FORT MYERS, Fla. — Reggie Smith, the one-time Red Sox and Dodgers outfielder, stood outside the team’s clubhouse Wednesday morning, setting up a table filled with bats, batting gloves and other protective equipment made by XProTeX, for whom he now works.
As is often the case when “old-timers” are around, talk turns to bygone days. For Smith, that can often lead to two places: either that remarkable first full season in the majors when he was a key part of the 1967 “Impossible Dream” team in Boston or those years near the end of his career when he was a member of some very good Dodgers teams.
Smith was feeling the L.A. vibe Wednesday, which was rather fitting. Those talented Tommy Lasorda teams that reached the World Series three times in five years, winning it all in 1981, remind him of the current Red Sox.
“I do [see similarities],” Smith said. “Now, they have the pitching, you have speed, you have defense, you have guys that hit for average and guys that hit for power. All of those things. More importantly, being able to have a smart team, have guys that know how to use the talents that they have. I can see a whole lot of similarities.”
The 1977 Dodgers, for instance, were the first in history to have four guys hit at least 30 home runs (Smith had 32). They had some speed, with Davey Lopes leading the way with 47 thefts. Their pitching resembled the Red Sox in that there were five legitimate starters in the rotation, which featured four guys who won 14 games or more (Tommy John was 20-7) and another, Burt Hooton, who was 12-7 with a 2.62 ERA. Gold Glover Steve Garvey was a key part of one of the top defenses in the league.
“One thing we said was that we were like an octopus,” Smith said. “If one arm didn’t get you, the other would. … That’s what you look for in good teams. They don’t beat themselves and they are always in ballgames. They find a way to beat you and that’s what [the Red Sox], they have the ability, and the potential, for sure, to do it.”
In addition to having great talent at the major league level, the Dodgers at the time were a player development machine. They produced four straight NL Rookie of the Year Award winners from 1979 to 1982. A product of the Red Sox system himself, Smith sees the same strategy paying off for his first organization.
“That’s where it comes from,” said Smith, who finished with 314 career home runs in the major leagues before spending two years playing in Japan. “I feel that if you can develop from your own system, guys have that familiarity with one another and they develop that same hunger, they know your system.
“Free agency has changed a lot of that and I understand why management has to go out and find the pieces to plug in where they are a little bit short, but ideally you want to build from within. You want to have players coming from your system and grow them together and develop that familiarity.”
Aside from injuries, all that can keep the Red Sox from a successful season, in Smith’s mind, is if they do not jell the way they would like. Borrowing from a theme established early in camp, Smith does not see that being an issue with this group.
“You have enough veteran people here that they won’t let that happen,” he added. “The new people coming in, like a Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, coming into the organization, they’re going to need to be shown respect but at the same time develop a feel for that clubhouse from the veterans. David Ortiz. The [Jason] Variteks. The [Dustin] Pedroias. Guys that have been there and know what the Red Sox are all about. This is who we are. This is how we do it.”