O's add old bat for stretch run Club deals for veteran Lonnie Smith

September 09, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The Orioles were full of surprises yesterday. The club followed the release of Glenn Davis with the announcement that it had acquired veteran outfielder Lonnie Smith from the Pittsburgh Pirates for a couple of minor-league pitchers to be named.

Smith, 37, comes to Baltimore with a lengthy resume that includes 63 postseason games and five appearances in the World Series, but he will not be eligible for postseason play because he was acquired after the Aug. 31 eligibility deadline.

Nevertheless, the Orioles said they were happy to add a veteran hitter to a club that has been short on bench strength throughout the season. Smith probably will be used as a pinch hitter, occasional right-handed designated hitter and sometime outfielder during the final 3 1/2 weeks of the regular season.

"We've been interested in him for several weeks," said general manager Roland Hemond, who announced the trade at a news conference in which the club also ended a troubled, three-year relationship with Davis. "He [Smith] is a winning player. He has participated on a lot of winning clubs in pennant races."

Smith played in each of the past two World Series with the Atlanta Braves before becoming a free agent and signing with the Pirates in January. The Braves lost both Series, but Smith already had world championship rings -- with the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies, the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals and the 1985 Kansas City Royals.

He found himself this year on a defending division championship team that had fallen well out of contention in the National League East, but will get a chance to experience the excitement of the stretch run with an Orioles club that has fought its way back into contention.

"I'm happy," Smith said from Pittsburgh. "Every player wants to be in a pennant race. The Orioles were in need of some help, and they chose me. I'm proud of that, and I'll do whatever I can. Hopefully, I can bring some experience as well as help other players who may be experiencing the pennant race for the first time."

There are plenty of those on the Orioles roster, but that isn't the dTC main reason that the club went after Smith. The Orioles needed outfield help because it was becoming apparent that rookie Jeffrey Hammonds was not going to be physically able to play regularly the rest of the season. He has been trying to play with a herniated disk in his neck, but club officials are more interested in seeing 100 percent of him next spring than 50 percent of him now.

"Being able to pick up a quality right-handed hitter who has been swinging the bat every day and knowing that Jeffrey wasn't 100 percent gave us the opportunity to make this move at this time," manager Johnny Oates said.

Oates wouldn't speculate on how much Smith will play, but he seemed thrilled to acquire a player of his credentials. Smith was batting .286 in a part-time role with the Pirates and had a .300 average against left- handed pitching.

"I'll pick the pitcher," Oates said. "I've got a proven major-league clutch hitter. I don't know how much he's going to play, but I'll tell you what: I like the idea of having him on the roster. If he only gets 10 at-bats the rest of the way, they'll probably be 10 clutch at-bats."

Smith has proven he can perform in tough situations -- for better and worse. He had three home runs in the 1991 World Series, but ended up a goat after a Game 7 base-running mistake cost the Braves an important base in the late innings of a tight game. He did not swing a hot bat in last year's Series, but still managed to drive in five runs for the Braves with just two hits.

The trade did not come as a complete surprise, but Smith said he didn't think he was the most likely Pirate to be dealt to a contender.

"The thought had entered my mind," Smith said. "It had been brought up by a few of the media people here [in Pittsburgh], but there was never anything solid. Most of the talk involved Zane Smith and Lloyd McClendon. I was a little surprised, but after the shock wore off, I was ready for anything."

The Orioles will be his fifth team during a sometimes-troubled, 14-year major-league career. He broke in with a string of outstanding seasons for the Phillies and Cardinals, but a drug problem put his career in jeopardy in the mid-1980s. Smith split time between the major and minor leagues in 1987 and '88, then re-established himself as a premier player, hitting .300 or better in his first two full seasons with the Braves (1989 and '90).

He'll be returning to the American League for the first time since he left the Royals after the 1987 season, but doesn't anticipate any serious problem getting acclimated to AL pitching.

"I'm sure there will be some adjustments I'll have to make," he said, "but I'm sure the coaching staff and the players will help me."

The Orioles seem confident that Smith will help them, though it appears to be a very temporary arrangement. He'll be with the club for the final weeks of the season, but almost certainly will become a free agent soon thereafter.

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