Charles Lee Smith
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 2", Weight 225 lb.
- School University of Illinois
- High School Rubidoux High School
Originally drafted in the 59th round of the 1988 amateur draft as a pitcher, Bubba Smith did not sign with the Philadelphia Phillies and made the transition to first base in college. He hit .362 with 18 home runs in 56 games for the University of Illinois in 1991 and was drafted in the 26th round of the 1991 amateur draft by the Seattle Mariners. He was assigned to the Bellingham Mariners and hit .261/~.297/.451, showing good power but not looking like much of a prospect.
In 1992, Smith began establishing himself as a minor league star. Promoted to high class A, he became a fan favorite for the Peninsula Pilots and became the first Carolina League player in 9 years to hit 30 homers (Ken Gerhart had hit 31 in 1983). Despite playing in a pitching-friendly environment, Bubba hit .261/~.349/.510. He struck out 138 times and his OBP was certainly not prospect-level, but he led the league in total bases (246) as well as homers, made the All-Star team and won the MVP award. He was not named one of the top 10 prospects in the league nor was he named one of the top 10 prospects in the Mariners system according to Baseball America.
1993 was a busy year for Bubba. He went 8 for 19 for the Riverside Pilots in the California League but struggled in his first exposure to AA, hitting just .219/~.257/.409. The big slugger was horribly overmatched, striking out 52 times in 137 AB and drawing just 7 walks. On May 24, the unimpressed Mariners traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Travis Buckley. Bubba returned to the Carolina League and won another MVP, this time with the Winston-Salem Spirits; in just 92 games he hit 27 homers, drove in 81 and batted .301/.366/.585. He led the league in slugging and homers and was third in average. He also fanned 109 times in 342 at-bats. This performance sealed his reputation as a fan favorite in the Carolina League.
In 1994 Smith again was a bust in AA, going 0 for 9 with 7 strikeouts. As an old man for class A, he was just as unimpressive. For the Charleston RiverDogs, he struck out 113 times (20 walks) in 354 at-bats and hit .234/.283/.441.
Smith was with his third organization in 1995 when he joined the Minnesota Twins. He returned to his 1993 form in crushing class-A pitching, hitting .330/~.385/.636 for the Fort Myers Miracle but was denied a shot at a third MVP award because he also played regularly for the Hardware City Rock Cats and hit .243/~.273/.439. It was his best performance yet in AA but at age 25 he had yet to prove he could hit mid-level minor league pitching and was quickly becoming a non-prospect with three years in a row of AA struggles and one of which he didn't light up A ball either. Bubba fanned 41 times in 42 games for Hardware City, while he drew just 6 walks. While compared to Babe Ruth in size and personality, he was not showing a Ruth-esque strike-zone judgement.
Bubba Smith found himself with a fourth organization for his fourth crack at AA in 1996. He was signed by the Texas Rangers and assigned to the Tulsa Drillers. Bubba said "I either had to go to Double-A and put up some numbers or step aside and find another career." The popular power-hitter went deep 32 times (leading the league) and drove in 94 (tied for the league lead). He was second in extra-base hits (60), first in total bases (274), third in hits (150) and slugging (.534) and fifth in runs (82). Smith made the All-Star team at DH and was Player of the Year in the Texas League. He hit .292/~.353/.534 and struck out 121 times in 513 at-bats.
Bubba was promoted to AAA in 1997 - at an age (27) when many players were hitting their prime, Smith was finally coming close to the majors. He hit .255/~.325/.475 and led the American Association in RBI (94) and strikeouts (139). He made the All-Star team at DH and his 27 homers for the Oklahoma City 89ers; only Richie Sexson (31 homers) prevented Bubba from winning a fourth home run crown.
Smith went to the Mexican League the next season and hit .318/~.407/.606 in a great year for the Monterrey Sultans. He led the Liga with 29 homers, claiming his fourth minor league home run title, and drove in 108, two behind league leader Nelson Barrera. He hit just .148 in limited time with the Tucson Sidewinders.
The international resume of the slugger expanded in 1999 when he signed with the Samsung Lions of the Korea Baseball Organization. He hit 40 homers his first year in the KBO, then crushed 35 the next year despite a mid-season release by Samsung to free up a roster spot for Mike Garcia. He was picked up by the LG Twins for the remainder of the year and reached 273 homers as a pro baseball player.
In 2001 Bubba signed with the Portland Sea Dogs - at the age of 32, he was quite old for AA and he did not perform well, hitting just .180 with 6 homers before returning to more familiar territory by rejoining Monterrey and hitting 17 homers south of the border. That was also the start of a long two-Smith system in Monterrey as Demond Smith provided the contact and speed and Bubba provided the power. In the winter of 2001-2002, Smith led the Mexican Pacific League with 19 homers for the Mexicali Eagles, hitting .293/?/.582.
2002 witnessed Smith become the 30th player in Mexican League history to have a 6-for-6 game. He homered 27 times, tied for third in the Liga and hit .322 with a slugging percentage of .586. Bubba bashed another 11 long balls that year with the Joliet Jackhammers, in 97 late-season at-bats. He hit .289 for Joliet and slugged .680. That winter, he led the Mexican Pacific League in homers once more, with 24. The Mexicali Eagles slugger hit .285/?/.638 and led the LMP in RBI (64) and runs (50).
In 2003 Smith hit just .258 for Monterrey. He drove 22 home runs, tied for fourth in the circuit. When the Mexican League season ended, he again drew interest from the independent leagues. The Winnipeg Goldeyes signed him to replace injured DH Harry Berrios during the playoffs. Other teams protested and it was ruled that Smith could not join Winnipeg after he had initially been allowed to. Winnipeg fans sent the Northern League Commissioner, Mike Stone, death threats and he had to avoid the championship series as a result.
He added 17 more for the 2004 Sultans and hit .325/.427/.554 with 77 RBI. Bubba drew 62 walks and struck out just 44 times, a far cry from his early career. He also had gone from a boom-or-bust player to a fairly consistent middle-of-the-order threat. Smith again spent part of the year with Joliet - combined he hit 24 homers and drove in 118 runners.
In 2005 Bubba played his sixth season with the Sultans. The 36-year-old 1B-DH hit just .274 in a year when the Liga as a whole topped .300 - he slugged .492 and homered 21 times. He had reached 401 homers as a pro player, not counting winter ball. Smith rejoined Joliet for the 2006 campaign and hit .292 with four home runs and 25 RBI with the club. In July of that year, he signed with the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association.
- 1992 MVP Carolina League Peninsula Pilots
- 1993 MVP Carolina League Winston-Salem Spirits
- 1996 Player of the Year Texas League Tulsa Drillers