By Mike Talbert
John Smillie calls himself a dinosaur.
If being outspoken puts one on the endangered species list, there is no argument. Well, considering this is Smillie, maybe there will be an argument.
Smillie, the longtime Corinth baseball coach, has always been willing to say what is on his mind. He even has in his Corinth baseball guide his school record seven ejections in a season.
Ejection is outlawed now. It includes a fine, suspension, and at Corinth, lost pay. It is just the latest of many changes that makes Smillie think he is in a league with the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
“Dinosaurs become extinct if they don’t adapt,” he said.
And Smillie isn’t willing to adapt to some of the changes that he sees taking away from his hard-nosed dedication to the game.
So it is with the end of this eason, his son Jason Smillie a senior, and Smillie himself reaching his 25th year, he has decided to call it a career.
“High school baseball around here is losing a good man. He has done a lot for high school baseball in Mississippi,” Saltillo coach Johnny Bolen said.
“There are a lot of people who don’t like him, but that is because he works his butt off and wants to get the game right.”
Smillie has seemed a little more mellow this season than in the past. It may because his team, lacking a solid pitcher, has struggled to an 11-16 record.
“Our kids have gone out there and done their best. We just aren’t a very good team this year,” he said.
But he is still no no hurry for this year to get over. He could have ended his career with the Division 1-3A tournament this week. But Smillie, whose Warriors lost a play-in game to Shannon 5-4 Tuesday, had his bases covered.
He had a make-up game scheduled with South Pontotoc for Wednesday and has a doubleheader with West Lowndes at noon and Columbus at 5 p.m. in Columbus Saturday so his players will get as close to the legal 33 games as possible.
“It will give us a chance to play three more games,” Smillie said.
And playing more baseball is what it has all been about for Smillie, who has built a 549-344-12 record, including eight years at West Tallahatchie before arriving at Corinth. Smillie led a change in high school baseball in the area, he along with Jerry Long at Tishomingo County, Rex Berryman at Mooreville and a few others have tried to turn baseball into the third major sport in the area.
Smillie also did that by helping start the Northeast Mississippi Coaches Association for the Betterment of Baseball.
And Smillie did that by playing baseball games. He was part of the move that saw some teams go from playing 20 games to playing almost 50 in a season. The MHSAA rule aimed at limiting games has been called the “Smillie Rule.”
Smillie sees the restriction as aimed at what he has tried to accomplish in high school baseball.
“The way it is going today, they will have a two-day season. It will start March first and end the next day, then they start playoffs.”
There is also a change in the players, he says. There is not the same dedication to the game that there has been in the past. There are so many other things to do.
It makes it harder.
This season has been different for Smillie, not just because it’s his last before former player Stan Pearce replaces him.
It has been different because Jason has been playing on the team.
“It has been enjoyable getting to coach my son, but it has been one of the hardest things in my 25 years of coaching,” he said.
“Before a lot of these kids have only seen me at the ball field. But I am seeing a lot of the kids over at the house with Jason.”
Smillie is one of those who believes there should be a distance between the coach and player.
“These players know me as more than just a coach, they know me as a player’s dad,” he said. “It is a tougher situation, but I have enjoyed it.”
But it doesn’t mellow him. He will still tell them in his blunt Brooklyn accent what he wants.
Smillie said that when he quits high school coaching, he is out of coaching altogether, he won’t even keep coaching the American Legion teams as he has in the past.
“That wouldn’t be fair to the high school coach. I would want to do things my way and he has his way,” Smillie said.
However, Smillie is not getting out of baseball. He has too many ties to that. So much so that his daughter Shannon is a diamond girl at his alma mater Delta State.
He plans to do some consulting on field management, maybe conduct clinics, and umpire.
He see no problem in switching from one of the most outspoken critics of umpires who didn’t measure to his standards to calling games himself.
“I’ll do OK because I know the rules. I know what I am supposed to do,” he said. “A competent umpire will keep the game in control.”