Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
When the graceful, swift, often controversial slugger named "Reggie" stepped to the plate here last night there was a universal response: silence.
Not one cheer, not one boo for the right fielder who hit three homers in the last World Series. Just a ripple of muttered recognition pulsing through the huge crowd like a nervous shudder.
When his 26th home run of the season soared over the right-field fence, the crowd emitted only a resigned groan.
As the man, whom teammates acclaim the most valuable on their league champion tea, touched home plate, his greeting was tepid, grudging applause.
Who is the best-known and richest right fielding Reggie in basebell? Reggie Jackson of New York, certainly.
But who is the best Reggie? Probably Reggie Smith of the Los Angeles Dodgers - that unique star who is superb at the game's five fundamentals.Smith can run, throw, field, hit for average and hit for power.
What he does worst is attract attention to himself and demand credit for his feats. On a team of gung-ho Angelenos, Smith is the doubting Dodger, the born skeptic who fancies solitary scuba diving, chess and gourmet cooking while watching the baseball scene with a whimsical, aloof sidelong glance.
Therefore, outside of Los Angeles, Smith is known - when he is known at all - as a scowler, a loner, a twicetraded troublemaker. A ballplayer - shudder - who thinks for himself.
Smith attracted the attention of the Phillies, at least, last night as he and Rick Monday each hit home runs and drove in two runs, with Smith's sacrifice fly producing the winner in the seventh inning of a 5-4 victory. The Dodgers moved into a tie for first place with San Francisco in the NL West When the Giants lost at Montreal, 4-3.
"This nation gets infatuated with a few names," said Dodger 20-game winner Don Sutton." All you hear about on our team is Steve Garvey, the All-American boy.
"Well, the best player on this team for the last two years - and we all know it - is Reggie Smith. As Reggie goes, so goes us."
Currently, the Dodgers are going up - winning eight of their last 10 games, while Smith is going downtown - hitting five homers and batting .500 in his five games.
"Reggie was the most valuable player in our league last year, he just didn't get the award," says Manager Tommy Lasorda, and he should be MVP this year, too. He does more for us than any other player does for his team, and that includes Dave Parker in Pittsburgh."
However, Smith - batting .305 with 76 RBI, a .600 slugging average and .400 on-base percentage in 357 at-bats - has little chance for the game's top individual prize.
His gifts are too diversifield - top five in almost everything, but league leader in none.
"Reggie doesn't go out and publicize himself. He doesn't smile at the right people or say the right things. He tells the truth, even if it sometimes alienates people," says Sutton.
"Reggie's not a facade or a Madison Avenuer image. He's a real person. Reggie and Richie Allen are the two most totally misrepresented players I ever met. They're wonderful people with wrong reputations."
Smith's face is only forbidding befor he speaks. After he starts, he is one of the most literate, analytical and compelling speakers in his game, his face a rich play of wry humor, fierce conviction, and fascination with the subtleties of the game.
In the batting cage, taunting his mates, is the seemingly brash Smith: "You people hit when you can," he says ("crash" liner to right). I hit when I want to."
In private, Smith says quietly, "This has been a difficult year for us, much harder than last year. We haven't had the power production from others, so a lot has hinged on me.
"Right now, I'm on a streak.It's like riding a surfboard. You ride it all the way in, then you pull out and look for a new wave.
"When you're hot, you can gradually feel your timing and rhythm slipping. You can sense it happening. You start pulling your best hits foul, for intance.
"You have to know how long to ride that wave and when to pull out. In my last streak, I was too stubborn. I waited too long to go back to basics and get my swing in order from Square One.
"I should have backed off sooner. I wouldn't have gone two for 22 and dropped from .315 to .293."
Smith is on a new wave, banging 10 hits in a four-game series last weekend against San Francisco, then producing last night's heroics.
"You can almost hear the Pitchers thinking, 'Gotta throw him a perfect pitch or he'll hit it outta the park," laughed Sutton. "Then they make a perfect pitch and Reggie only gets a double."
Despite chronic Achilles heel problems and recent shoulder surgery, Smith feels his game is at its peak.
"I'm thankful that I've come home to California in my prime," he says. "My family didn't have to go through the hard times with me. Now they can enjoy the best part . . . undiluted."
Now, in that athletic prime where he combines .300 hitting, .600 slugging. 100 walks, satin-smooth fielding and a shotgun arm, Smith remains an unglamourized star.