He Was a Giant? Reggie Smith By Tony the Tiger Hayes

Former Giants Jack Clark (22) and Reggie Smith (14) celebrate a big hit during their Candlestick Park days in San Francisco during the 1982 season (photo provided by Tony the Tiger Hayes)

He Was a Giant? Reggie Smith

By Tony the Tiger Hayes

When big league teams explore signing prospective free agents, one attribute you rarely see in scouting reports is: “plus ability to leap into stands and sock paying customer in the jaw.”

Yet that was all anybody was talking about when the Giants shockingly signed long-time Dodgers slugger (the term had dual meaning in this case) Reggie Smith, to a one-year $300,000 contract just prior to the start of spring training in 1982.

After missing a good portion of the previous two seasons with a shoulder injury, the seven time All-Star’s most recent headline grabbing event had come six months earlier when the eternally gruff Smith – sporting a satin, Dodgers blue warm-up jacket, a billowing Afro and a snarl – climbed into the stands during a game (9/24/81) at Candlestick Park to throttle an abusive heckler.

A 38-year-old fan sitting adjacent to the visitors dugout had spent most of the game verbally deriding the Dodgers from his perch.

Nothing unusual about that. But when the guy upped the hectoring to a new level by whipping a plastic souvenir batting helmet in Smith’s direction, the muscular Dodger lost it.

In the wink of an eye Smith was up in the stands and working over the besotted punter with an impressive one-two combo. For several moments the boiling-mad Dodger mixed it up with the offending belligerent blowhard and a bunch of his boozed-up buddies before city cops broke up the brouhaha.

Smith, who was ejected from the game and later fined $5,000, left the field enveloped within a battalion of San Francisco Police officers. At least two beer bottles were thrown in Smith’s direction as he made his way down the right field line to the Los Angeles clubhouse.

This would be the player the Giants would soon introduce as their new starting first baseman.

Why Was He a Giant?

After coming up short three previous times in World Series action – Boston (1967) and Los Angeles (1977-78) – Smith was finally a member of a World Championship club in 1981 when the Dodgers up ended the Yankees in the Fall Classic.

But the ‘81 world’s title season had left a bitter taste for Reggie. Unlike his previous World Series experiences in which he was knee deep in the action, Smith rode the pine in the ‘81 Fall Classic, generating just a pair of measly pinch-hit at-bats.

The World Series was a frustrating extension of Smith’s ‘81 regular season. Due to a slow to heal shoulder injury, Reggie had been a forgotten man and hardly saw the field during the Dodgers strike abbreviated ‘81 campaign.

Permanently replaced in the Dodgers lineup by young slugger Pedro Guerrero, the fiercely-proud Smith spent the season on the bench counting down the days to his impending free-agency.

Smith’s relationship with the Dodgers had been deteriorating since 1979 when he said he was “lied to” by the Dodgers, claiming the club had reneged on a contract promise. Dodgers executive Al Campanis shot back, calling Smith a “disruptive influence.”

After the ‘81 season, Smith, who never exactly fit the Dodgers Hollywood rah-rah image, was free to choose his own path. But not many teams were were beating down the doors to invest in a soon to be 37-year-old outfielder, who hadn’t actually played the outfield in close to two years.

The Yankees were interested in signing Smith as a full-time designated hitter. But the macho ball player had long felt that DH-ing was emasculating. Also, given his previous torturous experience of playing in Boston, Smith wanted nothing to do with the East Coast.

So, despite his recent run-ins with the Creatures of Candlestick, San Francisco was at the top of his destination list.

He brushed off any lingering resentment from the fight in the stands.

“That incident occurred because I was doing well against the Giants,” Smith lectured the press. “So if I do well for the Giants there shouldn’t be a problem.”

Smith couldn’t help himself from tacking on: “But, I don’t play for the fans, anyway.”

Smith rattled off some of the reasons he longed to sport the Orange & Black:

The Bay Area’s close proximity to his L.A. home. A chance to play for the like-minded, hard-nosed manager Frank Robinson. And his belief that the Giants were a franchise on the come.

But everyone knew the unspoken driving force behind Smith’s Golden Gate longings was the fact that the Giants offered the best opportunity to aggrieve the shabby treatment he believed he received in his waning days as a Dodger.

