Shattered by the catcalls, Smalley became tense and too conscious of his statistics. By the middle of last season, he had improved his hitting—apparently at the expense of his fielding. On July 3, following a game in which Smalley made three errors and was booed even while hitting a homer, Mauch took him aside. "He told me, 'You're my shortstop. I wouldn't trade you for any shortstop in the league,' " Smalley recalls. Much relieved, Smalley made only six errors in his last 86 games and ended Rod Carew's six-year reign as Most Valuable Twin. By then the booing had stopped.
It is hardly surprising that Smalley should become the thinking man's favorite infielder. His father, Roy Smalley Jr., was a shortstop for the Cubs, Braves and Phillies in the 1940s and '50s. "I was inundated with baseball," says Roy III. Because Roy Jr. married Mauch's sister Jolene, the kid was doubly inundated. "Every time Gene came over to the house, he and my father talked baseball all night," Smalley says. It rubbed off. Playing with Fred Lynn and Rich Dauer at USC, Smalley was a hero of the 1973 and 1974 NCAA champions. The Rangers made him the first choice of the 1974 draft and signed him for a $100,000 bonus, but it was not until he became a Twin that he blossomed.
Like Mauch, Smalley gets to the park early, studies the pitching and hitting charts and talks baseball incessantly. "I like to follow the signals and see what's coming when I'm in the field," he says. "I also watch the batter. Sometimes you know where he's going to hit by the way he's standing, by how aggressive he is. I guess you could call it intuition." Such talk is a joy to Mauch, the archetypal "good baseball man." But playing for his uncle has not been the indispensable ingredient in Roy's rise. As Marshall points out, " Smalley became a star by being Roy Smalley, not because he's Gene Mauch's nephew."