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Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #66, Roy Smalley (Article 14)



His uncle was a long-time big league manager (Gene Mauch) who managed for 26 years and finished first only twice.

He was an All-Star in 1979. That year he hit .271/24/95.

He’d never hit that many homers again in his career. (Although he’d hit exactly 20 homers on two other occasions – once with the Yankees.)

The 95 runs batted in? He’d never come close again to that figure. The closest he’d get wouldn’t be in the 90’s…or 80’s… or even 70’s. No, Roy Smalley’s best RBI output after 1979 was a mere 67.

In someways, like his uncle, Roy Smalley never really achieved the status it looked like he would achieve.

A disappointment.

***

OK, to be fair, Roy Smalley was a pretty good player. He wasn’t great. But he could hit a bit.

But I was always down on him, at least for his Yankees years.

And it wasn’t his fault.

***

I actually remember liking and rooting for Roy Smalley as a player, when he was on the Minnesota Twins. A switch-hitting shortstop with power was kind of cool. He was, for a time, an up-and-coming star. I remember seeing him on the cover of The Sporting News. He seemed like a good guy to root for.

I was a kid, I wanted to root for every player. I hoped that Smalley would be great.

He wasn’t.

But that’s not why I didn’t root for him.

***

The reason I didn’t root for Smalley after his career with the Twins comes down to one simple number.

53.

Or a second number – 444.

***

Roy Smalley was a SHORTSTOP for crying out loud!

***

The Yankees acquired Smalley in April 1982. I didn’t like the trade at the time because the Yankees gave up Ron Davis who was a quality set-up man. The Yankees also gave up a few minor leaguers. (They always gave up minor leaguers back then.)

But, one could argue that he was an upgrade at shortstop.

The current Yankees shortstop was Bucky Dent who was slowing down. He hit just .238 in the strike-shortened 1981 season. Smalley had hit .263. Smalley also had more power. He was slightly (one year) younger. We didn’t have defensive metrics back then, but Smalley, who was at least two inches taller than Dent, seemed to be a shortstop with good range and a strong arm.

Getting Roy Smalley to play shortstop made sense. He probably would have been an upgrade.

I would have been okay with Smalley as the Yankees’ shortstop.

***

The number is actually ZERO.

(Is zero a number? It matters little. Call it what you want.)

ZERO

***

37

That’s the real number.

Thirty-seven.

37 > 29

***

Before becoming a member of the New York Yankees, Roy Smalley had played a grand total of zero games in the Major Leagues as a third baseman. ZERO.

Guess how many games Smalley had played in the minor leagues at third. Yeah, zero.

The guy wasn’t a third baseman.

But, in 1982, the Yankees tried to make him a third sacker.

In 1982, the Yankees played Roy Smalley at third base in 53 games. He logged 444 innings there that year.

And the whole thing infuriated my young fourteen year old mind.

Smalley, a switch hitter, who was 29 years old, became the platoon partner with my favorite player Graig Nettles, who was now 37.

I didn’t want any guy platooning with my favorite player.

I didn’t care that Nettles was getting old. He was Graig Nettles. When I watched the Yankees, I wanted to see him… not Roy Smalley.

***

Roy Smalley was the real life proof that my hero’s career was winding down.

He was also the proof that my childhood was as well.

I rooted against him because I didn’t want to grow up and I didn’t want my favorite player to grow old.

***

In July 1984, the Yankees sent Smalley to the White Sox for two minor league players. One would end up being Doug Drabek.

I was glad the Yankees were rid of him, but by then it didn’t matter. Graig Nettles was also gone.

He had been traded to Padres earlier that year.

Toby Harrah was playing third for the Yankees at that time.

I never rooted for Toby Harrah…

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