As it turned out in his one-year as a Giant, Smith rarely passed on a opportunity to skewer his former club. With San Francisco Smith batted an even .300 vs. L.A. (15-for-50) and played in more games against his former club (16) than he did against any other team.

Overall, Smith enjoyed a fantastic season with San Francisco. In 106 games, Smith batted .284 with 18 home runs and 54 RBI. He was a finalist for ‘82 NL Comeback Player of the Year, but lost out to Giants teammate Joe Morgan.

Smith also crushed career home run No. 300 as a Giant, taking Cardinals right-hander Dave LaPoint deep in a 8-3 loss at Candlestick Park (5/25/82).

With San Francisco, Smith was far from a “disruptive influence” in fact he and fellow veteran star Joe Morgan often acted as on-field coaches for a resurgent Giants club that burned rubber down the tail end of the ‘82 season, falling just just two games short of a division title.

Of course Smith may have been the happiest guy in the Giants clubhouse when Morgan hit his walk off homer off the Terry Forster to spoil the Dodgers post-season dreams on the last day of the season.

Before & After

Despite is prowess as a ferocious power hitter and run producer – Smith typically took a backseat to more colorful and media friendly players in baseball during his career.

Though his career numbers are comparable to some Hall of Fame inductees, Smith – his 314 career long ball are third most by a switch hitter – he’s never been a serious candidate for Cooperstown induction.

A good portion of Smith’s career drama stemmed from his perceived image as a surly loner. And to be fair, Smith never went out of the way to portray a warm and fuzzy image.

But, on the other hand, who could blame Smith if at times he felt like a one-man band.

During his seven years with Boston, Smith established himself as a productive switch-hitter with power – cracking 149 long balls for the Red Sox. But despite his consistent production at the plate, Smith was never comfortable in New England.

As the Bosox’s first full-time black star, the fiercely independent Smith was often in the bullseye of unrelenting criticism. Disturbingly the constant panning was often tinged with racial overtones.

Critiques of his style of play came from all directions: fans, the press, team management and on one occasion, even teammate Carlton Fisk who dinged Smith for his attitude.

Smith’s stoic demeanor was interpreted as aloofness by many. Smith was accused of not running hard on routine plays and of being unwilling to play though injuries.

The Boston vitriol became so intense that the center fielder began wearing a batting helmet in the field to protect himself from projectiles (batteries, bottles, coins) hurled his way.

In 1973, Smith went AWOL from Fenway Park after leaving during the second inning of one game in which he was jeered for failing to run out a double play grounder and letting a routine fly ball drop. Smith said his cranky knees prevented him from doing his best.

Smith was fined and suspended by the team.

After Smith was traded to St. Louis after a miserable 1973 Red Sox season. The Cardinals provided Smith a respite from the Boston drama and he played very well in the shadows of the Gateway Arch.

Smith loved the more aggressive style of National League ball and established himself as one of the league’s performers, batting .300 in back-back seasons in 1974-75. He was named to the All-Star team each season, slugging a home run in the ‘74 All-Star Game.

But after a listless start to the 1976 season, Smith was on the move again – this time he was homeward bound to Los Angeles.

The Dodgers would be the perfect fit for Smith. With the slugger dropped into the heart of L.A.’s already made to win lineup, the Dodgers overtook Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, and won the NL Pennant in 1977-78.

In ‘77, Smith was one of four Dodgers to clobber at least 30 home runs on the year.

Smith went off in the 1977 World Series bopping three home runs. Alas he was over-shadowed by another Reggie – Mr. October – Reggie Jackson, who crushed five long balls, including three in his iconic series Game 6 performance.

At age 35, Smith’s right shoulder gave out when he torn the capsule in the joint in August of 1980 and would not play the rest of that season. In 1981 Smith did not start a single game, appearing in just two games in the field.

After his one year sojourn with the Giants, Smith went overseas to play for the Yominuri Giants of Japan. Though Smith feasted on Japanese pitching, he faced some of the same prejudices that he experienced in Boston.

He Never Had a (Giants) Bobblehead Day. But…

After a season of inactivity, more than a few pundits wondered if Smith could still sting big league pitching when he joined the Giants in 1982.

But in his first official game as a Giant – played coincidentally at Dodger Stadium – Smith quickly shutdown any talk that he had lost any bat speed when he batted 2-for-3 and scored a run in an opening night 4-3 loss. (4/6/82).

