Former Astros closer Smith dies at 53

Updated: December 18, 2008, 2:53 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- Dave Smith, a former All-Star closer who holds the Houston Astros record for games pitched, died Wednesday. He was 53.

Former big leaguer Tim Flannery said Smith apparently died of a heart attack but the official cause of death wasn't known.

"He's gone. My tears are the rain," Flannery, the San Francisco Giants third base coach, told The Associated Press.

A woman who answered the phone at the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office said the body of a man named David Smith, with a date of birth matching that of the big league pitcher, was brought into her office earlier in the evening. The woman said she could not give her name.

Smith was an All-Star with Houston in 1986 and 1990. He had 216 saves in a 13-year career. He played with Houston from 1980-90 before finishing his career with two seasons with the Chicago Cubs.

His 563 outings with the Astros is tops on the club's list, and his 199 saves ranks second.

"The Houston Astros are shocked and saddened," the team said in a statement Thursday. "Dave was an integral part of the club for 11 seasons and will be remembered as an All-Star reliever on the field but most notably as a valued leader, teammate, and friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time."

Flannery said he spent time Wednesday afternoon with members of the Smith family in northern San Diego County. Flannery and Smith worked together on the San Diego Padres' coaching staff from 1999 until Smith resigned in June 2001 to spend more time with his family. Smith missed the first month of the 2001 season to complete an alcohol rehabilitation program.

"He was the most giving, unconditionally compassionate man anyone ever came across," Flannery said. "Everybody's got Dave Smith stories. Usually it's him reaching into his pocket and pulling out $100 to give to someone selling newspapers for a quarter.

"Going back to his playing days, he was one of the great closers and a fierce competitor," Flannery said. "He also had a zest for life; reckless abandon at times. He's gone at 53. He earned every moment of his life. He packed a lot into it."

Former teammate Joe Sambito said Smith's personality stood out.

"He was a good guy. He was a really good guy," said Sambito, who played with Smith in the early 1980s.

"You just remain close to them," Sambito said about fellow relievers.

"It is with great sadness that the San Diego community learned that it has not only lost a great baseball man, but a great friend to so many of us here," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said in a statement. "He was an integral part of the Padres for many years, as a minor league instructor and coach and later as our major league pitching coach."

Flannery said services were pending, but added that he and other surfers plan to paddle out onto the Pacific Ocean to spread Smith's ashes across the water.

"That was what he asked. That is what surfers do," Flannery said.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press