Former Major League outfielder Reggie Smith has the distinction of both playing for and coaching under Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda, who passed away Thursday at the age of 93.
Smith and Lasorda worked together for 10 years, including 2000, when Lasorda guided the U.S. National Team to the gold medal
Former Major League outfielder Reggie Smith has the distinction of both playing for and coaching under Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda, who
Smith and Lasorda worked together for 10 years, including 2000, when Lasorda guided the U.S. National Team to the gold medal in the Summer Olympics. Smith was Lasorda’s hitting coach when they struck gold, an accomplishment Smith recalls as the second-greatest thrill of his baseball career. Helping Lasorda and the Dodgers win the World Series against the Yankees in 1981 was his best moment.
“Having played and coached with him certainly meant a lot,” Smith said.
Smith first met Lasorda in 1976 after Smith was traded from the Cardinals to the Dodgers before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Smith called Lasorda the best manager he ever played for, fondly recalling the first meeting he had with Lasorda during the spring of ’77. It was a meeting Smith will never forget.
“’I need you. You are going to be the difference in us winning a pennant,’” Smith remembered Lasorda telling him. “’What you bring to the table, just be yourself and be a leader out there.’”
No manager before the 1977 season had told Smith how much he was needed. Prior to that season, Smith was a 10-year veteran with four All-Star appearances and a National League Gold Glove Award. He also had a reputation of being outspoken.
“Lasorda’s words allowed me to be me, [and] play the game like I knew how because he trusted me. It meant a lot,” the 75-year-old Smith said via telephone. “It was OK to be myself. He knew what I could bring to the table. Tommy was a player’s manager. He let us play the game.”
Smith arguably had the best season of his career in 1977, leading the NL in on-base percentage (.427) and OPS+ (168), finishing first on the team with a 6.1 WAR and making his fifth All-Star appearance. With 32 homers, Smith was one of four Dodgers, along with Steve Garvey (33), Dusty Baker (30) and Ron Cey (30), to hit at least 30 that year. Smith’s stellar season helped the Dodgers win the pennant in Lasorda’s first full year as a manager.
“Tommy had the ability to take Major League players and make them believe they could win a pennant,” Smith said.
Smith played for Lasorda five more years before signing a free-agent contract with the Giants after the 1981 season. Smith retired after the ’82 season but rejoined Lasorda as a hitting coach from ’94-96. During that period, Raul Mondesi and Todd Hollandsworth won the Rookie of the Year Award in ’95 and ’96, respectively.
“[Tommy said], ‘Save your meal money, you come with me.’ And that’s what he did. Tommy took care of his coaches. He took care of me while I was coaching with the Dodgers,” Smith said.