Steve Smith, who starred in football and baseball at Gulfport High, spoke Friday at the Our Love Affair with Baseball exhibit at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art.
Smith, who won 744 games over 21 seasons at Baylor, spoke about his love of baseball.
“Baseball has always been fun for me,” Smith said. “My passion got me into the game.”
One of Smith’s greatest joys was being drafted by the San Francisco Giants and signing a professional contract after graduating from Baylor.
“They are paying me to do this,” Smith said.
Smith, who is a deacon in his Norwood Baptist Church in Waco, believes baseball is facing a demographic problem caused by lack of scholarships. Football and basketball teams can give out full scholarships, while baseball teams are limited to 11.7 scholarships. Title IX requires scholarships divided equally between male and female athletes.
“I want to see the best athletes play college baseball,” Smith said. “We need to give full scholarships so these athletes have a choice to play college baseball. Baseball is not a level playing field.”
After a three-year minor league career, Smith started coaching at Texas A&M under Mark Johnson and earned his MBA. After being turned down for four positions then-Mississippi State coach Ron Polk was looking for an assistant and called him. He was later offered the MSU job.
“I told my wife she would love Starkville, that it was in the Appalachian foothills,” Smith said. “She did enjoy Starkville.”
Following his stint at Starkville, Smith returned to Baylor as head coach, leading the Bears 13 NCAA Regionals, three conference titles, five Big 12 Coach of the Year awards, and the 2005 College World Series. His first title 2000 was the Bears’ first Conference baseball title since they won the Southwest Conference championship in 1923. His 744 wins tops Baylor’s coaching charts. In 1999, he led the Bears to 50 wins.
In addition to winning on the baseball diamond, Smith’s charges scored high marks academically. Before Smith arrived, Baylor had only one academic all-American. In his 21 years, Smith coached 14 academic all-Americans and 159 Bears won academic all-conference awards.
Smith also excelled on the football field, quarterbacking Gulfport to the 1977 Big 8 championship and leading Mississippi College to the Gulf South Conference championship and a third-place Division II finish.