The women posed unaffectedly, but the male models at the charity fashion show in the grand ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel were as self-conscious as schoolboys at a dance class. Like so many silent comedians, they grimaced and minced down the runway in their finery, disguising embarrassment with slapstick. These were professional ballplayers—the defending National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers, to be precise—not professional models, and their discomfort shone through their idiotic grins and exaggerated posturing. Don Sutton, a parody of a Mafioso in trench coat and wide-brimmed chapeau, mugged outrageously, exhorting the predominantly female audience to applaud his wife Patti, who preceded him on the runway. Burt Hooton, the poker-faced Cy Young Award candidate, unsuccessfully evinced detachment. Huge dark glasses masked Tommy John's timidity, but a comical strut betrayed him. "Are you always such fun, you Dodgers, you?" chirped Mary Ann Mobley, the actress and 1959 Miss America, who was a mistress of ceremonies.
The large dark figure who next assumed the stage was emphatically not a fun person. With his slender wife Ernestine pirouetting before him, wearing a V-necked cashmere sweater and white flannel slacks, Reggie Smith advanced stolidly toward the runway. His mustachioed countenance was as solemn as a mortician's, and he walked stiffly forward, the picture of a man fulfilling an unwanted obligation. No clown he. Let the others play the fool. Yet he was an arresting presence in an alpaca greatcoat, wool crepe trousers, leather vest and cashmere scarf. Mr. Guy, the Beverly Hills designer who created this ensemble, could not have been better served by a professional clotheshorse. In such regal habiliment, the Dodgers' rightfielder seemed the incarnation of the Moor of Venice himself—"then must you speak of one that loved not wisely but too well." The audience did not giggle under his baleful gaze; when at last he smiled, there was only nervous laughter.
But Smith is not always what he seems to be. He just looks like Othello. The stiff walk and the austere mien betrayed not so much contempt for the proceedings—he rather enjoyed himself, in fact—as excruciating pain. Five days earlier, in a critical game against the Giants, he had taken a swing at a Jim Barr pitch and reactivated a high school football injury. He had not played all week. He was unable to rise naturally from a chair, let alone swing for the fences or pursue fly balls. Changing from his own expensively cut, gray pinstripe, three-piece suit into Mr. Guy's regalia was in itself an ordeal. When it was suggested that he "disco" down the runway, as some of his less inhibited teammates had done, he merely winced in reply. But the beneficiary of the fashion show—the Florence Crittenton Services for unwed mothers and their children—seemed worthy to him, and he felt obliged to do his part.
Smith's ready participation in such charitable endeavors, his readiness, for that matter, to participate in any Dodger promotion, is representative of what some believe to be his new persona. He appears now as a man of peace and good works, cooperative to a fault, self-sacrificing and, if not self-effacing, at least unassuming. He has struggled manfully to shuck off perhaps the most unsavory reputation in all of baseball. Actually, he was a man of several reputations, all of them unattractive. The old Smith was seen variously as a malcontent, a malingerer, a troublemaker and a racial agitator. Smith protests that his malevolent old self and his benevolent new self are really the same self; the difference, he says, lies only in how he is perceived by others. The reputations he acquired early in his 13-year major league career forever preceded him, influencing the perceptions of employers, teammates and spectators. Only under the loving banner of Dodger blue has he been accepted without prejudice and malice aforethought. In this blue heaven, his true personality has flourished, he stoutly maintains. In fact, though the myth of Dodger camaraderie has been debunked this season, Smith has remained above the battle, a figure of esteem.
"He's been good to me," says Billy North, an outfielder who came to the Dodgers early this season after five years with the quarrelsome A's. "He's been categorized, had a label put on him. The insecurity of other people manifests itself in labels."
"Once you get a reputation, it's hard to get rid of it," says Bill Russell, the Los Angeles shortstop. "People tend to leave their bad reputations when they come to this organization. Reggie Smith is an outstanding man in the Dodger tradition, and he's been the difference between first and second place for us."
"When I look at him I see a lot of me," says Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers' short, plump, white manager. "He's the kind of guy who doesn't want to be pushed around. His heart is as big as his body, and he's very sensitive about his family."
"He's been a leader and a good friend," says Steve Garvey, who nowadays might be expected to feel miffed about the new Smith.
Sutton's exalted opinion of Smith was expressed rather undiplomatically late last month. Complaining that Garvey, "the All-American Boy," got most of the publicity, Sutton argued, "The best player on this team for the last two years—and we all know it—has been Reggie Smith.... Reggie doesn't go out and publicize himself. He doesn't smile at the right people or say the right things.... Reggie's not a facade or a Madison Avenue image. He's a real person."
These well-publicized remarks were, predictably, not well received by Garvey, and after an acrimonious exchange in the Dodger clubhouse at Shea Stadium on Aug. 20, he and Sutton grappled. Among those separating them was the veteran clubhouse brawler, Smith. And after the tussle ended, it was Smith who spoke separately to the combatants, explaining that he was a friend of each, that he wished them to be friends with each other and that, while he appreciated the one's compliments, he regretted that those compliments had embarrassed the other player. He also suggested that airing the smoldering differences between the two men might prove beneficial in the long haul.