Quickly, name the Top 4 players who made their Major League Baseball debut in 1978…At the time, the biggest name that year was 3rd baseman Bob Horner, straight out of
and into the Atlanta Braves starting lineup. There’s Ozzie Smith, future HOFer and who started out with the San Diego Padres. There’s Pedro Guerrero of the Los Angeles Dodgers and how about Lonnie Smith…who came up with the Philadelphia Phillies at the age of 22. A first round pick in 1974, Lonnie Smith’s first appearance in a game was September 2, 1978 against the San Francisco Giants, (he came in as a pinch runner for Bull Luzinski), and his career ended 17 years later with the Baltimore Orioles. Arizona State University
In between, Lonnie played in 5 World Series, and in 1980, he helped bring the crown to The City of Brotherly Love for the first time. In the '82 Series, Smith batted .321 with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cards beat the Brew Crew (Milwaukee Brewers) in 7 games. He was back again in 1985 and this time Lonnie Smith was facing the St.Louis Cardinals as a member of the Kansas City Royals. Smith batted .333 and help Kansas City take the title. Smith was back again in The Fall Classic with Atlanta Braves in 1991 against the Minnesota Twins and tasted defeat for the first time as the Twins beat the Braves in 7 games. Although Smith led the Braves with 3 home runs in The World Series, he will forever be remembered for his base running blunder in the 8th inning of Game 7 with the score tied 0-0 that cost the Braves the Championship. (The Twins behind an outstanding pitching performance by Jack Morris, won the game and the Series in the 10th inning, 1-0.) The following year, Lonnie and the Braves lost again in the World Series, this time against the Toronto Blue Jays in six games.
I caught up with “Skates,” (a nickname given to Smith for his inability to keep his footing when running around the bases), recently and chatted around with him about some random topics…the results are as follows:
Around The Horn: Toughest Pitcher you ever faced…
Funny, people would think, a flame thrower…Like Nolan Ryan. Well, I hit Nolan Ryan. He only struck me out once. Toughest guys for me to hit…Charlie Leibrandt, Greg Maddux…guys who mixed things up and could hit the corners. Those guys kept me off balance. Now, I’m not saying Nolan Ryan was a piece of cake…When he got the ball up, he was unhittable. Oh, and I better not forget Dennis Eckersley…That was another guy that gave me a tough time. His motion, and he could bring it – he was deceptively fast.
Ryan didn’t like guys that crowded the plate…he hated it. He came at you inside…I remember Tim Johnson – he hit him, and took a chunk of meat off.
ATH: What about Tom Seaver…
I faced Seaver late in his career…so I didn’t get his best stuff. But he kept you off balance and he kept the ball low. I would compare him to Maddux. (Greg Maddux)
I will tell you – I am not so sure those radar guns today are accurate. I mean you got guys throwing 95…98…100…and hitters are pulling those guys…I mean cmon. I will tell you, I couldn’t imagine facing guys like Gibson, Seaver in their prime…
ATH: Talk about Jack Morris, the Twins Ace, who beat the Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series (Lonnie played left field for the Braves) …
He was good – good movement. Would spot the ball from corner to corner…But I did well off of Morris. The thing I liked about Morris – I could steal off of him. He had such a deliberate motion…I could always get a good job off of Morris. Funny, one time, Kirk Gibson ran up to me and said…"Lonnie, you love when you face Morris don’t you…cause when you get on first, it’s a matter of time before you steal second."
ATH: You played for Bobby Cox and the
Braves from '88 to '92...how was it playing for Cox... Atlanta
Playing for Bobby Cox was good – first of all, Bobby and the Braves organization gave me a second chance after my issues with the Royals put me on the Black List. Bobby’s style was – I am going to let you play. If you play well, you continue to play…if you don’t, I am going to bench you. Simple as that.
ATH: And your time with the Cardinals…
I really enjoyed my time in St.Louis, (1982 - 1985) – in fact, I was real upset when I got traded. (Smith was traded to Kansas City after playing 28 games for the Cardinals in 1985.) I really liked it there – I had a good group of guys on that team. Oberkfell, Hendrick, Herr, Porter, McGee, Ozzie…Whitey was our manager. I mainly batted leadoff, but when I was in a grove…Whitey put me in the 3rd spot.
ATH: What are your thoughts about how things are going in
with Posada, Jeter, and all the drama about their playing time and how they are being treated… New York
It’s tough when you are at the end of your career…but you should see it coming. I mean, late in my career, I saw the writing on the wall in Spring Training…I was getting less and less at bats – I think it was 20 atbats and I knew I wasn’t going to be starting that year.
If you know about it early in the season, I think it is easier – I think then, you have time to prepare. It is tough – no one wants to be told that they can’t do it anymore. Nobody!