President, Baseball Operations
The 2010 season marks Tal Smith's 53rd as a Major League Baseball executive, his 16th consecutive with the Astros, and his 34th year overall with the Houston franchise.
Tal started his baseball career in the farm department of the Cincinnati Reds in 1958, and his long tenure with the Astros has included the birth of two baseball stadiums, The Astrodome and Minute Maid Park. With his long tenure of service to the Houston baseball franchise, Tal is the main link between the Astros past and present as the club continues a new era in Houston.
Tal was a vital aide to owner Drayton McLane and to the interests of the club throughout the many stages of development of the Astros fabulous baseball facility, Minute Maid Park. The ballpark's field dimensions and unique angles were designed with Tal's input and assistance. Center field boasts a 10-degree hill - "Tal's Hill" - a tribute to his creativity and contribution to the Minute Maid Park project. Tal filled a similar role in ballpark development in 1963 when he became assistant to the president of the Houston Sports Association, acting primarily as a liaison for HSA and its president, Judge Roy Hofheinz, during the construction of the Astrodome, a project which changed the face of stadiums and the city of Houston forever.
When natural grass failed to thrive under the Astrodome roof, Tal was responsible for finding an alternative playing surface. This led to the installation of AstroTurf, the synthetic turf that became widely used in stadiums throughout the country.
Tal returned to the Houston organization on Nov. 22, 1994, when he was named president of the club, and he celebrated his 50th season in Major League Baseball in 2007. Since 1981, he has been owner and operator of Houston-based Tal Smith Enterprises, a firm which has provided consulting services to 26 of the 30 Major League clubs. The most recognized functions have been in the preparation and presentation of salary arbitration cases (where Tal's firm has handled more than 900 filings and tried more than 150 cases), operational reviews, the financial appraisal of franchises and testimony as an expert witness in sports-related litigation. Tal also served as the sole arbitrator in two disputes involving Major League Baseball where the Commissioner was recused.
Before forming his own company, he worked for 23 years in management and administrative positions with Major League clubs, including president and general manager of the Astros and executive vice president of the New York Yankees. Widely respected by his peers throughout the country, Tal was chosen as one of 25 panelists by Baseball America in 1999 to provide an overview of baseball in the 20th century, highlighting the greatest feats, personalities and records in the game during the past 100 years.
Baseball America also recognized Tal for his career of achievements and innovations in December of 2005, when the publication honored him with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Winter Meetings in Dallas.
Tal was the primary architect of Houston's first playoff club, the 1980 NL Western Division champs. That season was followed by a dramatic five-game NLCS against the Phillies in which the last four games went into extra innings, leaving Houston six outs short of its first trip to the World Series. For his efforts, he was recognized by The Sporting News as the Major League Executive of the Year. He also has served in his current capacity for all six of the club's playoff teams over the last 13 seasons, including the first World Series team in franchise history. The 2005 Astros won the first National League Pennant in team history and on October 25, 2005, Minute Maid Park hosted the first World Series game ever played in the State of Texas.
Tal came to Houston from Cincinnati in November of 1960 when he was named assistant to the new National League franchise's general manager, Gabe Paul. He was named farm director of the Colt .45s in April 1961 and held that post for two years. In April 1963, he became assistant to the president of the Houston Sports Association, acting primarily as liaison for HSA during the construction of the Astrodome. In the late 1960s, he also developed the formats and pioneered the implementation of the computerization of scouting reports and other player data. During the first of Tal's three terms with the Houston franchise, the club signed and developed more players that reached the Major Leagues than any other team.
Following completion of the Astrodome, Tal was named vice president and director of player personnel in December 1965. In 1972, he was named vice president and director of operations for Astrodome-Astrohall Stadium Corporation. In November 1973, he left Houston to become executive vice president of the New York Yankees, serving in that capacity until his return to Houston as general manager of the Astros in August 1975. He was named president of the club on Sept. 23, 1976.
In 1978, Tal led an expedition of Astros players and staff to Cuba, where they conducted baseball clinics and observed Cuban players.
Tal was born in 1933 in Framingham, Mass. He attended Culver Military Academy (IN) and Duke University where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in business administration in 1955. Before entering Duke (at 16 years of age), Tal spent the summer as a staff announcer for the ABC radio affiliate in Durham, N.C. While at Duke, he broadcast Blue Devil basketball for stations in the region. During the summer recess in 1953, he worked as an assistant for the editorial staff at The Sporting News (at that time, the National Baseball Weekly) in St. Louis. Following graduation, he served as an officer in the United States Air Force for two years while continuing his radio work with various sports programs on a part-time basis. Upon completion of his military service, he worked as a news reporter for the Cape Cod (MA) Standard-Times before joining the Cincinnati Reds in December 1957 as an administrative assistant for scouting and minor league operations.
Tal was inducted into the Culver Academies Athletic Hall of Fame on September 28, 1996, and the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame on Nov. 4, 1998. He was presented with the Fred Hartman Long and Meritorious Service Award by the Houston Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1993. He currently serves as Chairman of the Athletic Advisory Committee for the Culver Academies and is a member of the Advisory Board for Baseball America. He is a longtime member, and former officer, of SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) and currently serves as First Vice President of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America, an organization which was founded in 1924 to provide financial assistance for those professional baseball players, coaches, umpires, scouts, and other baseball personnel who are in need.
Tal and his wife, Jonnie, make their home in Houston. They have two children, Valerie and Randy, and two grandsons, Quinn and Shane. Randy is a former general manager of the San Diego Padres (1993-95) and Detroit Tigers (1996-2001). Randy became the then-youngest general manager in Major League Baseball history when he was appointed to that position by the Padres in 1993 at age 29. Randy presently serves as the director of player development for the Padres.
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