Longtime executive Tal Smith, who was relieved of his duties as Astros president of baseball operations on Sunday night, leaves behind a strong and historical legacy with the ballclub, especially as the right-hand man to former owner Drayton McLane Jr.
The 78-year-old Smith has spent 35 of his 54 years in Major League Baseball with the Astros, including the last 17 as the team’s president.
He became general manager of the Astros on Aug. 7, 1975 and rebuilt the last-place team into a major contender in the National League.
Houston won its first division title in 1980 under the guidance of manager Bill Virdon after defeating the Dodgers in a one-game playoff.
The Astros advanced to the postseason for the first time in franchise history, but lost to Philadelphia three games to two in the NLCS.
Terry Puhl stole the show by hitting a series-record .526 — the best average ever by a hitter in a playoff series at the time.
Despite his success in rebuilding Houston, Smith was fired by owner Dr. John McMullen just days after the team’s standout 1980 season.
The move shocked baseball, especially since Smith played a role in convincing McMullen to become the next owner of the Astros.
Smith formed his own consulting firm, Tal Smith Enterprises, to advise MLB teams regarding salary arbitration cases with players.
He earned a tremendous reputation throughout the game as one of the best in winning arbitration cases and doing so in a professional manner that didn’t insult players going through the process.
Smith rejoined the Astros in 1994 as president of baseball operations for McLane and played a role in the design of Minute Maid Park.
The center-field hill was named “Tal’s Hill” to honor his legacy with the Astros, in addition to the creativity he showed in the stadium’s design.
This wasn’t the first time in which Smith assisted in bringing innovative ideas to the design of a modern Major League Baseball ballpark.
As the former president of the Houston Sports Association, Smith was responsible for finding another playing surface, instead of natural grass, as the answer under the roof of the Astrodome.
This led to Astroturf.
Furthermore, Smith was part of the Astros’ six postseason runs (1997-1999, 2001, 2004-05) over a successful nine-season period.
Houston made its first ever World Series appearance in 2005.
Smith was named interim general manager on Aug. 27, 2007 after the firing of general manager Tim Purpura and manager Phil Garner.
He filled the position until the Astros hired Ed Wade a month later.
With the firing of Smith on Sunday night by Houston’s new ownership, there’s a strong possibility that the veteran MLB executive will retire.
If so, Smith deserves praise for his legacy.
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