The Great Ross Smith
Written by Peter Campbell, Wellington's softball historian, with assistance from Trevor Rowse
Ross Smith died last night (29 December 2010) at Hutt Hospital. He had been ill for a long time with a series of related medical problems. This year he was inducted into the New Zealand Softball Hall of Fame after a long campaign by his fans.
Ross was, undoubtedly, the greatest all-rounder the game has seen, and completely dominated the N.Z. softball scene during the 1950s & 1960s.
Over all the years Ross played at top level he was a wonderful fielder, especially as a pitcher, but also at 3rd base or shortstop, as he was continually vying with Brian Wareham, (another great player), for the top slot. He lasted longer than Brian did, and was eventually overshadowed by the great Bill Massey, but he was good enough to hold his place for Hutt Valley, and top class softball as a utility and brilliant infielder.
At the end of his career he was selected for the first national touring team, to the 1966 World Series. It was a fitting reward.
He was literally feared as a batter by opposing teams during his career. Wareham said that Smith was the batter he had to work hardest against. He was a tremendous hitter of the ball, and won many games with his batting and smashed untold home runs.
The writer can remember a night game at the Basin Reserve in the late 50's where, from the diamond in front of the old main grandstand, Ross belted a home run clean out of the park, and on two hops the ball landed in the doorway of the hotel on the corner of Kent Terrace - a long way!!
He could be crafty and bunted with great skill at times, and his speed on the bases was really fast and up with the best we had.
All in all, Ross was one of the most complete players the game has ever seen. He was a living legend of the sport, and worthy by far of a place in the N.Z. Softball Hall of Fame.
He was honoured at this year's SNZ AGM.
ROSS SMITH'S RECORD:
1951/52 at Auckland -No. 1 pitcher for H.V. in Beatty Cup
1952/53 at Hutt Rec. -No. 1 pitcher for H.V. in Beatty Cup
Selected for North Island as pitcher, with Brian Wareham. Beat South Island 22-6. No. 1 pitcher for Hutt Valley Cardinals in John Lennon.
1953/54 at Invercargill. No. 1 pitcher for H.V. In Beatty Cup Ross pitched every game (7) for H.V. to win the Cup. Selected for North Island as No. 1 pitcher beat South 11-1. Number 1 pitcher for Cardinals in John Lennon. Pitched every game and won the Trophy.
This tournament put Ross Smith in a class of his own. He completely dominated the opposition teams, pitched every game for the two weeks, was one of the top batters in both tournaments and won both the Beatty Cup and the John Lennon, - a marvellous performance.
1954/55 at Hastings No. 1 pitcher for H.V. in Beatty Cup.
Selected in first ever trial NZ V Rest game as No. 1 pitcher for "The Rest", beat NZ 12-5. No.1 pitcher for Cardinals in John Lennon. Selected for North Island team, played 26th March 1955 at Petone. He and Wareham were the pitchers; - beat South Island 15-8.
1955/56 at Wellington. No. 1 pitcher for H.V. in Beatty Cup. Selected for "The Rest" V NZ in trial game, - NZ won 5-2. No. 1 pitcher for cardinals in John Lennon. Beat Miramar in final to win the trophy.
1956/57 at Christchurch. Ross not in H.V team at Beatty Cup; Bill Massey was the pitcher, No. 1 pitcher for Cardinals in John Lennon Tourney at Auckland, March, 1957, (won by Miramar).
1957/58 at Auckland No. 1 pitcher for H.V. in Beatty Cup, which was won by Hutt Valley. Selected for "The Rest" v NZ, - won by NZ 3-1.
1958/59 at Hutt Valley No. 1 pitcher for H.V. in Beatty Cup, won by Auckland. Selected for North Island team, - beat South 6-0 No. 1 pitcher for Cardinals, in John Lennon in March of 1959 at Greymouth, won by Broadway.
