Silence turned Braves' Smith into '91 goat


October 25, 1992|By JIM HENNEMAN

ATLANTA -- Lonnie Smith usually doesn't talk to the media, but he took big-time advantage of his presence in the interview room following Game 5 of the World Series.

Because of that, the Braves outfielder left himself open for a second guess when he vented his displeasure at the media for critical reminders of his base-running mistake in the Game 7 of last year's World Series. With two outs in the eighth inning of that game, Smith failed to score from first base on a double by Terry Pendleton, even though he was running with the pitch.

The reason Smith didn't score was a great decoy job bMinnesota infielders Greg Gagne and Chuck Knoblauch. They diverted Smith's attention enough to make him think a play was possible at second base.

Because of the deke, Smith broke stride and didn't pick up the flight of the ball until it was too late. He has lived with the memory and been constantly reminded of that play for the last year.

After hitting a bases-loaded home run to clinch Game Thursday night, the bitterness spewed out of Smith when he was asked about last year's play.

"Some people consider it one of the biggest blunders in World Series history," he said.

That observation may not be an exaggeration, but if it isn't, baseball's "buddy" system is partially responsible. And Smith has to share at least some of the blame.

Anyone watching Game 7 last year knew something unusuahappened when Smith didn't score. Under normal circumstances, he probably wouldn't even have drawn a throw.

It was the kind of situation that demanded an explanation. Yet, when the subject was broached immediately after the game, both managers denied anything out of the ordinary had taken place -- and Smith was unavailable.

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, whose team lost that game, 1-0, in 10 innings, denied anything out of the ordinary took place. Obviously not wanting to hang responsibility for the World Series loss on a player who has three championship rings, Cox initially feigned ignorance of what had actually taken place.

Minnesota manager Tom Kelly, gracious in victory, didn't want to embarrass an opponent by admitting that some trickery had taken place. And Smith, who knew what happened and how vital it was, chose to remain secluded.

In the meantime, as deadlines rapidly approached, the national media wrote what it had seen and Smith was not treated kindly. The bad part of this, and it's true of both sides, is that it didn't have to be that way. Certainly, the criticism shouldn't have been as severe.

Because what really happened was that Gagne and Knoblauch pulled off a masterful ploy. The circumstances have to be perfect for it to work, and they were.

It wasn't until after the champagne stopped flowing in the Twins' dressing room that Knoblauch admitted Smith had been the victim of a decoy. He went to the other end of the clubhouse to get Gagne to verify the fact.

It was too late. It wasn't until later the next day, when Smith confirmed it, that the real story got out.

Instead of Knoblauch, the instigator, and Gagne being credited with pulling off a great play, Smith was labeled the goat -- the central figure in "one of the biggest blunders in World Series history."

In trying to protect Smith, Cox and Kelly inadvertently brought more attention to what was obviously a critical play. What damage would have been done by crediting Knoblauch and Gagne with a good play? Instead, Smith was discredited more than he deserved.

Sierra to Blue Jays?

Would you rather have Ruben Sierra or Joe Carter and Dave Winfield?

That could be one of the decisions the Toronto Blue Jays wilmake within the next month. Despite their reputation as a team that will spend whatever it takes to win, the Blue Jays reportedly are committed to getting their payroll into the $36 million to $38 million range.

That will require trimming $6 million to $8 million from this year's payroll (including almost $900,000 for David Cone's services for one month). Carter is eligible for free agency and Winfield could go that route if he isn't offered arbitration.

The Blue Jays, who have started preliminary talks with Winfield, will not agree to arbitration. The 41-year-old outfielder/designated hitter's $2.3 million salary would at least be doubled in that process.

There is speculation that the Blue Jays might pass on Carter and Winfield and opt instead for a Cal Ripken-type contract (five years, $30 million) for Sierra. The Blue Jays also are not expected to enter a bidding contest for reliever Tom Henke, turning the closer role over to Duane Ward, whose credentials won't yet command top dollar.

Veteran left-hander Jimmy Key is another who might not command much attention from the Blue Jays -- and none at all if they should re-sign Cone. There are a lot of interesting possibilities for the Blue Jays to make some radical changes without disrupting their nucleus.

Ripken Sr. reaction

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