Rich Dauer was a proven second baseman. He made the routine plays for the Orioles teams of the late 1970s and early 80s. And he was a solid line drive hitter as well. But he certainly endured some dreadful starts to seasons. In 1976, he was four for 39 in his September debut for a brutal .103 batting average.
Still Dauer was the starter on opening day of 1977. And to prove it was no fluke he went 0 for 28 to start the campaign.
Earl Weaver couldn’t stand the no-hitting Dauer and had to make a move. Enter switch-hitting second sacker and Southerner Billy Ed Smith. Picked up via free agency, Smith filled in for the slumping Dauer on April 10 and drove in a run with a hit.
A week later, the O’s were in Texas for a doubleheader. Naturally, four pitchers would start in the two games. And now three of them are in the Hall of Fame. In the opener, Jim Palmer battled Bert Blyleven. The nightcap had Gaylord Perry for the Rangers and Ross Grimsley for Baltimore.
Smith was stationed at second base in the opener. Smith had two singles and an eighth-inning homer as the Birds bombed Blyleven. I wish we had bombed him in the 1979 World Series but that’s a story for another day.
Palmer was brilliant in the 6-1 win.
Weaver didn’t give Smith the second game off. So he batted him against Perry. Smith had three singles in this 6-1 victory. After the game, Smith led the world in hitting at .700.
Maybe the Orioles had found a magical hitter in Smith. Rich Dauer? Forget it about, that Billy Smith had a smoking hot bat.
On April 19, the legendary Brooks Robinson pinch-hit a three-run homer to beat the Cleveland Indians in 10 innings. Starting second baseman Smith had three more hits. He also stole a pair of bags and he was leading the league in hitting at .625.
Since Smith is not in the Hall-of-Fame, his batting average began to slip. The Orioles opened a three-game home series with the Yankees in late April. And Smith again was batting second and playing second for the Birds.
The O’s lost two of three games with the Yanks. Smith had 6 hits in the series and scored 4 runs. At the end of play on this day, Smith led the American League in hitting at .472. Teammate Ken Singleton was in fourth place in the league in hitting at even .400.
Smith’s batting average stayed above until mid-May. No need to mention that this April batting terror finished the year hitting .215.
OK, so Dauer got his job back. Smith hit all of his 16 MLB homers in an O’s uniform. And he can tell his relatives that for one month in April he was the best hitter around. Some folks have a long run in the Majors. Some have a few years. And Smith had one month. One month of glory.