“You don’t forget how to hit,” Smith commented. “I could hit in a snowbank.”

That season Smith would play his home games in a ball park that was about a cozy as a snowbank.

But Smith did fantastic at Candlestick, batting .279 and swatting 10 of his 18 home runs in the meat locker-like environments of the old concrete bowl.

In one of his more memorable games as a Giant, Smith swatted a walk-off pinch home run to lead San Francisco to a 5-4 come from behind victory over the Mets at the ‘Stick (4/31/82)

After swinging and missing two pitches from Neil Allen, Smith clocked a screaming liner in the Candlestick Park right field seats for a dramatic three-run homer to give the Giants a 5-4 victory 4/31/82).

“I’m up there to take three swings – whatever happens, happens,” Reggie said afterwards. “I’ve been there before.”

In another thriller, Smith, had four hits and a walk, leading the Giants to a comeback 7-6 win over visiting Houston (8/6/82).

Smith and Jack Clark who each homered earlier in the contest, led off the ninth with back-to-back round trippers off reliever Dave Smith. Darrell Evans then drove home the winning run with a pinch single.

After his ninth inning blast the crowd kept chanting “Reggie, Reggie, Reggie” until Smith popped out of the dugout for a rousing curtain call.

It was a slap-on -the -back compliment unlike any other Smith had received in his career.

Giant Footprint

The intense Giants and Dodgers rivalry has produced some of the most notorious fights in baseball history. But those brawls have typically taken place on the field – naturally between the players.

But beginning in the late 1970s, a good portion of the brawling during Giants/Dodgers games was being staged in the grand stands.

Where once Juan Marichal was tearing after John Roseboro with a Louisville Slugger, Gene the Giants Groupie was going dukes up with Donnie the Dodger Devotee.

The increase in fan fisticuffs dates back to the Dodgers hiring of Tommy Lasorda as manager in 1977 and an influx of transplanted Dodgers fans in the Bay Area.

By the mid-1970s, kids who grew in Southern California as first generation L.A. Dodgers fans had began migrating north for work and school.

Things did not go well when they visited Candlestick Park and rubbed the Dodgers success and abundance of riches in the faces of fans of the then threadbare Giants.

The heat was really turned up on the rivalry after the vociferous Tommy Lasorda took over as L.A. skipper, replacing the staid Walter Alston.

The rotund head Dodgers cheerleader was more than willingly to fan the flames of the rivalry by talking up his nonsense about the “Big Blue Dodger” and entering the field of play at the ‘Stick by blowing kisses to agitated Giants fans as if he were a professional wrestling heel.

With stadium beer flowing like a bathtub spigot it didn’t take much to get tensions sparked up in the ‘Stick stands.

But Smith’s 1981 rumble was something never seen before: a fight between player and fan.

Tensions had been tightener than usual that night after Giants starter Tom Griffin hit a Dodgers batter earlier in the game.

According to Smith, who was not in the lineup and spent the game standing to the right of the dugout, he and a few Giants fans had been verbally jousting in jest most of the game.

But things began turning ugly in the late innings as the alcohol consumption and the Dodgers lead increased.

The ribbing began taking more of a personal nature.

Smith explained after the game:

“The guy tells me, ‘if I come down on the field my company will lose a $40,000 employee. And if I break your arm the Dodgers might lose the pennant race.’

“I told him I kind of doubted it. Then he threatened to throw his helmet at me and I said, ‘Now that could get me in there.’ Then he whisked it at me, and I went in.”

Giants manager Frank Robinson said the whole ugly affair could have been avoided. He blamed the Dodgers manager.

“It was all Lasorda’s fault. If he gets his players back in the dugout where they belong no one is out there for the fans to yell at,” Robinson lectured. “Lasorda’s too damn interested in the TV cameras and the press box to do his job right.”

The San Francisco Police ended up filling up a paddy wagon with about a half dozen fans and carted them off to the city lock-up.

Smith did not join them at the gray bar hotel, despite apparently landing the most punches.

“I got in my licks,” Smith said post-game. “It was very dangerous because he had friends. But I took my chances. He threw the first punch and missed. I didn’t. One of his friends got me. He paid for it, too. Another guy with glasses took a shot at me too. He’s not wearing glasses anymore.”

Tony the Tiger does He was a Giant? features after Tuesday home games at http://www.sportsradioservice.com