Jackson, Smith look to make own names on Stars
It was long ago, way back on Dec. 10, 1981, when the St. Louis Cardinals traded their shortstop, Garry Templeton, to the San Diego Padres for Ozzie Smith, then known as a great-field, no-hit shortstop, in a six-player deal.
Smith batted .258, .211, .230 and .222 in his first four seasons with the Padres. Then he played 15 years for the Cardinals, highlighted by a World Series championship in 1982, a run of 13 consecutive Gold Gloves, and a first-ballot Hall of Fame induction in 2002.
He was known as the “Wizard of Oz,” setting the major league record for career assists (8,375) and the National League record with career games (2,511) at the position. Smith finished with a .262 batting average, a career 2,460 hits and a .978 fielding percentage over 19 seasons.
Templeton had a better start to his career (1976-91), making the All-Star Game in 1977 and ’79 and later in 1985. In contrast, Smith was a 15-time All-Star. Templeton finished with a .271 batting average, 2,096 career hits and a .961 fielding percentage over 16 seasons. He’s not in the Hall of Fame, and he’s currently managing the Newark Bears of the Canadian-American League.
His son is Garry Templeton II, known as G2. He was drafted by the Anaheim Angels in 1999 and played shortstop. The younger Templeton, 34, is now in his second year managing the Hawaii Stars. He’s also the team’s de facto general manager, assembling the roster for his ballclub.
For much of his life, when Templeton meets someone for the first time the conversation eventually swings around to the shortstop swap involving his dad. In an ironic twist, the Stars signed Dustin Smith. That’s right. The son of the Wizard of Oz.
“Whenever I meet somebody, that conversation about my dad’s trade is never too far from memory,” Templeton said. “But more than anything, I want to give the kid a chance to play. I’ve checked my sources and everybody I talked to said he can play.”
According to baseball-reference.com, Smith has played independent ball from 2009-11 as an outfielder and second baseman. Templeton said Smith is capable of playing shortstop, too.
During his heyday, the Wizard of Oz would entertain the St. Louis Cardinals fans with a backflip. No word if the latest Star has the same gymnastic talent.
“I’m going to say, ‘No,’ on the backflip. But I could be wrong,” Templeton said. “He has speed and is explosive, so it wouldn’t surprise me.
“He definitely has some tools. He has talent. He can run, swing the bat pretty well. You can’t compare him to his dad. Same thing with my dad.”
Templeton knows it’s tough enough to have the same name as a famous baseball father. But what if the first and last name was worldwide famous? Like Michael Jackson.
Mike Jackson was a relief pitcher for 16 seasons in the big leagues, employed by nine teams, starting with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1986 and ending with the Chicago White Sox in 2004.
He pitched in the 1997 World Series with the Cleveland Indians and is ranked 14th in all-time games pitched.
No doubt he heard the song “Thriller” a million times when he trotted to the mound from the bullpen. Mike Jackson pitched during the height of singer Michael Jackson’s reign on the airwaves.
It’s likely the same thing for his son, Mike Jackson Jr., a relief pitcher for the Hawaii Stars.
He pitched for Penn State Greater Allegheny and was selected to the PECOs All-Star game in 2011, an independent league based in Texas.
“He’ll be one of our relievers, throws in the low 90s mph, but didn’t get drafted,” Templeton said. “I’m sure he’s heard all the Michael Jackson jokes. He’s had that name all his life. He’d gotten used to it. I’m pretty sure it gets old. There’s nothing anyone can do creatively about it anymore.”
Last year, Na Koa Ikaika Maui took Templeton, pitcher/coach Dallas Mahan and outfielder Matt Hibbert, who’s back with the Stars, to its trip to Japan for exhibition games.
This season, the Stars are not only going to Japan, but also to Arizona to play against the Freedom League’s Phoenix Prospectors and Prescott Federals.
“I can eat all the food in Japan, but I can’t speak Japanese,” Templeton joked. “I’m excited about our schedule. We’ll get our kids in front of different scouts and fans. It’s great for the league and the kids. There’s more variety.
“To play the same three teams over and over again (like last year), it gets boring. You’ve just seen all the guys so many times. It’s hard to get up for games. But when you face a new team and go to a new place, you get extra adrenaline. You want to play harder and show people in other places that you can play.”
The road trip to Arizona will be in July, long after the Major League Baseball first-year player draft, held June 6-8. By then, scouts will be back at games, searching for more talent, trying to find hidden gems that fell through cracks.
It’s bargain shopping for MLB teams, after stretching their budgets on draft picks. Independent player contracts can be bought out inexspensively.
And according to seamheads.com, a record 54 independent players were in major league camps in February.
The biggest success story is Scott Kazmir, a 2008 major league all-star. In 2012, he pitched for the independent Atlantic League and went 3-6 with a 5.34 ERA.
He went to spring training with the Cleveland Indians and is now in the starting rotation.
That’s not lost on Templeton, who’s hoping scouts will take a nibble on his Stars.
“We had a scout come to see Roman Martinez (now with the Ishikawa Million Stars in Japan) in San Rafael last year,” he said. “I’ve had scouts call me, and I know a couple of others were at games.
“When you see kids 22, 23, 24 years old, they’re still young enough to grab and stick into Single-A or rookie ball.
“But you have to give them a reason to come to your games. And if a scout comes to see one guy, it’s an opportunity for other players to have the scout say, ‘Hey, who’s that guy?’ Going on the road more gives our guys more opportunities to be seen.”