“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”
Reggie Smith was a rookie in 1967 when the Boston Red Sox came back from a ninth-place finish to craft an extraordinary pennant-winning season. The All-Star caliber major league career he completed in 1982 was a great success that has been muddied by other people's expectations (too
high) and Smith's media profile (too low). Smith batted with power and average from both sides of the plate, was a fine center fielder, had superior base-running speed, and had a legendary throwing arm that may have been the best of his era. In the argot of the game, he was a
"five-tool player." He took a scientific, analytical approach to the game. His teammates describe him as a man who relentlessly learned to do new things and who strived to be great at everything he did. And the discerning Dick Williams, who managed him in Boston, places Smith on his
All-Dick Williams team, a team that includes players from 22 years of helmsmanship and five first-place teams, two of which won World Series. In his 8,050 career plate appearances, Smith produced an OPS+ of 137, batting 37% better than his league's averages, with a batting
average of .287, an on-base-percentage of .366, and a slugging percentage of .489. That OPS+ figure is tied for 91st all-time and through the 2005 season, only one switch hitter in baseball history, Mickey Mantle, ranks higher. He finished his career with 314 homers. He played in four
World Series, and in 81 plate appearances in the fall classic, pounded the ball for a .521 slugging percentage with six home runs; his three homers in the 1977 Series were overshadowed by Reggie Jackson's five-homer performance.
Williams inherited the sorry franchise's manager position and planned to install Smith in center field, but Smith's rookie campaign was not to start that way. Williams had also brought in Toronto's Mike Andrews to play second base. Andrews, however, injured his back and Smith started the
season by returning to his infield roots and playing second base for the team's first six games. The rookie made important contributions at the plate during the 1967 tussle for the flag though he was only a league-average batter that season (.246/.315/.389 marks for batting average,
on-base percentage and slugging average in 628 plate appearances). Through May 16, Smith managed only a .180 average and two homers in 89 at-bats and the team struggled, too, with a 13-15 mark that buried them in fifth place. Smith came on for the rest of the season, batting .258 with 13
homers while the team was playing 79-55 baseball. On August 20, the switch-hitter crushed a homer from each side of the plate to lead his team to a 12-2 pummeling of the California Angels. In the bottom of a scoreless first inning, he came up with two outs and Carl Yastrzemski and George
Scott on base. Facing starter George "Lefty" Brunet, Smith smoked a three-run homer as a right handed hitter, plating the runs that would stand up as the winners. In the sixth inning, with pinch runner José Tartabull on first base and the right-handed "Philly Pete" Cimino on the mound, Smith
stepped to the plate left-handed and knocked one out as a portsider, the first of six times in his career he achieved the feat of hitting a home run from each side of the plate in a single game. Smith hit for power in the 1967 World Series, slugging .542 with a pair of homers in his 26 plate
appearances (including two walks) while hitting for a .250 average.
In his first season with the Cardinals, 1974, he totaled his best offensive year yet, an OPS+ of 157 over 598 plate appearances. The 1975 and '76 seasons were more frustrating for the Cardinals. The team was tumbling into third place. Smith played about half his games at first base. In '76,
the team sagged further. The Redbirds front office people feared they might not be able to sign him as a free agent at the end of the season, so they traded him in June to his hometown team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers would prove to be the team that most benefited from
Smith's impact. In 1977, he was the team's offensive leader. The Dodgers won the pennant but lost the World Series to the Yankees, as they would the next season. Reggie Smith's 1978 campaign was close to his previous one; the league's numbers were down as were his. At the age of 33,
he'd started losing some of his range in the outfield, though his arm was still noteworthy around the league, and he was as close to well-known to casual fans as he would ever be. In mid-July of 1979, Smith was injured, an event that truncated his season. The 1980 season saw a great pick-up
in his offensive production. His season had ended as a useful player in July, getting no starts afterwards, and only one pinch-hitting and two pinch-running assignments. His career as a regular in the majors came to an end. In 1981, he got 44 plate appearances. At the end of that season, he
became a free agent and signed with the San Francisco Giants, where Frank Robinson was manager. In 1983, Smith played in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants and the 1984 season was his last, cursed with injuries to wrist, shoulder, and knee, though he still slugged over .500 in his 231 AB.