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A. Ray Smith

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[edit] Biographical information

A. Ray Smith was a native of Texas who made his fortune in the construction trade in Tulsa, OK. In 1961 he bought the Tulsa Oilers, then of the Texas League and in 1966 the club moved to the Pacific Coast League. From 1963 to 1966, he also owned a tenth of the Cleveland Indians. When the American Association was resurrected in 1969 the Oilers moved to that circuit. Smith got tired of paying annual costs to repair and repaint the ballpark and the city refused to build a new stadium.

Smith moved his club in 1977 to New Orleans, LA where they became the New Orleans Pelicans. The team was lured by Super Dome officials who wanted a baseball team. The team got a raw deal, though, and with no parking or concessions revenue and a $6,000 per game stadium rental fee, Smith was losing money. He moved the team to Springfield, IL and they were renamed the Springfield Redbirds. The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing up a stadium for Smith's team and attendance topped 100,000 in a city of 90,000. Smith reneged on a five-year deal to keep the team in Springfield and after the 1981 season, he moved the club to Louisville, KY where they became the Louisville Redbirds. Springfield officials sued him but AA president Joe Ryan arranged a deal whereby Smith paid about $500,000 to the city. After the team set a minor league attendance record in its first season and after $750,000+ of stadium renovations by Smith, the team drew over a million fans in 1983, shattering their own record by over 140,000 fans. The club outdrew three major league teams. In 1982 and 1983, Smith was named Minor League Executive of the Year. In 1985 Smith bid $25 million for the Cincinnati Reds but Marge Schott offered more. After the 1986 season Smith finally sold the franchise after 26 years, 2 leagues and 4 cities to a Louisville-based investment group.

Smith's next goal was to bring big-league baseball to St. Petersburg, FL. From 1986 to 1988 he worked on that task but got little support from the St. Petersburg business community and had little respect in major league circles, where he was viewed by some as a promoter more than a serious owner. After little traction over that time, Smith quit his plan to try to place a major league team in the city.

Additionally, Smith served seven years on the board of the California Angels.

His daughter, Emily Smith, was the inspiration for the Leon Russell song Emily Smith.

Main Source: "The American Association" by Bill O'Neal

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