Spring training article on 24-year-old rookie Lonnie Smith. In spring training of 1978, Smith was given the chance to be a part-time player with the Phils, but decided to stay an everyday player in the minors, thus being ensared in Danny Ozark's doghouse. Smith, of course, would fill in admirable for Greg Luzinski, and help the Phillies win the championship.
|From the March
22, 1980 edition of The Doylestown Daily Intelligencer:
Lonnie Smith: He Won't Refuse When He's Asked To Stay This Time
By Paul Giordano, Intelligencer Reporter
CLEARWATER, FLA. - This time Lonnie Smith won't say no. When Dallas Green makes it official, which he's just about done, Smith will be more than willing to be part of the Phils' 25-man roster that heads north for the 1980 baseball season.
A few springs ago, Smith was the most exciting young player in camp. There was room on the roster for an extra outfielder and then-manager Danny Ozark was ready to make Smith a roster addition. But Smith said no.
"I knew that sometimes spring training statistics can be misleading and I didn't want to get up there too fast and possibly be overmatched, which could hurt me in the future," Smith said.
So, Smith returned to the minors. And he kept hitting and stealing and pleasing the front office people. But between that spring and this one, Smith's name was never really called at all. Sure he was up and down at the end of the season with all of the other minor league hopefuls, and did open with the big club last season, but he was never part of the team.
Danny Ozark, unlike Dallas Green, was not a Lonnie Smith man.
"Maybe I should have gone up that first time," Smith said the other day. "Maybe I did make the wrong decision. But I knew at that time I would only be used as a pinch-runner and as a late defensive replacement."
And Ozark didn't take Smith's rejection too kindly. It got so, Smith started to feel he was in the wrong organization.
"Sometimes I did feel like that," Smith said. "Guys I knew, guys I played with in the winter, were getting a chance and they were staying. Guys like Garry Templeton and Ozzie Smith. I thought I would get the same chance. But they got their chance a lot sooner."
Smith is out of options. He has to make it this year, or the Phils will lose the 24-year-old's potential. Green isn't going to let this happen.
"It makes me feel real good knowing someone has that kind of faith in me on this level," Smith said. "But people in the minors have always said I was going to make it, too. So I really don't know if I'm going to get a chance, or is it just the same things I've heard before."
Smith will make it this season. And, could very well be the starting centerfielder since the Phils and Garry Maddox are at odds over a new contract. The pupil may take over for the teacher.
"Garry has taught me a lot about playing center field, "Smith said. "He's shown me a lot of things and has helped a great deal. I know there's a chance I could be in center, but whether he goes or I do, we're going to remain friends."
Smith knows, too, under Green he will get his fair share of an opportunity to make the club.
"It is a lot to my advantage," Smith said. "I know under Dallas I will get a fairer shot than if Danny was still here."
According to the way it was, though, Green thought Ozark gave Smith a fair shot at the start of last season. He did start the rookie in right field on opening day."
But maybe it wasn't so fair. Smith had never played right field in his baseball career.
"From the day we broke camp I didn't feel I was part of the team," Smith said. "I knew I would only be used as a pinch-hitter or for defense in the late innings. Under Danny, it was the same with all the minor league players who came up. He did it to Jim Morrison and Rick Bossetti.
"Guys who could play in the majors never got a chance. Then, he started me in right field. He yanked me after a couple of innings, and I knew I wasn't part of the team. This year I feel I'm a player and not just a body to be used in certain situations."
After Ozark embarrassed Smith, at home, on opening day, it wasn't long after that the kid was shipped back to the minors. But he wasn't going to get the bitter opening stop him from getting to the majors.
Last season at Oklahoma City, Smith hit .330 and stole 34 bases. The year before he hit .315 and led the league with 64 stolen bases. He has averaged .306 and 39 steals in his minor league career.
"When he gets hot he can carry the ballclub," Lee Elia, Smith's manager at Oklahoma City, said. "He has the knack of making things happen when he's on base."
The Phils are basically letting Smith run on his own this spring. And, in his first game, along with going four-for-four at the plate, he did steal three bases.
You can bet he won't say no this time. In fact, he won't even be asked. Lonnie Smith is with the Phillies to stay.