St. Louis Cardinals Forgotten Players: Remembering Bud Smith

ST. LOUIS - JUNE 25: Pitcher Bud Smith
ST. LOUIS - JUNE 25: Pitcher Bud Smith /

Bud Smith burst on the scene as a 21 year old rookie for the St. Louis Cardinals. Then, just over a year later, his time in the majors was done.

Today, former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bud Smith turns 38 years old. At this point, he was expected to be winding down an excellent career, likely having made several All Star appearances and having been amongst the better pitchers in the game. Instead, his career came to an end before it really began.

Selected by the Cardinals in the fourth round of the 1998 MLB Amateur Draft, Smith quickly rocketed through the system. By 2000, he had reached AAA, and heading into the 2001 season, was considered the 39th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. The Cardinals appeared to have a future ace on their hands.

After pitching well in AAA the previous year, Smith picked up where he left off in 2001. In his 17 outings in Memphis, he posted an 8-5 record, but with a 2.75 ERA. Called up to the majors, he pitched well for the Cardinals, and truly announced his presence during his outing against the Padres on September 3. He became the 16th rookie in baseball history to fire a no hitter, doing so after he had given up seven runs in 3.1 innings in his start before.

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Despite having only 16 major league appearances that year, Smith started Game Four of the NLDS, and pitched well as he earned the win. Overall that year, he posted a 6-3 record with a 3.83 ERA and a 1.217 WHiP, striking out 59 batters against 26 walks in 89.2 innings. He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year vote, and appeared to have a bright future.

Instead, that would be the highlight of his career. He had shoulder issues in Spring Training, and was shut down until May 7th. Smith bounced between Memphis and the majors, where he had a dreadful 1-5 record with a 6.94 ERA and a 1.854 WHiP. However, Smith was brilliant in AAA, posting a 3-0 record with a 2.13 ERA and a 1.211 WHiP in his 38 innings.

That strong showing in Memphis, along with his previous performance in 2001, were enough for the Phillies to trade for the young lefty. He was considered the key piece of the deal that sent Mike Timlin and Placido Polanco to Philadelphia in exchange for Scott Rolen and Doug Nickle. The Phillies thought they were getting their future ace, a dominant starter they could build around.

Instead, the Phillies quickly learned that Smith was damaged goods. He made only three appearances in AAA for the Phillies before being shut down with shoulder issues. In October, he underwent surgery for a torn labrum, possibly the result of his 134 pitch no hitter, or a sharp increase in innings that season.

Smith’s time with the Phillies quickly became a disaster. He started 2003 in the low minors, then struggled in AA before being shut down with another shoulder issue. The 2004 season was more of the same, although Smith showed flashes in Spring Training. However, another shoulder injury, and and his ineffectiveness at the higher levels of the minors led to the Phillies cutting bait at the end of the campaign.

From there, Smith spent another injury plagued season with the Twins. he pitched in three games in AAA, but required yet another shoulder surgery. After two seasons in the independent Golden Baseball League, Smith ended his career, moving on to coaching high school baseball. His career was over at just 27 years old.

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Bud Smith was supposed to be a star for the St. Louis Cardinals, and certainly appeared to be on his way to fulfilling that destiny. Unfortunately, his no hitter, which appeared to be the coronation of the new king on the mound, was the beginning of the end.