The tall man from Tennessee
Mike Smithson was born on January 21, 1955 in Centerville, Tennessee. Mike grew up in Centerville and went on to attend Hickman County High School where he played basketball, football, and one year of baseball for the Bulldogs. Basketball was Mike’s sport of choice back then and he earned a basketball scholarship to the University of Tennessee where he played on a very good Vol’s team for coach Ray Mears for 3 years with players like Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld. Mike’s baseball career started in an unusual manner, playing catch one day, University of Tennessee baseball coach Bill Wright spotted Smithson and asked him to try out for the baseball team and Smithson ended up making the freshmen team. Smithson stuck with baseball and the 6’ 8” right-handed pitcher went on to earn All-SEC Eastern Division honors in his final season.
Mike was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the fifth round of the 1976 amateur draft, signed for a modest $12,000 bonus and started his ascent to the big leagues in “A” ball with Winter Haven in 1976. Smithson worked his way through the Red Sox minor league chain but just could not crack the big league roster but he caught a break in April of 1982 when he was traded by the Red Sox to the Texas Rangers. In August the Rangers called him up and he made his major league debut as a starter against the Baltimore Orioles in Memorial Stadium. Mike lost that game to Jim Palmer that day 3-1, but he pitched a complete game striking out five Orioles. In 1983, Smithson won 10 games for the Rangers and had an ERA of 3.91 in 223 innings. Just when Mike thought that his Texas Ranger career was getting started, the Rangers traded Mike to the Minnesota Twins along with pitcher John Butcher for outfielder Gary Ward and minor leaguer Sam Sorce. Mike immediately joined the Twins starting rotation and became a work-horse on the 1994 and 1995 pitching staffs by winning 15 games and throwing over 250 innings each season while leading the American League with 36 and 37 starts respectively. In 1986 Mike started 33 games and won 13. The Twins I987 championship season provided to be a tough one for Mike who started the year in the starting rotation but lost his starting role late in July. Mike started a handful of games for the Twins in September winning several key games but the Twins chose not to put Mike on the playoff roster. Mike traveled with the team during their playoff and World Series run and he did some broadcasting color work for the Twins. The Twins players recognized Mike’s contributions to their World Series winning team and voted Mike a full share and today Mike has the 1987 World Series ring to show for his efforts. In his 4 years with the Twins, Mike had a 47-48 record with a 4.46 ERA while pitching 816 innings in 126 starts. The Twins and Smithson parted ways after the 1987 season and Mike rejoined the Red Sox, the team that had originally drafted him and he pitched for Boston in 1988 and 1989. Mike’s 1988 Red Sox team advanced to the playoffs and Mike saw action there but his team was eliminated by the Oakland A’s. In December of 1989 Mike signed a free agent contract with the California Angels but a hip problem did not allow him to pitch and Mike retired and walked away from pro baseball after 15 seasons.
After leaving pro ball, Smithson did some color commentary for the Nashville Sound AAA team but it wasn’t long before the lure of returning home to Centerville was too strong to ignore and Mike and his family returned to their roots. Today, Mike Smithson, a member of the University of Tennessee All Century Baseball team is the Athletic Director of Hickman County High School where he does everything from grooming the baseball field that is named after him, to coaching basketball, but it is the time that he spends with the “kids” that he really enjoys. If you ask Mike how things are going for him, he will tell you something like this, “I’m where I want to be, doing the things I want to do with the kids and it’s been great”. Yes indeed, I think that things are going very well for the tall man from Tennessee.
The interview with Mike was done in June of 2011 and is 31 minutes in length.