Friday, October 21, 2005

Tal Smith and the Houston Astros

Tal Smith
You simply can't talk about most any facet of Major League Baseball in Houston without touching on Tal Smith. Be it assistant GM to Gabe Paul, the development of the Astrodome, General Manager of the Astros, the development of Minute Maid Park, President of Baseball Operations, as well as, contract negotiations and the salary arbitration process, Smith has touched on it all.

Smith is a sage. He's also a longtime member of SABR. If there's such thing as a Baseball Man's Baseball Man, Smith fits the bill. To be involved in the birth of not one, but two ballparks, is extraordinary. His work with Judge Roy Hofheinz on the Astrodome paved the way for countless attributes and amenities of the modern ballpark. Tal's Hill, the 10 degree incline at Minute Maid Park in centerfield, was but one of his ideas for the current home of the Astros. Talk salary structure and you get an insight into how methodical his approach has been when it came to setting contracts based on solid analysis. Smith is legendary in baseball for his ability to see how crucial statistical analysis would be when salary arbitration came into play in the '70's.

Talbot Smith was born in 1933 in Framington, Mass. He attended Culver Military Academy (IN) and Duke University where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in business administration in 1955. Before entering Duke (at the age of 16) Tal spent the summer as a staff announcer for the ABC radio affiliate in Durham, N.C. While at Duke, he broadcast Blue Devil basketball for stations in the region. During the summer recess in 1953, he worked as an assistant for the editorial staff at The Sporting News in St. Louis. Following graduation, he served as an officer in the United States Air Force for two years while continuing his radio work with various sports programs on a part-time basis. Upon completion of his military service, he worked as a news reporter for the Cape Cod (MA) Standard-Times before joining the Cincinnati Reds in December of 1957 as an administrative assistant for scouting and minor league operations.

Tal started his baseball career in earnest within the farm department of the Cincinnati Reds in 1958. He came to Houston in November of 1960 when he was named assistant to the general manager of the new National League Franchise. He was named team farm director of the Colt .45s in April of 1961, a position he held for two years. In April of 1963 he became assistant to the president of the Houston Sports Association, acting primarily as a liaison for the HSA during construction of the Astrodome. In the late 1960s, he also developed the formulas and pioneered the use of computerization of scouting reports and other player data. During the first of Tal's three terms with the Houston franchise, the club signed and developed more players that reached the Major Leagues than any other team.

Following completion of the Astrodome, Tal was named vice president and director of player personnel in December of 1965. In 1972, he was named vice president and director of operations for Astrodome-Astrohall Stadium corporation. In November of 1973, he left Houston to become executive vice president of the New York Yankees, serving in that capacity until his return to Houston as general manager of the Astros in August of 1975. He was named president of the club on Sept. 23, 1976.

Since 1961, he has been owner and operator of Tal Smith Enterprises, a firm which has provided consulting services to 26 of the 30 Major League clubs. The most recognized functions have been the preparation and presentation of salary arbitration cases, the financial appraisal of franchises and testimony as an expert witness in sports-related litigation. Tal also served as the sole arbitor in two disputes involving Major League Baseball where the Commissioner was recused.

In this interview, Tal talks of how he broke into baseball, his work with Judge Roy Hofheinz on the Astrodome, the development of Minute Maid Park, breaking down how he views the arbitration process, memorable cases with Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Don Mattingly, as well as touching on Roger Clemens, Carlos Beltran, and what it means to be a member of SABR.
– Maury Brown

Click here for the complete interview

Courtesy of the Business of Baseball

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