With Vince Coleman offering a younger, less expensive and more productive alternative as a left fielder, the Cardinals deemed Lonnie Smith expendable.
The trade upset Smith, who wanted to remain with St. Louis, and Cardinals fans, who generally thought the club should have received more in return for him. Five months later, Smith played an integral role in the Royals defeating the Cardinals in seven games in the 1985 World Series.
St. Louis sparkplug
In 1982, his first season with the Cardinals, Smith ignited the offense, hitting .307, scoring 120 runs and stealing 68 bases. In the 1982 World Series, Smith hit .321 with six runs scored, helping the Cardinals beat the Brewers in seven games.
Smith underwent rehabilitation for drug abuse in 1983, missing about a month of the season, but still hit .321 with 43 steals.
In 1984, though, his batting average dropped to .250.
Smith opened the 1985 season as the Cardinals’ left fielder, joining Willie McGee in center and Andy Van Slyke in right. When McGee was sidelined by an injury in April, the Cardinals promoted Coleman from Class AAA Louisville. The rookie speedster quickly established himself as a force, hitting .300 with 12 steals in his first dozen games. When McGee returned to the lineup, Smith was odd man out.
Coleman, 23, was receiving a salary of $60,000, according to baseball-reference.com. Smith, 29, was receiving a salary of $850,000, according to The Sporting News.
Royals come calling
The Royals were among several clubs that expressed interest in Smith, Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill said.
The proposed deal with Kansas City called for the Royals to send the Cardinals a player to be named. Maxvill reconsidered and asked instead for Morris, who was hitting .258 at Class AAA Omaha.
Morris, 24, was the first-round choice of the Royals in the 1982 amateur draft. In 1983, Morris was named winner of the Southern League Most Valuable Player Award, hitting .288 with 23 home runs and 92 RBI for Jacksonville.
Three days before the trade was made, the New York Daily News reported a deal was in the works. Morris got a phone call from his mother, who informed him of the newspaper report. Stunned, Morris called Royals general manager John Schuerholz and asked him about it.
According to Morris’ book “Bullet Bob Comes to Louisville,” Schuerholz told him, “Johnny, the news about you being traded is strictly a rumor created by the St. Louis media. You have nothing to worry about. Everything will be fine.”
Morris was with the Omaha club in Buffalo when he got a call from Schuerholz. According to Morris’ book, the conversation went like this:
Schuerholz: “John, we just made a trade. You’ve been dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals for Lonnie Smith. I know we discussed this the other day, but at the time I couldn’t give you any information.”
Morris: “So, you knew all along that I was going to be traded. I think it’s unfortunate that I had to find out from my mom, who just happened to stumble upon it in the newspaper.”
Schuerholz: “Listen, John, you’re going to a first-class organization and we know you will do well with the Cardinals … Whitey Herzog is a great manager who thinks the world of you. He even told me that himself in spring training.”
In the book “Whitey’s Boys,” Smith, recalling his reaction to the trade, said, “I actually thought about giving up baseball. I didn’t think I could go anyplace better (than St. Louis).”
Maxvill told The Sporting News he expected to be criticized for trading Smith. “People are going to say that it’s a matter of economics, that the Cardinals don’t want to pay the salaries,” Maxvill said.
Unapologetic, Herzog said, “I would venture to say there’s never been a better defensive outfield than Van Slyke, McGee and Vince.”
The Cardinals assigned Morris to Class AAA Louisville. In 130 games combined for Omaha and Louisville in 1985, Morris hit .251 with five home runs and 50 RBI.
Smith became the Royals’ everyday left fielder. He replaced Darryl Motley, who moved to right field and platooned there with Pat Sheridan.
“The key things are his bat and his speed and that we think he can give us a boost offensively,” Royals manager Dick Howser said of Smith to the Associated Press.
Regarding Smith’s previous drug problem, Howser told United Press International, “Our indications are _ and we’ve checked it out _ that he’s very good. He’s done what he’s had to do. We feel comfortable with the fact that he’s clean.”
(In his book “White Rat: A Life in Baseball,” Herzog said of Smith’s drug problem, “I admired him, and still do, for having the guts to ask for help.”)
Smith hit .257 with 40 steals for the 1985 Royals. In the World Series versus the Cardinals, Smith batted .333 with four runs scored, four RBI, three doubles and two steals.
Morris played five seasons (1986-90) with the Cardinals, hitting .247 with six home runs and 54 RBI. Granted free agency in October 1990, Morris signed with the Phillies. He finished his big-league career with the 1992 Angels.
In four seasons (1982-85) with the Cardinals, Smith hit .292 with 491 hits in 459 games, 173 steals and a .371 on-base percentage.
Previously: How Lonnie Smith came clean with the Cardinals
Previously: Why Lonnie Smith was a nemesis of Nolan Ryan