Jack Smith, RIP: Haircut, shave, and pension throat cut

Jack Smith

Jack Smith, when he was a Dodger following seven years in their minor league system.

One of the last entries by longtime newspaper humourist Lewis Grizzard before his death in 1994 involved a haircut. Specifically, the one he received from “an old-school barber” whom he suddenly recognised as a one-time pitcher he’d seen with the 1960s Atlanta Crackers.

“THAT Jack Smith,” wrote Grizzard. “Hard to believe. There I was getting a haircut from a barber who was also a boyhood idol.”

Smith was a righthanded relief pitcher who’d bounced around the Dodgers system for seven years before he got a call-up in September 1962, when injuries sidelined reliever and former World Series MVP Larry Sherry temporarily. By his own admission, he was a hard thrower no matter what the pitch, but his number one issue was wildness.

He died at 85 on 7 April at the Westbury Health and Rehab facility in Conyers, Georgia, after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was also one of the now 612 short-career major leaguers between 1949-1980 who were frozen out of baseball’s pension plan when the owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association re-aligned the plan in 1980.

That re-alignment changed pension vesting to 43 days major league time and health care vesting to a single day—excluding Smith and other short-career players during the time frame noted above. Their sole redress came by way of the 2011 deal between then-commissioner Bud Selig and then-players union director Michael Weiner: $625 per quarter for every 43 days major league time up to four years worth.

Weiner’s death in 2013 took further chances to get better redress for those players off the table, where the issue still remains, and where today’s players union director Tony Clark seems too little interested in revisiting it.

Once again, I find it unconscionable and morally repugnant that [the MLBPA] is turning its back on older men and their families,” said A Bitter Cup of Coffee author Douglas J. Gladstone, whose book first exposed the pension freezeout. “I’d love to know if Frances Clark and her three kids, Kiara, Jazzin and Aeneas, know how badly Tony is treating the men who ushered in free agency?”

A year after he won the Southern Association (AA) earned run average title with the Crackers, Smith appeared headed for another such title with Omaha (AAA) when the Dodgers called him up after Sherry’s injury. He appeared in eight games, finished two, saved one, and posted a 2.42 fielding-independent pitching rate that belied his 4.50 ERA.

The lone save was part of the Dodgers’ effort to stay in the pennant race and, in due course, force a playoff with the Giants. Smith relieved Hall of Famer Don Drysdale for the ninth. After walking Cubs second baseman Ken Hubbs and giving up a single to Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, he retired Hall of Famer Billy Williams on a fly out, surrendered a run on pinch hitter Nelson Mathews’s ground force out to shortstop, and shook off a second walk to get George Altman out on a pop foul near third base.

The effort sealed Drysdale’s 24th credited win of 1962, en route his only Cy Young Award, which kicked off a streak of five straight Cy Young Awards (then strictly a major league award) awarded to Los Angeles pitchers: Drysdale, fellow Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax thrice (1963, 1965-66) and Angels righthander Dean Chance (1964).

Smith appeared in the first two of the three 1962 pennant playoff games. In the first game, he got the sixth inning-ending double play after Sherry surrendered back-to-back home runs by Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda and pitched a shutout seventh, in a game the Dodgers lost 8-0. (Still struggling for a rhythm after a long layoff due to a finger circulation issue, Koufax himself got hit for a two-run homer by Mays in the first and a solo by Jim Davenport in the second.)

But Smith wasn’t quite so successful in the second game despite the Dodgers’ win. With the Dodgers up 7-5, he took over for Ron Perranoski after back-to-back singles (Davenport and Mays) opened the Giants’ eighth. He surrendered an RBI single to Ed Bailey and lost Cepeda when Frank Howard playing right field misplayed Cepeda’s fly.

Smith yielded to Stan Williams, who walked Felipe Alou and surrendered a sacrifice fly to John Orsino with the run charged to Smith, before getting Jose Pagan to ground out to third and getting the Giants out in order in the ninth. Ron Fairly won the game with a sacrifice fly. (The Giants won the third game and the pennant, 6-4.)

Jack Smith

Smith as a Brave; when they sent him down to the Atlanta Crackers, he decided to trade pitching for barbering after a final baseball season in 1965.

