Back in my younger days there was only one Reggie as far as I was concerned. Forget Reggie Jackson. Yeah, he was “Mr. October,” I’ll give him that, but my money was always on Reggie Smith. Pure switch hitter, one of the strongest arms in history and most importantly, a quiet superstar who let his bat do the talking for him. Not sure what it was but if I can pinpoint it I think it was that baseball card with him wearing that cool red St. Louis Cardinals uniform. I am a diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan but there was something about that Cardinals uniform that I always dug and Reggie wore it better than anyone.
Thing is Reggie only wore that red uniform for two and a half years (1974 to the middle of the 1976 season) but it was that 1975 Topps card that got me going. He debuted in 1966 with the Boston Red Sox (and came in second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1967) and spent the first eight seasons of his career with that team and while good, they were not his most productive years. His time in St. Louis was well spent. In 1974, his first year with the Cards, he hit 23 homers, had 100 runs batted in and batted .309. That was good enough to earn him 11th place in MVP voting. His first few years with his next team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, are when Reggie drove the point home (pun intended). In 1977 and 1978, he came in fourth in the MVP voting with a career-high 32 roundtrippers in ’77. Can you say underrated?
My favorite Reggie story doesn’t even directly involve Reggie. During the 1978 season the Dodgers were being the Dodgers (i.e. winning) but there was trouble in paradise. Their star pitcher, Don Sutton, had a serious distaste for their star slugger, Steve Garvey. One day Mr. Sutton made some public comments about how Reggie was the real MVP of that team, not the clean cut (yeah, right), All American star Garvey. One thing led to another and Garvey approached Sutton and asked if the comments were true. Sutton replied that yes, they were true. After a few more choice words Sutton then jumped on Garvey and threw him into a row of lockers and the two went down. Each was trying to land punches but both ended up getting more scratch marks than bruises and Garvey received the worst of it. The Garv got his ass handed to him (the only good thing about that guy was his wife, Cindy, who left him for ……umm….musician Marvin Hamlisch). Sutton’s quote said it all, “All you hear about on our team is Steve Garvey, the All-American boy. Well, the best player on this team for the last two years—and we all know it—is Reggie Smith. Reggie doesn’t go out and publicize himself he tells the truth, even if it sometimes alienates people. He doesn’t smile at the right people or say the right things. Reggie’s not a façade or Madison Avenue image. He’s a real person.”
With 314 lifetime home runs, 2020 hits, 1092 rbi and a .287 lifetime batting average Reggie probably will not make the Hall of Fame (my pal Keith would say he belongs in the “Hall of Good”) but let’s take a moment out to remember a guy who was a terrific ballplayer, played hard, and was respected by his peers. Plus he was indirectly responsible for Steve Garvey getting his butt whooped. You can’t ask for more than that.
Tim Hinely lives in Portland, Oregon where he publishes his own zine, Dagger. For a copy please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.