Roy Smalley, Superstar
If I ever made it to Cooperstown, I would be a bit disappointed that there was not an entire wing devoted to the greatness of Roy Smalley. Sadly, Smalley never sniffed the Hall of Fame, and even more sadly his exclusion is entirely correct. Nevertheless, if I had my own personal Hall, he would be a charter member. I think many baseball fans have a player like Roy Smalley in their background, someone they loved when they were younger for reasons that are a bit tricky to articulate. As a matter of fact, most folks I know tended to have two favorite players as kids, one true superstar and one truly unique to the fan. In my case, I loved Kirby Puckett, but I loved Smalley first. So today, let’s here the tale of Roy Smalley, one time shortstop for the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, and New York Yankees.
As a shortstop, Roy Smalley was a failed prototype of the Cal Ripken model. Smalley was the first overall pick in the January amateur draft in 1974, a draft open to players who graduated from high school or college in December. (This draft was discontinued in 1986.) Smalley came out of USC, where he had won the College World Series every year he was in college. Taken by the Rangers, Smalley quickly became one of the larger shortstops in baseball, and an early power-hitting shortstop. Compare him to two top shortstops of the time, Mark Belanger and Dave Concepcion.
Belanger was 6’1″, and weighed 170 lbs. In his biggest power year, he hit 5 home runs in 1974. Concepcion was slightly bigger, at 6’1″, 180. He hit double digit home runs twice in his career, with 14 in 1974 and 16 in 1979. Smalley, a rookie in 1975, was 6’1″, 185, but he combined the slightly higher weight with legitimate home run power for a shortstop. He would hit double digit home runs 9 times, topping 20 on 4 separate occasions. During the 1976 season, he was traded to the Twins for, among others, Bert Blyleven. While with the Twins, he would be one of the best hitting shortstops in the American League, trailing Robin Yount. He would make the All Star team once, in 1979, also the only time he received an MVP vote. In 1982, the promise of the power-hitting shortstop, first seen in Ernie Banks and then revived by Roy Smalley would come to fruition in Cal Ripken, Jr. While Smalley would hit double digit home runs 9 times and top 20 4 times, Ripken would top 20 home runs each of his first 10 full seasons. Smalley was an important part of that transition, but obviously his numbers don’t stack up to his Hall of Fame contemporaries.
For his last hurrah, Smalley would make the World Series with the 1987 Twins, in his last season. He would pinch hit four times, going 1 for 2 with a double and two walks. For his career, Smalley hit .257 with 163 home runs. He had an OPS+ of 103. He was a fairly average fielder, with a fielding percentage nearly identical with the league average for shortstops and a range factor slightly above the average. This is not the resume of a Hall of Famer, though it is arguably the resume of the best shortstop the Twins have ever had. Smalley was a good player, and in his best years he was very good. Unfortunately, that description pretty accurately fits many players that have been or will be long forgotten.
Who are the completely random players that would make your own personal Hall of Fame?