He made the Dodgers out of spring training 1963 and posted his arguable best major league effort on 28 April, against the Cardinals, with 4.1 innings of shutout ball, after the Cardinals jumped Johnny Podres for two in the first and reliever Ken Rowe for five in the second. The Dodgers managed to close the deficit to 7-4 while Smith was in the game; the Cardinals went on to win, 9-5.

After he relieved Pete Richert for the sixth, with the Dodgers in the hole 8-0 to the Pirates, the Pirates tore four runs out of him before he got the side out, a sacrifice fly by Smoky Burgess and a three-run homer by Bob Bailey. It was the last inning Smith pitched in a Dodger uniform; he was sent back to the minors, where the Milwaukee Braves claimed him in the subsequent Rule V draft.

He had a decent 1964 with the Braves, making 22 appearances, finishing nine games, and posting a 3.77 ERA and 3.70 FIP, but the Braves sent him down to the Denver (AAA) in the Pacific Coast League. In 1965, the Braves moved him to the Crackers, who’d moved to the AAA International League and become a Braves affiliate since he’d pitched for them last.

Smith had a solid 1965 in Atlanta (the Braves themselves, of course, moved there for 1966), but he decided he was tired at last of flying around the country playing baseball. He’d gone to barber college in the off-seasons and even brought some of his gear to the Braves clubhouse.

Smith opened an Atlanta barber shop, Smitty’s Bullpen, in a Marriott hotel while with the Crackers his second time. The place was so successful (then-Braves manager Bobby Bragan was a semi-regular customer) he decided to stay with it full time, retiring from baseball after the 1965 season, and finally retiring as a barber in 2016.

Some of those who follow the short-career player pension issue believe one reason they were frozen out was that they were viewed as little more than September call-ups. Smith was one in 1962, but he was on Opening Day rosters with the Dodgers in 1963 and the Braves in 1964.

His major league life didn’t last long enough to be part of the players union’s emergence as a serious force in the game. His career ended before a committee led by Hall of Fame pitchers Robin Roberts and Jim Bunning, plus veteran pitcher Bob Friend and outfielder Harvey Kuenn, led to Marvin Miller’s hiring as their first independent executive director.

Smith wasn’t there to be part of the Players Association pushes and actions that led in due course to Curt Flood’s courageous but failed reserve clause challenge; the bidding war that followed Catfish Hunter’s free agency after Charlie Finley reneged on a contracted-for insurance payment; and, Andy Messersmith’s pitching without signing a 1975 contract, then taking it to arbitration and winning the end of the reserve era, finishing what Flood started.

But Smith and his fellow 1949-80 short-career players weren’t allowed to pass the monies provided by the Selig-Weiner deal of 2011 on to their survivors after their passings. Smith is survived by his wife, Susan, three children, two stepchildren, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. He may not have received grand dollars from the Selig-Weiner deal but they were something, after all. If any remained yet to come, they stopped with his death.

“It’s worth contemplating a reassessment of this,” wrote New York Post columnist Ken Davidoff, in an early February profile of a Smith contemporary, former Yankee reserve outfielder Jack Reed, “because these guys are part of the game’s tapestry and history that make it so special.”

When Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel skippered the calamitous Original Mets, he once told his barber, “Haircut, shave, and don’t cut my throat, I may want to do that myself.” Smith’s post-baseball success as a barber doesn’t change the fact that he and his fellow short-career pre-1980 players had their throats cut.

The cookie on second and Harvey Haddix

2020-06-25 HarveyHaddix

Harvey Haddix on the mound 26 May 1959. Pitched this year, his perfecto bid would have been broken in the tenth, not the thirteenth . . .

Pittsburgh Pirates lefthanded pitcher Harvey Haddix became immortal for the perfect game he lost in extra innings on 26 May 1959. The Milwaukee Braves ended the perfecto and beat the Pirates in the bottom of the thirteenth, wrecking* one of the greatest single pitching performances in baseball history.

Braves infielder Felix Mantilla reached leading off on an error at third base. Hall of Famer Henry Aaron was handed an intentional walk. Braves first baseman Joe Adcock smashed what he only thought was no-hitter-ending/game-ending three-run homer; Aaron’s baserunning mistake—he thought the ball hit the wall for the game-ending hit and turned off the basepath toward the dugout after crossing second—got it ruled a single-RBI double.

