Those who swear by the powder include major league sluggers Brady Anderson, Edgar Martinez and Gary Sheffield; members of the 1996 U.S. Olympic women's volleyball team; and three fourths of the San Francisco 49ers. Many use it to work out, saying it helps build muscle mass and stave off fatigue. But some doctors and trainers believe it may predispose athletes to cramping and dehydration, and warn that no studies on its long-term effects have been conducted. Says Mark Asanovich, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' strength and conditioning coach, "It sounds scientific. It's so-called natural. But that doesn't necessarily make it good."
He was a relief pitcher of distinctive rhythms: deep, snoring naps in the bullpen that stretched through a game's first five innings; languid ninth-inning strolls to the mound that tested the patience of even the most unalloyed baseball purists; an endless, silky windup that uncoiled fastballs that until recent years hit 100 mph. On July 15 in Miami, Lee Smith, whose 478 saves make him baseball's career leader, decided he had had enough of the game. Even though the 39-year-old righthander had made good on five of six save opportunities this season, he asked Montreal Expos general manager Jim Beattie to scrawl out a letter of resignation for him and then signed it in his hotel room before heading home to Castor, La., and closing out a career that had taken him to eight teams in 18 seasons.
"Maybe he heard the fish were biting back home," said Expos first baseman David Segui. "Knowing Lee, that would be something he'd want to attend to."
Smith sometimes took four pitches to warm up for a save, but he needed six years to warm up to baseball. "What's a Chicago Cub?" he asked after the Wrigleyites chose him in the 1975 draft. Basketball was his first love—he averaged 32 points his senior season at Castor High—and he harbored dreams of playing professionally until '81, when his knees started to go. By '83 Smith had become one of baseball's most intimidating relievers. "I don't run from anybody," slugger Dusty Baker said that year. "But the general opinion around the National League is that you're in no real hurry to get to him."
Nor was he in any hurry to get to them. Asked once by Cubs manager Dallas Green why he walked to the mound so slowly, the 6'6" Smith replied, "I don't see anyone running out to face Mike Schmidt. They can't do anything until I get there."
The suddenness of Smith's departure seems at odds with the deliberateness that marked his career. When he got to the ballpark last Tuesday, Beattie said, "The retirement letter of the major league saves leader is hand-written. Somehow, it doesn't seem right." But there was a felicity to that: Smith made 1,016 relief entrances at his own pace; his leave-taking, too, was at a speed of his choosing.
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