- March 17, 1965
- 6' 4"
- 180 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-01-1986 with PIT
John Smiley made the jump from A ball to the Pittsburgh Pirates late in the 1986 season. Smiley had initially been a starter in the minors, but was moved to the bullpen that season and had an impressive 93 strikeouts in 90 innings at Prince William. He saved 14 games and showed impressive stuff in his September call up. Jim Leyland chose him to make the club in spring training, 1987 as the team needed a lefty reliever. His rookie work was erratic, but Leyland used him in 63 games, a team record for a freshman.
Leyland and pitching coach Ray Miller were convinced that Smiley with his good fastball and power slider would be a successful major league starter and moved him into the rotation in 1988. The southpaw turned out to be one of the team’s most pleasant surprises going 13-11 with a 3.25 ERA. His victories included a one-hitter against Montreal and he pitched masterfully in a 1-0 loss to the New York Mets, the team the Pirates threatened for firstplace into August. One of the big differences in the 1988 Smiley from the 1987 version was his control. After struggling with his command as a rookie, Smiley exhibited excellent control as a starter and was devastating against lefthanders who batted only .159 against him for the year.
Smiley reduced his ERA to 2.81, seventh in the National League in 1989. Pitching for an injury depleted club, he went 12-8 and big things were hoped for in 1990. The southpaw was pitching well (3-3, 3.45 ERA) when he injured his pitching hand on May 19. When he returned from the disabled list six weeks later, he struggled and finished 9-10 with a 4.64 ERA and Leyland used him in mop up roles in the playoffs.
Smiley, described by those with the team as likeable, quiet and shy, came back strong in 1991 to have his best season. He tied Atlanta’s Tom Glavine for the league lead with 20 wins, becoming the first Pirate lefthander since John Candelaria in 1977 to win 20 games. Smiley’s 20-8 record gave him a .714 winning percentage, another figure good enough to share the league lead (with Cincinnati’s Jose Rijo). He ended the season with a seven game winning streak, picking up victory #20 on the last day of the season. Figuring to start Games 3 and 7, if necessary, in the NLCS, the hot pitcher appeared poised for a big post-season. Smiley did make his predicted starts, but lasted a total of just 2 2/3 innings, taking the loss in both games.
Even with his poor playoff, Smiley was looking forward to a long career in Pittsburgh and purchased a home just north of the city. However, Smiley would become eligible for free agency following 1992 and he was traded on his 28th birthday the following spring. The Pirates received Denny Neagle and Midre Cummings from the Twins in the deal. Neagle developed into a strong starting pitcher, but Cummings never lived up to his advanced billing as he was compared to a young Tony Oliva while he was in Minnesota’s organization. Smiley, for his part, won 16 games for the Twins in 1992, then, as the Pirates had feared, became a free agent. He went to Cincinnati and made the All-Star Team in 1995, then was traded to the Cleveland Indians for the stretch run in 1997. While warming up for a start against Kansas City late in the season, Smiley broke a bone in his left arm. After trying to rehab the arm for two years, Smiley received an invitation to the Pirates’ spring training in 2000, but his arm had still not healed well enough for him to pitch professionally again.
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