Reggie Smith came out of the hyper-competitive baseball environment that was South Central Los Angeles in the early 1960s and signed a contract with the Minnesota Twins in June 1963 upon graduating from Compton’s Centennial High School.
The Red Sox grabbed his rights in December 1963 when Minnesota left Smith unprotected in the winter draft.
A shortstop in the minor leagues, the Red Sox set about converting him to center field and teaching him to switch-hit.
He got a cup of coffee in Boston at the end of the 1966 season and then took over the center field job in 1967, part of the team that led the Red Sox from ninth place the previous season to the American League pennant.
Smith finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting after hitting .246/.315/.703 with 15 homers and 61 RBI. In the Sox’s seven-game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, Smith hit .250/.308/.849 with two homers and three RBI while scoring three runs.
He won a Gold Glove in his second full season, 1968, and was an All-Star in both 1969 and 1972. Smith led the American League in 1971 with 33 doubles and 302 total bases, but after an injury-shortened 1973 season, Smith’s tenure in Boston ended when he was traded to the Cardinals.
It was a tumultuous stay in Boston for Smith, who played at a high level despite having to wear a batting helmet in center field to protect himself from objects being thrown at him from fans … at Fenway Park. Racial tensions ran high in the city at the time Smith played there.
Per the Society for American Baseball Research, teammate John Curtis — who was traded with Smith to St. Louis — said, “[Smith] said some people in the bleachers would throw batteries, heated coins and other projectiles at him. He also told me about a night when some hooligans drove up to his house and emptied the garbage cans he’d placed by the driveway all over his front lawn.
“That’s when I began to undersand that Boston was a different town for him than it was for me.”
Still, over parts of eight seasons, Smith hit .281/.354/.826 in 1,014 games with 149 home runs, 536 RBI and 592 runs scored. He posted an OPS+ of 129 over that period.
Smith was an All-Star five times more in his career, twice with St. Louis and three times with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Smith spent the 1982 season with the San Francisco Giants before playing two seasons in Japan, retiring at age 39.
After playing days, Smith worked for the Dodgers as their minor-league operations director in 1993 and as their hitting coach from 1994-99. He coached the U.S. Olympic baseball team in 2000 and was the batting coach for the U.S. during the 2006 World Baseball Classic.