Philadelphia Daily News - December 2, 1980

Lonnie Spurned, and Howe!

 

By Bill Conlin

 

Lonnie Smith hit 339 and stole 33 bases. Just think of what the kid could have done if he hadn't spent half the season on the bench.

 

When his National League peers voted him the Sporting News Rookie of the Year, it looked like the fleet Phillies outfielder would run off with all the post-season yearling awards.

 

But the Phillies' string of honors came to a screeching halt last night. The Baseball Writers Association of America announced its Rookie of the Year and the winner was Steve Howe, the Dodgers' splendid left-handed short reliever. Smith finished third in the balloting behind Expos righthander Bill Gullikson.

 

The Phillies had previously swept the Cy Young Award (Steve Carlton), MVP (Mike Schmidt), and placed Carlton, Schmidt and Manny Trillo on various all-star teams. In addition, Schmidt and Garry Maddox added to their growing collection of Gold Gloves.

 

SMITH'S FAILURE to win the BBWAA Rookie prize raised some hackles and eyebrows locally. Channel 6 sportscaster Don Tollefson suggested on the air that it was another attempt by the national media to discredit the Phillies.

 

That sounds good, but it won't wash. The same 24 writers – two in each National League city – who made Schmidt the second unanimous winner in the history of the MVP award also voted for Rookie of the Year. There is no separate ballot for the rookie award. It is tacked on the bottom of the MVP ballot and writers serving on the MVP committee are instructed to vote for both categories.

 

It is difficult to indict 24 guys who saw Schmidt as the MVP for failing to vote for Smith. There could have been a backlash effect working against Lonnie, however. Human nature being what it is, some electors may have found it difficult to give first-place votes to two members of the same team on one ballot.

 

Whatever, Smith certainly didn't have a Schmidt-sized lock on the award. Howe and Gullikson were formidable candidates and lack of playing time could have worked against Lonnie.

 

Howe was Tommy Lasorda's left-handed short man from opening day after coming to spring training out of a half season in Double A ball as a longshot to even make the 25-man roster. He led the Dodgers with 17 saves and compiled a 2.65 ERA.

 

GULLIKSON, a diabetic, was in the Expos five-man rotation most of the season and responded with a 10-5 record. He also broke a National League rookie record for strikeouts when he blew away 18 Cubs.

 

Smith had only 298 official at bats and didn't get a chance to establish his brilliance as an everyday player until Greg Luzinski went on the DL with an August knee injury which required minor surgery. He made the most of the opportunity, though, giving the Phillies their most productive all-around offensive play by a leadoff man since Rich Ashburn, the player whose rookie stolen base record he shattered in just over a half season of full-time playing.

 

"I was hoping I'd win it," Smith said last night from his home in Spartanburg, S.C. "But I'm not that disappointed. I figured it might be tough when I heard how Bryant Gumbel was promoting Howe and Gullikson on TV during the playoffs."

 

(BBWAA electors were required to have their Cy Young and MVP ballots postmarked by midnight on the final day of the regular season, so any TV lobbying during the post-season was irrelevant.)

 

SMITH FIGURES one out of two ain't bad, particularly when the rookie award he won was conferred by his peers.

 

"Your own teammates aren't allowed to vote for rookies on their own team," Smith said. "So it means a lot more that the rest of the players in the National League thought I was worthy of the award than if the award was given by writers."

 

The real shocker was that both Smith and Gullikson were excluded from seven ballots.

 

"That really surprises me," Lonnie said. "I can see not winning, but I can't see not being in the top three on seven ballots."

 

(Voters must fill in their MVP and Cy Young choices one through 10, but only three spaces are provided for Rookie of the Year. Since Ron Oester, Billy Smith, Jeff Riordan, Al Holland, Leon Durham and the Phillies' Bob Walk all received votes, it's easy to see how Smith and Gullikson were left off seven ballots. Hell, Howe didn't make two ballots.)

 

"I've got the one prize I really wanted and that's a World Series ring," Smith said.

 

HE JUST BANKED a World Series check for S34.000 and change, a nice reward in itself.

 

"I just bought my wife a new Buick Riviera out of it," Lonnie said. "She was after me to buy her a new car."

 

If Smith had won the award it would have been the second biggest sports story of the day in South Carolina.

 

"You can't believe how excited everybody down here is about George Rogers winning the Heisman Trophy," Smith said. "That's how I heard about Howe being Rookie of the Year – between George Rogers stories."

 

SMITH IS ENJOYING the life of a country gentleman, working around the house and enjoying his family. He'll start working out as soon as he and A's catcher Tim Hosely can line up facilities at a college in the area.

 

"It gets a little too cold and rainy down here in the winter to do much outside," Lonnie said. "Me and my wife have come up with some items – stationary bike, rowing machine, things I can work out on around the house. I've appeared at a couple of high school banquets in the area and I have a few banquet appearances lined up in the Philly area a little later in the winter."

 

Before we know it, Christmas will be a memory and the Phillies will be in Clearwater preparing to defend their World Series title. The 1981 role of Lonnie Smith, who must play more no matter what Paul Owens does next week at the winter meetings in Dallas, will be one of the big Clearwater stories.

 

 

"I'm not thinking much about that now," he said. "I'll just let things take care of themselves, do my best and hope something breaks for me. The big thing is for us to go out and win another world championship. That's been the highlight of my life and I'd like to have that feeling again. There's nothing like it."