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Reggie Smith

Reggie Smith

Position(s):
CF, OF, 2B, LF, RF, 1B, DH, 3B
Born:
April 2, 1945
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Right
Height:
6'
Weight:
180 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-18-1966 with BOS
Allstar Selections:
1968 GG

An ambidextrous, all-state high school football and baseball player from California, Smith had a tryout with Houston at Dodger Stadium his senior year, but signed with Minnesota as a shortstop in 1963. Left unprotected by the Twins after his first pro season, the strong-armed switch-hitter was drafted by the Red(`-h)h)h)Sox, who made him an outfielder. As a rookie, he helped Boston to the 1967 pennant and homered twice in the World Series. A fixture from 1967 through 1973 in potent Fenway outfields, first in center, later in right, he batted .300 three times and won a Gold Glove in 1968 when he led AL outfielders in putouts. In 1968 and 1971, he topped the league in doubles.

Traded to St. Louis with Ken Tatum for Rick Wise and Bernie Carbo in October 1973, Smith had two All-Star seasons for the Cardinals in 1974 and 1975. He hit three HR in a May 22, 1976 game before moving on to the Dodgers in June. On the way to the 1977 NL pennant, Smith, Steve Garvey, Dusty Baker, and Ron Cey became the first four teammates in baseball history to each hit 30 or more HR; Smith hit a career-high 32. He was a major factor in the Dodgers' 1978 league title, hitting a club-high 29 HR, and adding three HR in the WS loss to New York.

Shoulder, neck, knee, and ankle injuries plagued Smith in his final four ML seasons. He batted .284 as a Giants first baseman in 1982 before signing to play in Japan. He retired second to Mickey Mantle in HR by a switch-hitter; as the only switch-hitter with 100 HR in each the AL and NL; and as the only player to homer from both sides of the plate in a game twice in each league. Only Smith and Frank Robinson appeared in WS and All-Star Games for both leagues.


Japan

Reggie Smith was contacted by the Yomiuri Giants in 1982 but instead went to the San Francisco Giants when Yomiuri refused to disclose finances in detail. The next season Yomiuri offered Smith three cars and a million-dollar contract, more than doubling what San Francisco had been paying. They also allowed Smith to become the first player in Yomiuri history to have facial hair or a long hair-style (Reggie had an Afro at the time).

It was obvious from the get-go that Reggie's personality was too different from the Japanese norm. He got into arguments with coaches like Isao Shibata and criticized pitchers who would not offer him a pitch in the strike zone. In April of 1983, he injured his knee while sliding and was relegated to the bench for almost two months, earning him the media moniker "Million-Dollar Bench-warmer". While unable to play the field, Smith was used as a pinch-hitter. One game he was in the on-deck circle when the batter doubled. He told manager Motoshi Fujita to let someone else bat instead, as he would be pitched around. Fujita agreed but the media made it into a scandal and called for Smith's release. The argument was made that Smith was encouraging Americans to look down on Japan and was not taking Japanese culture, baseball or business seriously. Additionally, Smith was the target of many racial insults, especially from Hanshin Tigers fans.

While Smith hit well after he was healed, he also struck out a lot and became known as the "Giant Human Fan". He also started to criticize the umpires; like many other gaijin he felt that they employed a double standard, using a larger strike zone for foreign players. Once Reggie intentionally struck out to drive home his point, drawing more criticism for a lack of effort.

In August 1983, Smith donned his uniform backwards with the help of his teammates. He then ran backwards onto the field, stunning the assembled crowd and infuriating his coaches further. When he was ordered off the field and prevented from taking batting practice by Shibata, he came back to hit a 3-run homer that game.

Also that month he became the target of inside pitching by the Hiroshima Carp. Manabu Kitabeppu started a brawl with back-to-back high-and-inside pitches to Smith, for which Reggie got all the blame. Before one game Smith (through an interpreter) addressed the Carp bench, telling them not to throw any more beanballs or insult him. They did not challenge Reggie, who hit a crucial 3-run homer in a win that helped the Giants pull away from Hiroshima in the pennant race. Legendary Giants owner Matsutaro Shoriki said that Yomiuri would not have won the pennant without Smith and said that a million dollars was a low price for what Reggie had contributed on the field.

Overall Reggie hit .285/.409/.627 with 28 long balls in just 263 AB. He had fanned 61 times and drew 51 walks, for a Three True Outcomes Percentage of 43.3%. He would have led the league in slugging had he gotten enough plate-appearances to qualify for that title.

At age 39, Smith's abilities declined rapidly. He hit .255/.342/.511 in 1984 with 66 K and 17 HR in 231 AB. He injured his wrist, shoulder and knee that season, following a slew of injuries in the US. He also knocked out one Hanshin fan who had been vocal in his racist insults. The next day a gang of Tigers fans attacked Reggie and his son, Reggie Smith Jr. He was charged with and cleared of assault for this latter incident.

While Smith was very critical of Japanese baseball (calling it 50 years behind the times and forced labor), he incorporated some of Sadaharu Oh's methods into his coaching with the Los Angeles Dodgers after his retirement. He became close friends with Yomiuri star Tatsunori Hara and thought very highly of Oh.

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