Return to spotlight gives Smith chance to open up Even as a hero, Brave vents anger

October 23, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Lonnie Smith may not have gotten any personal vindication from his bases-loaded home run last, but the occasion provided him with the opportunity to express his feelings.

He had been branded the goat of last year's World Series for failing to score from first base on Terry Pendleton's two-out double in the eighth inning. The Atlanta Braves eventually lost the game to the Minnesota Twins, 1-0, in the 10th inning.

Last night Smith put the final touches on the Braves 7-2 with with his fifth- inning home run off Jack Morris. Smith was asked if his home run helped ease the pain of what happened a year ago, when he was decoyed into thinking there would be a play at second base by Twins infielders Chuck Knoblauch and Greg Gagne.

"People tried to make it seem like it left me in pain, but it didn't," said Smith. "The greatest pain I've felt was when baseball turned its back on me after the (1984) Pittsburgh drug trial.

"They told me if I told the truth and cooperated, I wouldn't be fined or suspeneded," said Smith, who later went through a rehabilitation program. "I did everything they asked me to do -- and then baseball turned its back on me."

That incident, perhaps, is the reason Smith very often, including last night, comes acoss as an angry young man. His manager, Bobby Cox, has hailed Smith as a "pure professional hitter" and said again last night that it's time for the criticism from last year to stop.

"Is it unfair?" Cox asked during a post-game interview session. "Yes. There's a lot made of it -- it should be dropped sometime."

Smith indicated he doesn't expect the criticism will ever stop. "I've been criticized my whole career," he said. "For one thing, I'm a black man -- so I'm going to be criticized. For another, I'm considered a mediocre player -- so I'm going to be criticized."

When he was asked if he felt last night's heroics would improve his image, Smith reacted indifferently. "Actually," he said, "it all 11 boils down to the press. They're the ones who bring it up, they're the ones who always talk about it.

"If the media feels you played well, that's fine," said Smith, who has played on three previous World Series champions -- the 1980 Phillies, the 1982 Cardinals and the 1985 Royals. "If they don't, that's the way it."

Smith's home run capped a five-run inning against Morris, who has not won in four post-season starts this year. The blast came with two outs, after Pendleton had driven in the lead run with a double down the rightfield line and David Justice has been given an intentional walk.

The walk to Justice was not an unorthodox piece strategy given that the Braves rightfielder had hit his sixth post-season home run an inning earlier. but Smith seemed to take it as a personal affront.

"I was a little angered by it," admitted Smith, "but it didn't matter. I didn't let it bother me."

But once he knew the ball was over the fence, Smith vented a little emotion. "I didn't mean to (hot) dog it," he said. "But when I knew it was over the fence, after the insult of them pitching to me...I uttered a few words under my breath that I can't repeat here."

Asked again if he thought the home run would gain him some retribution, Smith answered calmly.

LTC "I don't think I'll ever get any retribution for last year," he said. "Some (members of the media) consider it to be one of the greatest blunders in World Series history."

A year later, whether he admits it o not, Smith got some revenge. There isn't anything he can do about the past. But the World Series is still going on, and even though the Braves are down 3-to-2, he's got a chance for a fourth right.

"I'm just glad we won the game," he said. But his feelings weren't quite that simple.

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