Born into a baseball family, Roy Frederick Smalley III was the best of the bunch. He played 13 years in the American League, showing surprising power for a shortstop. Three times he hit at least 20 homers as a shortstop and once more he did it as a designated hitter.
Smalley’s father Roy Jr. was also a shortstop, playing 11 seasons, all in the National League, from 1948 to 1958. Roy Jr. married the sister of Gene Mauch, an infielder in the Brooklyn organization who went on to better fame as a manager. Mauch managed Roy III in Minnesota for 4 1/2 seasons.
Smalley was a tall switch-hitter, unusually tall for a middle infielder in the 1970s. He was drafted as the #1 overall pick by the Texas Rangers in the 1974 amateur draft after a standout college year with USC. Less than†a year later Smalley debuted with the Rangers and was their starting shortstop for part of the ’75 season, competing for playing time with Toby Harrah. The following year the club tried to make Smalley a second baseman, but ultimately they decided that wouldn’t work and since Harrah was their preference at shortstop, the Rangers traded Smalley to the Twins in the middle of the ’76 campaign in a six-player deal. Texas got Bert Blyleven and Danny Thompson, while Smalley, Mike Cubbage, Jim Gideon, and Bill Singer went to Minnesota. It turned out to be a deal that helped the Rangers in the short-term (Blyleven had two typically excellent seasons), but was a better move in the long run for the Twins. Smalley was at short for Minnesota for six seasons, and in 1979 he was an All-Star starter.
Smalley was a slightly better hitter from the left side, though he displayed power from both sides of the plate. He did not hit for a high average, but he was one of the first shortstops to regularly hit 15-20 homers and he drew walks at a good rate.
From 1976 to 1987, when Smalley was a regular, he had a 746 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), a figure that was higher†than other more well-known middle infielders such as Davey Lopes, Willie Randolph, Dave Concepcion, and Garry Templeton.
Most Career Home Runs by Switch-Hitting Middle Infielders, American League
1. Roberto Alomar … 168
2. Roy Smalley … 163
3. Tony Phillips … 157
4. Jose Valentin … 142
5. Carlos Guillen … 124
5. Ray Durham … 112
6. Carlos Baerga … 106