact period of service for the depicted player was noted on the outside of the circle. The Final Tribute stamp was a figurative "tip of the cap" to a significant veteran player who was making their last appearance on an Upper Deck card as an active player. In the case of Lee Smith, this card came in the 1998 set after spending his final MLB season with the Expos the previous summer.
9. 2005 Donruss Prime Patches Portraits Relic Lee Smith #P-19
Prime Patches was a per-pack autograph and relic set that Donruss released at the end of 2005. It marked the end of its run as a Playoff product. The players featured within the set had a card number, which then had different variations and print runs. Cards with large patch pieces, multiple patch pieces, and uniform buttons had low print runs and tended to have high prices. However, there were also standard relic cards with higher print runs that are easy to track down and lower in price. Several of the relic variations available to collectors can also be found with an autograph from the Hall of Fame closer. While there other Lee Smith relic cards available, Prime Patches offers collectors the best range of memorabilia pieces.
8. 1993 Topps Finest Refractor Lee Smith #95
One of the most iconic sets from the 1990s, the initial Topps Finest issue introduced baseball card collectors to the term "Refractor" and instantly created one of the greatest chase cards in the history of the hobby. While more modern Refractors are scarcer in terms of print run, the 1993 versions are still very much a top option. However, this Lee Smith card is one of the most affordable options for a Hall of Fame player.
7. 2000 Fleer Greats of the Game Lee Smith Autograph
Lee Smith retired near the end of the 1990s and almost immediately began appearing in various products as an autograph signer. Many of his best autographs come from a variety of different sets from the early 2000s. 2000 Greats of the Game offered collectors a huge checklist of Cooperstown legends that are still in high demand with collectors today. The second installment of the Greats of Game product featured a clean design with a large empty space for the player’s signature, along with a nice color photograph. This Lee Smith autograph card is one of the more affordable Hall of Fame signatures in the set.
6. 1982 Red Lobster Chicago Cubs Lee Smith #46
The Chicago Cubs had some great baseball card giveaways during the 1980s. The 1982 Red Lobster set is considered one of the better freebies since it includes rookie-year cards for Lee Smith, Ryne Sandberg, and Fergie Jenkins. Like most card sets that were stadium giveaways, the Red Lobster cards are not too difficult to track down, but the full-bleed pictures make soft and bent corners very apparent, as well as wear around the edges. The price of the Lee Smith card is generally in line with his other rookies, but collectors can't be as picky with the conditions since they appear much less often compared to his Topps, Donruss and Fleer cards.
5. 2003 Topps Archives Fan Favorites Lee Smith Autograph #FFA-LS
Greats of the Game might have the first certified Lee Smith autograph card, but it does not compare to the popularity for his Cubs autographs. While he has a great deal of Cubs fans, there are plenty of other baseball card collectors who grew up watching daytime Cubs games on WGN and also have an admiration for the fireman. Topps included the Hall of Fame closer in their 2003 Archives Fan Favorites set, which features an on-card autograph on the 1983 Topps design.
There are many newer Lee Smith autographs from more high-end products out there too, but this 2003 card has a special place with his collectors.
4. 1980 TCMA Wichita Aeros Lee Smith #12
TCMA put out dozens of minor league sets in 1980, all with a distinct red border. There were several important pre-rookie cards placed in these team sets, namely Reading Phillies infielder Ryne Sandberg and Wichita Aeros pitcher Lee Smith. While the TCMA minor league cards were produced in large numbers, the red borders and uneven cutting has made this Lee Smith card popular amongst graded collectors. In fact, raw copies of this card often fetch prices greater than any of Smith’s regular-issue rookie cards, with the rare high-grade copy costing even more.
3. 1982 Donruss Lee Smith RC #252
1982 Donruss was a greatly improved product over the company’s initial, error-filled set put out the year before. It was also the first set where Donruss used the “Diamond Kings” cards. All of these improvements and innovations enhanced this release, but the Hall of Fame rookie cards on the checklist add more appeal. The Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card has long been a hobby favorite and is the most important card in this set, but Lee Smith’s first-year card has picked up steam in recent years.
2. 1982 Fleer Lee Smith RC #603
The 1982 Fleer set also features the rookies of Cal Ripken Jr. and Lee Smith as its most popular cards. However, there is an extra wrinkle to the Lee Smith rookie card. The first two Fleer releases were filled with all sorts of error cards and the Lee Smith rookie in 1982 is one of the more notable ones. In this case, Fleer reversed the Cubs logo on the back of the card. Both the regular base card and error card are affordable Hall of Fame collectibles. The reversed logo edition does carry a slight premium.
1. 1982 Topps Lee Smith RC #452
1982 Topps has a distinct design featuring two parallel lines running down the left side of the card. This has made it one of the most recognizable sets from this era. Like the other Lee Smith rookie cards, this is a very affordable option, but its popularity has increased post-retirement as he has crept closer and closer to the Hall of Fame. The high-end grades of this card are scarce and carry a premium above and beyond the other Lee Smith rookies.