Wilmington Morning News - March 12, 1980
Smith may profit from Maddox’ contract problem
By Hal Bodley, Sports Editor
CLEARWATER, Fla. – A fellow walked up to Lonnie Smith yesterday morning and blurted, "Well, how does it feel now that your stock went up so much overnight?"
"You mean that they're not going to trade me to Baltimore?"
"No, that they are going to trade Garry Maddox and that you are in the centerfield picture," the visitor said.
"Well, that's all news to me," said the young rookie. "It does make things interesting, doesn't it? Really, though, I still have to prove myself, so I guess my situation really has not changed."
Ever since the Phillies signed Smith as their No. 1 draft pick in 1974, be has been lugging a 'can't miss' label around. The trouble is after four grueling years at Oklahoma City, people are wondering if the tag is becoming tarnished.
Lonnie Smith figures it's about time he made the varsity, but that's not news. He felt that way last spring and the spring before.
In fact, the 24-year-older who runs like a deer became so depressed last April he considered quitting baseball.
Now, the Phillies have a new manager and even before the news of Garry Maddox' contract impasse hit the papers, Lonnie Smith had a new outlook.
Several weeks ago Player Personnel Director Paul Owens told Manager Dallas Green that the Orioles would trade infielder Billy Smith to the Phils for Lonnie Smith. Owens dumped the decision in Green's lap.
"I have always been a Lonnie Smith man," said Green. "As far as I am concerned, he stays. I think he can help this ball club.
"In a lot of ways I think my situation is the same it has been down here," said Smith. "On the other hand, I never had the feeling Danny Ozark liked the way I played baseball. So, with Dallas now managing, I should get a better chance."
There were those who felt Ozark, convinced Smith could not cut it in the big leagues, tried to prove his point in last season's opener. He started Lonnie in right field and the experience was embarrassing for the rookie and the Phillies.
"I didn't think he tried to embarrass me," said Smith. "It's just that I had no chance to prepare for that start. I didn't have any inkling I was going to be in right field until I got to the ball park. I was nervous and not mentally prepared. I misjudged some balls and fell down once."
So, on April 26 it was back to Oklahoma City where he hit .330 and stole 34 bases. "I really don't feel I have to prove anything here," said Smith. “They say I can't hit up here. Well, the only way they are going to find out is to give me a chance. I think I can. I have to get out on the field and show them.
"I know I can play the outfield. The only concern I have about that is my arm. It comes and goes. The only way that can be changed is if I had a brand-new arm. I feel most comfortable playing left field, but I have played right field most of the time recently. I would like to play left because of my arm. It really doesn't matter."
After four years at the triple-A level, it's not unusual for a player to get a reputation of being a career minor leaguer. Smith is determined this will not happen to him.
"The fans down there are going to label you that way no matter what," said Smith. "There's not much you can do about it. People can learn to hate playing triple-A, but you keep at it because deep down you know you can make it.
"When I heard that I was a can't-miss big leaguer, I didn't believe it. I felt that I had the ability, but didn't think I was that close. To me a can't-miss big leaguer is a guy who can go into the game, hit 20-25 home runs a year, drive in 90 or a hundred runs. I am not that kind of a player. I'm a guy who hits for a decent average and steals a few bases."
At times, people have said Smith has a bad attitude. He shrugs when this is mentioned, but points out that there have been times when Ozark was not honest with him.
"With Danny I never felt comfortable," said Smith. "He doesn't like to use young players, except for pitchers. I never felt he had enough faith in me to play me. The day I was sent down last April I was told some things and to me they were outright lies. Anything after that I did not believe from Ozark. He told me I would learn to play right field, but from the first day I arrived, I was in center. He told me I'd be back up in a month, I didn't get back until September. At that point I almost felt like quitting."
EXTRA POINTS - The Phils will play a squad game today, then move from Carpenter Field to Jack Russell Stadium... There will be another squad game tomorrow, followed by the Grapefruit League opener Friday against Detroit… Steve Carlton will start for the Phillies... Maddox was still the center of attention yesterday, and reiterated he would like to stay with the Phils and "prove that I am worth what I am asking. Maybe if that happens they will reconsider."