50 years ago, Smith led Miami to first championship


OXFORD, Ohio — Fifty years ago, Bowling Green High School graduate Dennis Smith helped Miami University win its first ever Mid-American Conference baseball championship in 1973.

This weekend, that team is getting together for its 50-year reunion and will be introduced before the Akron-Miami baseball game.

Smith, now 72 years old, grew up near Weston, graduating from BGHS in 1969, and he has remained a lifelong resident of BG ever since. While a Bobcat, he earned All-Ohio honors in 1969.

At Miami on a baseball scholarship, he was named an All-American in 1973 and a three-time first team All-MAC selection (1971, 72, 73). He is the only player in Miami history to be first team All-MAC three times and All-District IV twice (1971, 73).

He is one of only four Miami baseball players to earn All-American status and was inducted into Miami’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990. Since he wore No. 22, it seemed appropriate that he was inducted into Miami’s 22nd class.

Smith was MVP and co-captain of that first MAC championship team, which reached No. 14 in the final national rankings.

He led the MAC in hitting and was 12th in the nation, finishing with a career batting average of .342 when the college game used only wood bats, which he believes demonstrated his consistency at the plate.

Upon graduation, he held eight Miami career records and four single season records. Career categories included runs batted in (120), home runs (21), total bases (280), batting average, doubles (32), runs (119), hits (168) and triples (8).

A right-hander and first baseman, he earned four letters from 1970-73 and helped the Redskins compile a 111-39 record under coach Bud Middaugh, who was inducted into Miami’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1981.

That .740 winning percentage over the span of four consecutive years is the highest in Miami baseball history. Smith teamed up with a long list of talented ballplayers who helped make that happen.

That team featured the MAC leader in ERA, MAC leader in batting average (Smith), two first team All-MAC selections, four second team All-MAC selections, four future Miami Athletic Hall of Fame inductees, eight players who signed professional contracts, one future Major League Baseball player, and the lowest team ERA (2.07) in program history.

“We were very good, actually,” Smith said. “The Miami program had been down during the 60s, but Bud Middaugh became the coach and turned the program around, starting with 1970.

“Starting in 1970, my freshman year, we went 22-10, and then in ’71 we went 32-10, and then in ’72 we went 30-10, and ’73 we won the first championship (28-9).

“It made it special because it was my senior year, and there were four of us seniors and that was our goal to win a title for Miami, which we did.”

Recruiting All-Ohioans

Smith said part of the reason for the team’s success was Middaugh’s ability to recruit. He was able to bring in four players off the All-Ohio team Smith’s freshman year, including Smith.

“We had Eric Florence, who was my roommate, and he was a catcher and all-state from Waynesville, Ohio, Gary Cooper was all-state for Dayton Belmont, and the fourth one was a fellow named Buddy Bell.

“Buddy attended fall quarter, but he signed with Cleveland and then it’s all history. He had a very successful (Major League) career (spanning 18 years).

“We came in as freshmen and started winning and the class he brought in behind me was an outstanding class, and we put it together.”

As far as Bell is concerned, he and Smith remain friends. Smith often stops by at the Goodyear, Arizona spring training site, where Buddy’s son, David Bell, is manager of the Reds, and Buddy is vice president and senior advisor to the general manager.

Smith often wonders how good Miami would have been if Buddy Bell stayed with Miami.

“We laugh, we say, we were pretty good without him, we wonder how good we would have been with him,” Smith said.

Following graduation from Miami, Smith was also drafted into professional baseball by the Texas Rangers. He was originally drafted by Cleveland out of high school, then by Cleveland again a year later, and then by the San Fransisco Giants a third time in the old winter phase draft, before the Rangers finally selected him after college.

He wanted to stay in Oxford, so that’s why he waited to sign.

“I wanted to win a championship and I also wanted to graduate. It was important,” Smith said, adding that he did have a limited minor league professional career after college.

Later, Smith went back to Miami, got his masters degree in education, taught and coached basketball at numerous schools around Ohio.

Baseball in the barnyard

However, his youth days playing baseball were different than today’s youth, but not much different than other youth during his day — finding a bat, ball and glove and joining up with his two brothers in the yard.

“I grew up on a farm over by Weston and my older brother was 10 years older than I was,” Bell said. “That is basically all we had to do is we played ball and my brother Dan taught me how to hit. It was something to do. We didn’t have all the things that today’s youth have to occupy their time.

“When my older brother got married, I basically threw the ball against the barn by the hour, and I didn’t even have any neighbor kids even close by.

“I played (youth baseball) at Milton Center, then I played for Rudolph and all these little communities, and then I attended (the former) Westwood High School my freshman year and then we consolidated with Bowling Green.”

At Westwood, Smith played for Charlie Reynolds, a future hall of fame basketball coach at Elmwood, and then Reynolds moved with the team to continue coaching at BG Smith’s sophomore year before heading to Elmwood. Smith’s junior year he was coached by Bob Vannett.

After high school, Smith’s connection to Miami came through another BGHS faculty member.

“Fortunately, our high school physical education teacher was a fellow named Warren Ott, nicknamed ‘Bull’ Ott. He attended Miami — as a matter of fact, he is in Miami’s hall of fame for football.

“He made a call. I visited Miami in the fall of ’68 and Bo Schembechler had me down for football. I played tight end for Bowling Green High School, and I was very impressed with the beautiful campus and it had a lot going for it.

“When the baseball coach called me in the spring, I did another recruiting trip down. I could have attended Bowling Green, I could have attended Ohio U.

“But there was something about it and I thought I could play as a freshman at Miami, whereas at OU their returning first baseman was first team all-conference the year before, so it was just a natural fit.”

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