Saturday, June 25, 2011

RBI (24) A quick TTM send back by a come back player...

Speed on the base paths isn't all that Lonnie "Skates" Smith has, he's also pretty quick at responding and sending back things mailed out to him.

Lonnie Smith is a great personal story of his battles with illicit drug use during his playing career only for him to rise above it and be a championship caliber player. Making his debut with the Phillies in 1978, Smith finally cracked the lineup regularly in 1980, where he batted .339 in 100 games. His performance helped propel the Phillies to a World Series berth against the Kansas City Royals where the Phillies would emerge victorious.

Despite being a solid performer for the Phillies Lonnie was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals where he would continue to be successful and have an All-Star season in 1982. He would continue to thrive in 1982 so he would eventually be second place in the National League MVP voting, losing to Dale Murphy. What he would not lose to Murphy though, was the 1982 World Series where the Cardinals topped the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cardinals would send him to the Kansas City Royals, a mistake seeing as the Royals would eventually face and beat the Cardinals in the 1985 World Series. Eventually he would be a free agent and have difficulty finding a team due to his drug use. He would be given a chance to join the Braves and despite a rough initial year in 1988 he would be named 1989 NL Come Back Player of the Year.  In 1991 and 1992 Smith's turn around would help propel the Braves to World Series appearances though they did not win the championship. Smith would then bounce around a few years with the Pirates and Orioles before finally hanging up his hat to return to Atlanta to live in retirement.

Lonnie would end his career after 17 seasons as one of the best run scorers and base stealers averaging 91 Runs and 37 Steals per season. He would have a final career average of .288 and .371 OBP which allowed him to constantly pester pitchers for a career tally of 370 Stolen Bases and 909 Runs scored.

Lonnie Smith signed this 1990 Fleer card for me and was nice enough to also respond to the letter I sent to him. Lonnie's signature is a great one to look at, it's very legible and fluid, and his hand writing in the letter as just as nice.

When asked:

What was your favorite part of being an All-Star?
Lonnie took a light hearted and genuine approach to his lone appearance at the All-Star game in 1982 saying, "The great players that were in the All Star Game. By far the best team i ever played on !!! :)" and yes Lonnie really put a smiley face in his response.

Which of your World Series Championships is the most meaningful?
Keeping up with his MVP caliber year Smith said, " '82 Team. We were more of a family of friends."

What was your favorite city to play at as a visitor?
Despite only playing there sparingly since all of his career was for teams in middle America or the east coast, Lonnie kept up his kind hearted approach and responded, "L.A. because it is the city I grew up in with family and friends."

When you set the franchise record for 5 steals in a game for the Cardinals in 1982 which was the most difficult?
Unknowingly I asked him about what seems to be the most memorable and favorite season he spent in the Majors, "Man just getting on base is the most difficult, you have to get on at least 3 times"

Lonnie Smith responded to my letter mailed to his home address after 13 days.

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