Imagine if those teams could have played that game this season. Haddix’s perfecto bid could have been busted as soon as the tenth inning, thanks to that stupid new experimental rule (the minor leagues used it for the last three seasons) placing a free man on second to open each extra inning for each side.

In the actual Haddix game, both sides went scoreless in the tenth with only one base hit by the Pirates. Now, let’s imagine how that tenth inning goes if played this year and with the Pirates in the top and the Braves in the bottom getting the free cookie at second base to start their halves:

The actual top of the tenth saw the Pirates’ Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski grounding out to second base to lead off, third baseman Don Hoak (whose actual thirteenth-inning error ruined the actual Haddix perfecto) swatting a base hit to left, pinch hitter Dick (Dr. Strangeglove) Stuart flying out to center field, and Haddix himself grounding out to second base.

This year, however, with the free cookie on second opening the frame, Mazeroski’s ground out pushes the cookie to third and Hoak’s base hit sends it home. 1-0, Pirates going to the bottom of the tenth.

The actual bottom of the tenth involved Braves pinch hitter Del Rice leading off with a fly out to deep center field and Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews flying out likewise to follow, before Aaron grounded out to Pirates shortstop Dick Schofield for the side.

Now, put the inning-opening cookie on second for the Braves. Rice’s fly would be deep enough for the cookie to advance to third, and Mathews would have a game-tying sacrifice fly. Assuming Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh lets Haddix stay in the game after the perfecto is broken and the game tied at one each, let’s move forward.

The actual top of the eleventh—Schofield opened for the Pirates with a base hit to left. Gazelle center fielder Bill Virdon forced Schofield out at second, and Pirates catcher/pinch-hitter extraordinaire Smoky Burgess hit into a double play. The cookie top of the eleventh—Assuming the free man on second swift afoot, Schofield’s leadoff single scores him, making it 2-1, Pirates.

And, oh yes. The runs are unearned because, if the inning-opening cookie scores under the new experiment, he’s considered to have reached on an error . . . but the error won’t be charged to the opposing team.

The actual bottom of the eleventh—Adcock grounded out to shortstop, Braves left fielder Wes Covington lined out to centerfield, and catcher Del Crandall flied out to center. The cookie bottom of the eleventh—The cookie on second wouldn’t go anywhere on Adcock’s grounder, unless he has a suicide complex. The liner to center would likely keep him there if he’s smart enough to know trying for third means death, too. And Crandall’s fly out would strand him.

The Pirates would win the game, 2-1, if played today. Harvey Haddix would be remembered for taking a perfect game into the mere tenth but pitching a no-hitter and winning. Anybody (sort of) can win a measly no-no in extra innings. (Ask Jim Maloney, the Cincinnati Reds pitcher who did it to the Cubs in a ten-inning, ten-walk, 1-0 no-no in Wrigley Field in 1965.)

It would also deprive Braves pitcher Lew Burdette—who went the distance and finally got the win—of the classic crack he actually gave his bosses during his actual next contract negotiation: That guy pitched the greatest game in baseball history and he still couldn’t beat me—so I must be the greatest pitcher who ever lived! That logic wouldn’t fly over a measly ten-inning perfecto break. (P.S. Burdette got his laugh—and his raise.)

“All I know is we lost,” Haddix said after the game. “What is so historic about that?”

In the event that another such perfect game bid goes to the tenth inning this year, you can only wonder what the pitcher making the attempt might think if his game ends the way it looks as though the Haddix game would end if played this year, under the free-man-on-second extra-inning rule.

And, whether you can publish more than half his answer without bleeps.


* The Haddix game also killed Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew’s shot at a Life cover story.

According to Storied Stadiums author Curt Smith, the magazine trailed Killebrew awhile until that day, hoping to capture the genial Washington Senator’s breathtaking power. Killebrew actually slumped during Life‘s pursuit, but then he finally hit one out on 26 May ’59.

The problem: Life got the word about what Haddix was trying to achieve, and the magazine ordered its Killebrew hounds to Milwaukee post-haste.