A reliable shortstop in the days when a fielding average below .900 could lead the league, Smith was noted for his far-ranging play. His .886 fielding average did, in fact, lead the American Association in 1887. When the AA folded in 1890, he moved from its Brooklyn team to the National League‘s new Brooklyn franchise. In 1891 John Montgomery Ward took over as manager and shortstop, and Smith was off to Cincinnati. There he led NL shortstops in assists each year from 1891 to 1894.