Former KC Royals OF Lonnie Smith didn’t exactly have a happy stay with the team. In 1988, Smith decided to murder then general manager John Schuerholz because Smith thought he had black-listed him with other league executives.
Though former Kansas City Star reporter Kent Babb broke the news 10 years ago, I must confess I had never heard the story before. If I hadn’t heard it, I figure that a lot of other Kansas City Royals fans don’t know the tale.
Thus, I think it’s the perfect story to tell on an off day.
According to Babb, Lonnie Smith told him that he believed that then-Royals GM John Schuerholz never believed that Smith had given up on drugs after spending 30 days in a rehab clinic in 1983 (Smith was then with the St. Louis Cardinals).
The KC Royals acquired Smith during the 1985 season, and the outfielder helped win the club’s first World Series title. He stayed with the team through the 1987 season, but left on bad terms. In the winter of 1988, Smith was begging other teams for a chance. But, his phone wasn’t ringing.
The Murder Plan
Smith decided that John Schuerholz had to be bad-mouthing him to other teams. He bought a dime bag of marijuana for $40, which he claimed was his first drug relapse since 1983, and planned to fly to Kansas City to shoot Schuerholz.
Smith told Babb:
"“If I couldn’t get back to baseball,” Smith says, “I was going to take him with me. I was going to fly out there, wait for him in the parking lot of the stadium and pop him. If I got caught, I got caught. If not, I’d come on back home.”"
Lonnie Smith bought a Taurus 9-mm handgun from a pawn shop in Spartansburg, SC and planned to point it at Schuerholz’s head from six feet away. A big selling point for gun-neophyte Smith was that with a 15-bullet magazine, it held more than six rounds.
"“If I did, you know, the thing [murder], at least I took somebody out who was at blame,” he says.“I figured if I got close enough to him, it didn’t matter,” Smith says. “I didn’t think I really wanted to do it, but at the same time, I really did. To have something that you love and have somebody take it from you, it will drive you to do anything.”"
The then 32-year-old Lonnie Smith fired a practice round into the ground in his backyard, scarring his hand because he held the gun too close to the hammer.
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A few days later, Atlanta GM Bobby Cox called and offered Smith a chance to play for the Braves. Smith threw out the half-used dime bag and prepared to make the team. After playing himself into shape in Atlanta’s minor-league system, Smith enjoyed a career year in 1989 for the Braves. Smith slashed .315/.415/.533 with 34 doubles, 4 triples, 21 home runs, and 79 RBIs with 25 stolen bases. Baseball-Reference estimated he was worth 8.8 Wins Above Replacement (bWAR).
Smith played another seven seasons with Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore before retiring at age 38 after the 1994 season. But, things could have gone much differently had Bobby Cox not picked up Lonnie Smith when he had hit bottom.
You can see more about Smith’s career by watching the video below:
To me, the most compelling part of the tale is how close Lonnie Smith came to committing a horrible crime. Instead of being a mostly forgotten player living in retirement after earning more than $10 million in baseball, he could be spending the rest of his life in prison. Or, he might have already been executed since Missouri has the death penalty for capital murder.
Lonnie Smith avoided becoming one of the most infamous criminals in sports history alongside Rae Carruth and O.J. Simpson by the thinnest of margins.