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He could not have been more right. The Dodgers won 21 of their next 32 games and pulled away from the Giants and Reds to such a commanding lead in the National League West that last week Los Angeles became the first team this season to clinch a division title. During that hot streak, which also served to make the Dodgers solid favorites to repeat as National League champions—whether their opponents in next week's playoffs be the Phillies or the Pirates—Sutton won three games and lost one, and Garvey batted .500 on the days Sutton pitched.
After his stormy apprenticeship with the Boston Red Sox, Smith qualifies as an expert on clubhouse civil war. The Bosox of the late '60s and early '70s were about as unified as Rhodesia, and the old—or rather the young—Smith could be found in the middle of every fray. He got off on the wrong foot, he now realizes, as early as his rookie year, 1967, when he alienated the Boston press. The gaffe was committed early one morning in Detroit.
"George Scott and I were rooming together then, and our wake-up call was late," Smith recalls. "We were in a panic. We threw our clothes together and rushed out to the team bus. Well, it looked as if they were going to take off without us. That made me mad. I said out loud that that was a rotten thing to even think about. 'The bus always waits for the press,' I said. 'How come it can't wait for us?' One of the media guys said something and I got even madder. I said something I shouldn't have and sat down. That was the beginning of it for me. I was a brash rookie and they didn't like that comment at all.
"My relations with the press deteriorated rapidly after that. One of the reporters said to me, 'Son, I made you, now I'll break you.' I didn't help matters by sometimes not wanting to talk. It wasn't that I was mad at anyone. I just didn't feel like talking. I made some errors—mostly throwing errors—in those first years. I thought my arm was strong enough to throw out any runner who tried to go from first to third. So instead of throwing behind the runner, I'd go for the big play. They were mistakes, I admit that. But they were rookie mistakes. I'd make an error, and then I'd talk to myself with my head down. 'You jerk,' I'd say. The crowd and the press got the idea I was the kind who got down on himself after a mistake. That wasn't it at all. I never lost confidence in myself."
The Red Sox of that tempestuous era were a team of cliques. "It was ridiculous," Smith says. "I sometimes wondered whether we were a ball club or a social club. I got along well with Carl Yastrzemski. Consequently, those who disliked him disliked me. There were three or four cliques. There was the Yaz group, the Ken Harrelson group, the Jim Lonborg group and, later, the Conigliaro group, which was not only a clique but a family. People would throw parties just so they could not invite the guys they disliked. Then the other guys would throw their own parties and not invite the ones who didn't invite them."
In Smith's last year with the Red Sox, 1973, he set a major league record for run-ins by a switch-hitting outfielder. He aroused the ire of the team physician, Dr. Thomas Tierney, by refusing to accept his diagnosis that there was nothing seriously wrong with his left knee, which, says Smith, "was killing me." Smith sought a second opinion, and when a doctor at the Tufts New England Medical Center told him he had a ligament tear, he confronted Dr. Tierney and team officials with the new diagnosis. The Sox insisted upon a third examination, which, says Smith, confirmed the Tufts' findings. To be healthy again, he would need several weeks' rest. Still, says Smith, Dr. Tierney prescribed only a cortisone shot and a couple of days on the bench.
Smith reluctantly agreed to this treatment, but when the trainer told him the doctor had said nothing about an injection, he was both confused and enraged. "Then the manager, Eddie Kasko, came up to me and asked if I could pinch-hit that day," Smith recalls.
It was the final straw. "I went out and got all my bats and dumped them at his feet. 'If that's all I mean to you—a bat—then pick one,' I said. Kasko called me into his office and asked me what was wrong. I told him my knee was killing me and that I wasn't about to jeopardize my future, my family's future, by playing when I was hurting that badly. He went along with me, even though it may have cost him his job."
The incident served to advance the notion that Smith was a malingerer. The Boston fans, already disenchanted because he had not yet achieved the superstardom for which he seemed destined when he arrived in the majors at age 21, turned on him with a vengeance. Amid the familiar choruses of boos, Smith began to hear the strains of "Goodby, Reggie; goodby, Reggie; goodby, Reggie; we're glad to see you go."
Smith further annoyed the fans when, responding to a reporter's question, he said he agreed with former Celtics star Bill Russell that Boston was among the more racially segregated cities in the nation. "Instead of leaving it right there," Smith says, "I started to defend the statement. I didn't need to defend it, but I did. I pointed to specific areas of racism. I had worked with kids in Roxbury, and I told the reporters that the place was about to explode. I said you could actually feel the hostility. I was right, but that turned the people against me. Bottles were thrown at my house. My son heard nasty things said about me in school. Someone scratched my car with a key. I was called all kinds of names. Well, Boston is a racist city. I should have suspected something when one of the top guys in the Red Sox front office told me I had the kind of body that could last a long time in baseball. I was complimented at first. Then he said, 'Blacks have that kind of body.' "