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Monday, April 02, 2007

Today's Birthdays

Hughie Jennings BRO b. 1869, played 1899-1900, 1903, Hall of Fame: 1945 (BBWAA), d. 1928-02-01. Played in the majors until he was forty-nine, a 17-year career, most of which was at shortstop, later filling in at first. Gifted both athletically and intellectually, Jennings earned a law degree from Cornell at a time when most lawyers were trained by reading law in the offices of senior lawyers; he had a thriving legal practice in the offseason. He maintained that practice despite having his skull fractured four times by pitched balls in the pre-helmet era. He led the old National League Orioles to three straight NL titles, and two Temple Cups; he moved to Brooklyn as a result of syndication. The last four years of his career were with Detroit, with whom he rarely took the field; his Tigers won three straight pennants starting in 1907, but none thereafter; he was eventually replaced as Detroit's manager by another Hall of Famer, Ty Cobb.

Mike Kekich LAN b. 1945, played 1965, 1968

Reggie Smith LAN b. 1945, played 1976-1981, All-Star: 1969, 1972, 1974-1975, 1977-1978, 1980. "The Other Reggie" in baseball during Reggie Jackson's long streak of excellence, Smith was hardly a slouch, a switch-hitter with high averages, very good OBPs, and good to very good power. He was one of the outfield mainstays during the mid-to-late 70's Dodger teams that formed the team's most recent golden era.

Smith first came up with the Red Sox, who flipped him to the Cardinals in October, 1973; the Dodgers got him from the Cards for Joe Ferguson in June, 1976. It wouldn't be enough that year, for as in 1975, the Big Red Machine was in overdrive, and the Dodgers, while a very good team, couldn't catch up; though they finished in second place, they were still ten games behind Cincinnati.

But things were stirring for the Dodgers that would eventually vault them to the top of the division in 1977. Walter Alston, who had picked up his 2,000th win in 1975, was replaced late in 1976 by Tommy Lasorda. The Reds entered the season minus Don Gullett, signed by the Yankees as a newfangled free agent. While the Dodgers had signed no free agents, they did acquire Rick Monday for Bill Buckner. It was enough, and where the Dodgers found themselves looking up at the Reds with 92 wins the year before, the Dodgers finished 1977 with 98 wins, ten games over the Reds; and as the Reds had the year before, the Dodgers got off to an early lead and never looked back. Smith blasted 32 homers as a 32-year-old, one of four Dodgers to hit 30 or more homers in a single season.

His best postseason appearances with the Dodgers came in the 1977 World Series, when he had critical hits in Game 2 and Game 5, the latter including a two-run homer off Dick Tidrow, one of three he hit in the Series. He also had a fine 1978 season that included 29 homers, though his postseason batting that year wasn't as accomplished. It marked a high-water point for Smith as a Dodger; his final years were marred by shoulder, knee, neck, and ankle injuries that diminished his playing time along with them. The Dodgers finally let him go after the 1981 season. He stumbled through a year with the Giants, played in Japan for a while, and retired. He has the second-most home runs of any switch hitter in baseball history (after Mickey Mantle), is the only switch-hitter to hit 100 homers in both leagues, and is the only player outside of Frank Robinson to appear in the All-Star game and World Series in both leagues. Quite a career.

Don Sutton LAN,CAL b. 1945, played 1966-1980, 1985-1988, All-Star: 1972-1973, 1975, 1977, Hall of Fame: 1998 (BBWAA). Durable players don't get much respect; it generally takes something aside from durability and quality starts to get a pitcher into the Hall. Sutton's extra boost came from his presence on the Dodger teams that made it to the World Series. Bert Blyleven has more strikeouts, but it probably goes to show that playing for Los Angeles or New York will get you in the Hall faster than Pittsburgh. It also probably didn't help that he was known as a ball scuffer; in a famous incident when he met Gaylord Perry, reknowned for his ability to throw the illegal spitball, "he gave me a jar of Vaseline. I thanked him and gave him a piece of sandpaper."

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Mike Kekich was involved in one of the most bizarre baseball trades ever. Spring of '73.
Here's a good link to the Kekich trade.

Actually, another former Dodger far surpassed Reggie on the home runs by switch hitters list, Eddie Murray. He also had at least 100 HR in each league.

I met Reggie Smith when he was coaching at Dodgertown many years ago, and he would enthusiastically talk hitting with anyone who asked. Very nice man.
Being a true Dodgers hater, I never took the time to actually consider Smith's merits as a player. Looking at his numbers, though, Smith was a damned fine hitter. I'd like to see what his numbers would look like if they were "adjusted" to present-day equivalents. Over 2000 career hits and 300 HR is very impressive.

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