Roughly four months before the Twins won their first World Series title in 1987, Ray Smith began his new career, working to prepare future Twins for their own big-league shot. Last week, after 33 seasons with the rookie-level Elizabethton (Tenn.) Twins, 26 of them as manager, Smith’s career with the organization finally ended.
With the Appalachian League being dropped by MLB as an affiliated league, Minnesota’s front office informed Smith and his longtime coach, Jeff Reed, that their services are no longer needed.
“I’m very disappointed, very disappointed. I think I might still have a little something in the tank and would like to contribute toward helping out these younger players,” said the 65-year-old manager. “It wasn’t my decision at all. I was ready to move anywhere they needed me. But that’s the way it is, and I’ll have to accept it.”
Smith, who played catcher on the major league Twins from 1981-83, has tutored newly drafted teenagers on how to be professional ballplayers for decades, and the current major league roster shows it: Six of the nine regulars in the Twins’ 2020 batting order, including the entire outfield, plus six members of the pitching staff began their careers with Smith in E-Town.
“It’s very rewarding to see that. I always tried to have a positive attitude because guys are young and trying to figure things out,” Smith said. “Whatever skills they were blessed with, I tried to teach them how to keep improving, offensively, defensively, running the bases. And being good men in the community, because there’s more to it than baseball. Jeff and I tried to help these guys become grown-ups, to make good decisions, as well as being good players.”
Smith’s career as a Twin actually dates back 43 years, when he signed with them out of the University of Oregon and was assigned to Elizabethton. A catcher, Smith reached the big leagues in 1981, and appeared in 83 games with the Twins over the next three seasons. He was traded to the Padres before the 1985 season, and spent the next two seasons with San Diego and Oakland’s Class AAA teams.
Upon retirement, the Twins immediately hired him to manage their rookie team, and Smith moved permanently to the small town in the Appalachians of eastern Tennessee. He served as manager for seven seasons, shifted to a coaching role for seven more, then took over as manager again in 2002, with Reed, a big-league catcher for 17 seasons including 1984-86 in Minnesota, joining his coaching staff that year.
Smith finished with the Appalachian League’s best record 14 times, and had a winning record in 23 seasons. A six-time Manager of the Year, he won his 1,000th game in 2018, and finishes his Elizabethton career with a 1,048-701 record.
He’s hoping that record might interest another major league team.
“If someone called, I would absolutely participate in a conversation about possibilities. But all clubs are fighting the [COVID-19] virus issue and the contraction issue, so it’s all up in the air,” said Smith, who called Joe Mauer the best player he ever managed. “The game will go on, and I’ll still wish the Twins the best of luck, but it’s just too bad. It’s been a great experience to work with all those guys, but I guess all things come to an end.”
The Twins declined to comment.
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• The Twins have not renewed the contracts of two scouts for next season. Major League scout Bob Hegman, a St. Cloud University alum, and amateur scout Earl Winn, who signed Brian Dozier for the Twins, will not return next year.