Philadelphia Inquirer - June 13, 1980

The vigil of Lonnie Smith


Suddenly he’s playing – to lure a pitcher?


By Danny Robbins, Inquirer Staff Writer


For the first time in his career, Lonnie Smith has seen his name in the Phillies' starting lineup for an entire scries. The name stood out in the clubhouse because it was the only one on the board that was hand-lettered with a felt-tip pen. And it stood out everywhere else because, at least for the moment, Lonnie Smith is something of a marked man.


If the Phillies do trade for another starting pitcher by Monday, chances are good they will have to give up one of their good, young backup players. Lonnie Smith – outfielder, 24 great speed, great potential – is the leading candidate, and he knows it.


He knows what people are saying as Paul Owens heads into the gun lap of his race to the wire as the June 15 trading deadline approaches (3 a.m. Monday in the East to match midnight on the Pacific Coast).


"The only rumor I've heard a lot of," Smith said, "is that the Phillies were interested in (Houston's Joaquin) Andujar, but not that much anymore. I've also heard that they were interested in (Pittsburgh's Bert) Blyleven."


Bert Blyleven? "Well, this is just some of the... I've heard. Also, I've heard about some pitcher with 'Frisco (Ed Halicki). I've heard so many stories."


The stories hit home because Smith is a fifth, albeit very fast, wheel with the Phillies. On most nights, he is going to sit and watch Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox and Bake McBride in the outfield, and he does not have the critical reserve status of 26-year-old Keith Moreland, the Phils' only back-up catcher and another guy going through the trade-talk grind.


Smith also has hit .364 (12 hits in 33 trips,to the plate) and not committed any major fielding gaffes during his first extended stay with the Phillies. He is coming off a .330 season with 34 stolen bases at Oklahoma City. And the Phillies could use another dependable starting pitcher, as Randy Lerch proved again Wednesday night against the Giants.


But remember, this is Dallas Green's team. Dallas Green likes what he is seeing in his bullpen. Dallas Green says Bob Walk is improving. Dallas Green says there is hope for Nino Espinosa and Warren Brusstar. Dallas Green is not crazy about the pitchers now available to the Phillies through trades. And Dallas Green, former director of minor-league operations, says he still believes in young guys like Lonnie Smith.


"I still hold tight on that," he said. "We have to decide which road we want to go. I don't believe in giving up people in a panic.


“I've seen that (a trade geared to present needs that loses players of the future) happen too many times, and it leads to disaster. This baseball tcam is supposed to be a good baseball team, and it's supposed to be a winner. I told you we'd give them another chance to win it with this talent. I don't think wholesale changes at this stage would be right.


"I'm not going to panic. We're over .500 (27-24 after losing two of three to the Giants), we're still in the race, and I've still got a job. Whitey Herzog (who just replaced Ken Boyer in St. Louis) is no longer around, so that eliminates one problem."


But it is still an unsettling time for Smith. He started in right field for McBride, out with a cold, in all three games of the Giants' series, going 3-for-12 in the leadoff spot. He also started in center field last Friday night, a night when Maddox and catcher Bob Boone were rested after an open date.


"Keith Moreland said we might have been 'showcased' on that particular evening," Smith said. "That was just some of the talk going around then. It doesn't bother me. I just come to the park and play."


On that particular evening, Smith knocked out a single, a double and a triple, scored two runs and was fine in center field, where he could wind up playing someday – somewhere besides Philadelphia.


"I look at it this way," he said of the trade possibilities. "There's absolutely nothing I can do about it. If the Phillies want me, I'll stay. But if they feel they have to trade me for a starting pitcher well, what can I do? I don't have any say in the matter. I don't have one of those contracts where I could veto a trade or something.


"I'm not into this for myself, anyway. I want my wife to be happy. I want my son to be happy. I want to do the best I can for them, and maybe a trade would do that. I don't know. do know one thing for sure: I'd rather play up here than in AAA."


Smith opened last season with the Phillies. He even started in last year's home opener, in one of Danny Ozark's stranger moves, and had an awkward night in right field. Eventually, he was back in Oklahoma City ("It's hot, it's got too many tornado warnings and the travel stinks," he said).


He came north again this April to stay, but also sit. He became depressed and found himself spending a lot of time on the telephone to his wife Pearl, back home in Spartanburg, S. C. He even missed Oklahoma City.


"There were times," Smith said, "when I wanted to go in and ask them (the Phillies) to send me down or get rid of me. I didn't feel comfortable sitting and watching people play. But whenever I felt that way, I'd go in and call my wife, and she helped me a lot."


Indeed, he is not pushing the fact that a trade away from Philadelphia could be his ticket to playing every day now.


"Maybe further down the line I'll feel that way," he said. "It is hard sitting on the bench. But this organization has been great to me. If this is what you have to do in your first or second year, that's OK. I don't want to do anything or say anything that I might regret. In a year or two, if I feel I'm not needed here, it will be different."


But, first, he must make it to Monday.


NOTES: The Phillies are a disappointing 3-3 on this home stand, which ends with three games against the San Diego Padres.... Mike Schmidt has one hit in his last 14 at-bats, and he has not hit a homer on this home stand.