1959/60 at Otago. Ross not selected for Hutt Valley team in Beatty Cup as pitcher, this year was the start of Bill Massey's reign. Was No. 1 pitcher for Cardinals in John Lennon, - lost final to Railways.
1960/61 at Rotorua. No. 1 pitcher for Cardinals in John Lennon, won by Miramar. Selected in Hutt Valley team for Beatty Cup as utility, - won by Auckland. Selected as utility in NZ team v rest, - won by The Rest 6-5.
1961/62 at Wanganui. Selected as utility and 2nd pitcher for in Beatty Cup, -won by Hutt Valley.
1962/63 at Invercargill. Not in H.V. Beatty Cup team, - won by Hutt Valley. No. 1 pitcher for Cardinals in John Lennon, - won by Railways.
1963/64 at Hamilton. Selected as utility and 2nd pitcher for H.V. in Beatty Cup - won by Hutt Valley. Selected for North Island as utility v South Island, - won by North 4-3.
1964/65 at Palmerston North. Selected for Hutt Valley as shortstop in Beatty Cup, - won by Hutt Valley. Selected for North Island as infielder v South Island, - won by North Island 1-0.
1965/66 at Wellington. Selected for Hutt Valley as shortstop in Beatty Cup, - won by Hutt valley. Selected for NZ as utility infielder v The Rest, - won by The Rest 4-1.
1966/67 at Christchurch. Selected as shortstop for Hutt Valley in Beatty Cup, - won by Hutt Valley.
1966 Selected for New Zealand team as Utility for 1966 World Series in Mexico, the first NZ team to travel overseas.
1967/68. Played his last softball as shortstop for Broadway Club in Wellington.
Ross was a dominant figure for over 16 years in NZ softball. He represented North Island 5 times, New Zealand or Rest teams 5 times, Hutt Valley in Beatty Cup tournaments 13 times, and won 7 Beatty Cup medals. With Cardinals of H.V. 9 times in John Lennon tournaments, and won 2 Lennon medals. Played for Hutt Valley in all types of representative games for 16 years.
Ross was the bearer of a few nicknames, "Iron Arm", "Iron Horse", "Lightning Smith", but the one I remember the best was "Rocking Horse Smith".
Ross was also a great rugby player, a gifted second five eight, and like lightning on the wing. He played club rugby along with his brother Trevor, for Poneke then to Taita Rugby Club, and finished his playing days with the old Hutt Club.
Ross was selected for the Senior Wellington Rep team, which had a South Island tour in the 1956 season, and was a member of the Wellington team that lifted the Ranfurly Shield from Canterbury that season. He played two seasons for the Senior Rep team.
A totally gifted sportsman that could have been a top player in any sport he decided to have a go at. Ross and his wife Sylvia still live in Wainuiomata and his health has not been the best since suffering a stroke a couple of years back. Ross has been nominated for the NZ Softball Hall of Fame. Ross Smith was a true champion.
Compiled by Peter Campbell
Addition by Trevor Rowse
When reading this it is important to remember that Kevin Herlihy did not compete against Ross until about 1965 when he was still brilliant but not in the same class as he was in previous ten or more years. Kevin's words, from his book, talking about the top shortstops of his time.
"I have included Ross Smith as a shortstop but he could just as easily go in as a pitcher, for it was as a pitcher that I first saw him. He played for Cardinals in the Hutt Valley and did for them what Bill Massey was doing at the same time for Railways, But my most vivid memories of Ross are as a shortstop with 1966 Pilgrims (the first side to go to a world series) Ross was the most complete player I could imagine. Besides his pitching ability, he was a shortstop with wonderful hands and anticipation. He was also one of the better batters of his day and a terrific base runner. I struggle to find a weakness in his game. Off the field he was also a great character.
"He is another player who, had been given the opportunity to play in America, would have been right up there with the very best".
Brian Wareham, the ace pitcher of his day, rated Ross Smith as his hardest batting opponent of all time. Brian reckoned he could get anyone else out, but Ross was always ahead in their contests.