Ira Smith (minors04)
Ira Lamonte Smith
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 185 lb.
Outfielder Ira Smith played 9 years in organized baseball, from 1990 to 1998, in the organizations of the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and Detroit Tigers. From 1999 to 2003, he played in the independent Northern League, suiting up for four different teams. He topped .500 in college and made two minor league All-Star teams. The Padres wanted to call him up to the majors but he was denied the chance when the team's other players protested.
Smith hit .488 in 1989 to lead NCAA Division I. He repeated at .519 in 1990, the first player to top Division I in batting average two years in a row (Rickie Weeks would be the second). Smith's .519 average in 1990 was 6th in Division I history. The Dodgers took Smith in the 37th round of the 1990 amateur draft, one round before they picked Brady Raggio, who also had a lengthy career for such a late choice. They later selected major leaguers Mark Sweeney and Andy Abad. The low draft slot was likely due to Smith coming from a relatively minor Division I Conference, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Ira hit .261/.376/.373 in his pro debut for the Great Falls Dodgers. The team won the Pioneer League title, led by outfield mate Raul Mondesi and ace hurler Pedro Martinez. In 1991, Smith did a very good job in limited action for the Vero Beach Dodgers (.324/.393/.403, 15 SB, 3 CS in 53 G). Had he qualified, he would have won the Florida State League batting title, beating out Andy Mota.
The next year, the Maryland native spent most of the season with the Bakersfield Dodgers, hitting .288/.366/.400 with 79 runs and 26 steals in 40 tries. He also got into 6 games for the San Antonio Dodgers, going 4 for 11 with a triple and a walk. Things were crowded ahead of him in the Dodgers chain as top prospects Mondesi and Billy Ashley were in AAA, second-tier prospect Henry Rodriguez was making it into the majors and Todd Hollandsworth was a teammate with Bakersfield. Not to mention Brett Butler, Eric Davis, Kal Daniels and Darryl Strawberry with the major league Dodgers, though 3 of the 4 were battling injuries or off-field problems.
Padres chain and nearly making the majors
The guy nicknamed "Dude" moved to the less-crowded Padres chain in the off-season. He had a great first season with the San Diego system, hitting .346/.439/.527 with 30 doubles, 71 runs and 32 steals (caught 16 times) in 92 games for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. He had 55 walks to 41 whiffs. He also played 13 games for the Wichita Wranglers, batting .231/.302/.282. He was third in the California League in average behind Tim Clark and Kevin Riggs. He joined Clark and Ernie Young as the All-Star outfielders.
He fielded .990 for Wichita in 1994 and put up a .321/.407/.461. He again was third in his league in batting average, trailing only Rodney Lofton and Danny Perez in the Texas League. Among those he outpaced was Bobby Abreu (.303). Smith joined Perez and Terry Bradshaw as the All-Star outfielders.
He was a replacement player for the San Diego Padres during the 1994-1995 strike. When the strike ended, he was sent back to the minors, where he continued to dazzle. He hit .303/.365/.445 in 64 games for the Memphis Chicks and .325/.369/.507 in 59 for the Las Vegas Stars. Cumulatively, he had 79 runs, 32 doubles and 8 triples. Had he qualified, he would have been 5th in the Southern League and 6th in the Pacific Coast League in average. On July 14, Padres GM Randy Smith (no relation) tried calling him up to the majors. With player antagonism to former replacement players still high, the 24 members of the Padres club banded together to protest the move. Randy Smith backed down and brought up Archi Cianfrocco instead. Ira Smith would never make the majors as a result. A month later, Mike Busch would become the first former replacement player to make it to the majors. Smith would have been the first major leaguer from the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore since Jim Proctor.
Back with Las Vegas in 1996 and with the doors now open for replacement players to get into the majors, the 28-year-old had his worst year to that point at .242/.299/.373.
Tigers: winding down
Smith next spent two seasons in the Detroit chain. He split 1997 between the Jacksonville Suns (.308/.428/.500 in 53 G) and Toledo Mud Hens (.243/.304/.318 in 39 G), then hit .241/.288/.328 for Toledo in 1998.
Smith began his independent league career with the 1999 Duluth-Superior Dukes, batting .325/.370/.526 in 48 games. Had he qualified, he would have ranked 8th in the Northern League in average, between Dwayne Hosey and Troy Fortin. In 2000, he faded to .267/.324/.368 for the Sioux City Explorers. Back with Sioux City in 2001, he improved to .284/.341/.432 with 71 runs in 88 games. He was third in the Northern League in runs behind Felix Pagan and Brent Sachs.
With the 2002 Winnipeg Goldeyes, Smith had his fifth and last .300 season as a pro, at .309/.343/.457. He was only 5th on a strong Winnipeg offense in average, behind former first-rounder Charles Peterson, Sachs, Pete Rose Jr. and longtime minor league star Harry Berrios. In 2003, Smith concluded his career with the Lincoln Saltdogs (.290/.389/.409 in 47 G) and Sioux City (.220/.235/.240 in 12 G).
Smith hit .292/.362/.426 in 1,155 minor league games, with 693 runs, 238 doubles, 430 walks and 156 steals in 238 tries. He fielded .971 in 988 outfield games and was error-free in two games at both first base and third base.
Coaching and managing
In 2010, he was inducted into the MEAC Hall of Fame.
Year-By-Year Minor League Managerial Record
|2009||Joliet JackHammers||Northern League||9-20||6th||Independent Leagues||replaced Wally Backman (24-42) on July 30|