U.S. pitcher Smith enters softball hall of fame

Updated: July 15, 2006, 3:47 PM ET
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Two-time Olympic gold medalist Michele Smith was inducted into the American Softball Association's Hall of Fame in between games at the World Cup of Softball on Saturday.

Smith was presented with a plaque and a wooden Louisville Slugger bat engraved with her name and her designation as a member of the hall of fame.

"There's a lot of historic names in USA softball. To join them is an honor," Smith said.

Smith had a combined 2-2 record and a 0.50 ERA in 41 2/3 innings at the Atlanta Games in 1996 and the Sydney Games in 2000. The U.S. won gold at both.

The left-hander retired from the U.S. national team following its victory in the 2002 World Championships and did not play in the Athens Games in 2004.

Smith, who is from New Jersey and played in college at Oklahoma State, said times have changed since she was a child, looking up to Nolan Ryan.

"I grew up idolizing the men who played baseball, so to see a lot of these young girls be able to idolize the Jennie Finches, the Cat Ostermans, and Michele Smith and Lisa Fernandez, you know, it's great to see," Smith said. "As much as young boys benefit from having male role models, little girls benefit from having female role models."

Smith's pitching career was almost over before it began. She tore the triceps off her pitching arm and broke off part of her elbow bone in a car accident on July 21, 1986. Exactly 10 years later, softball debuted at the Atlanta Olympics.

"It was almost like it was meant to happen, meant to challenge me," Smith said. "You wonder sometimes when things happen to you in life, why it happened. Once you get through it, you look back on it and you realize that maybe there was some greater meaning going to happen down the road.

"I definitely feel like that was a big part of my career because I can look at kids that have been injured now and say, 'Just don't give up.' "

At Oklahoma State, Smith set a school record for wins by compiling an 82-20 record while striking out 600. She also was a career .343 hitter with 15 home runs.

Now a commentator for ESPN, Smith remembers the Olympics fondly, and during a speech encouraged fans to do all they can to encourage the International Olympic Committee to reinstate the sport for the 2016 Games.

But for Smith, softball is about more than the Olympics.

"There were a lot of games that we played before we were even in the '96 Olympics. When you have a passion for this sport, it does reach beyond the Olympic Games," Smith said. "The Olympics just give it credibility."

Three other members of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team -- Dot Richardson, Michele Granger and Sheila Douty -- will be inducted at a ceremony in November, along with former Alaska ASA coordinator Pat Lillian, umpires Ralph Miller and Norm Davis, longtime manager Don Brewer and Avon Meacham, the MVP of the 1994 ASA Men's Major Fast Pitch National Championship.

Smith was inducted early because of a conflict with the ceremony. She plans to play for her professional fast pitch team in Japan again this fall.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press