A first-pitch hitter, good with the hit-and-run, and a fine bunter, Smith was named TSN 1980 Rookie of the Year when he batted .339. His one liability proved to be erratic defensive play ; he earned his nickname Skates for his tendency to slip while pursuing balls in the outfield, and he twice led NL outfielders in errors.
Smith was a catalyst for the 1982 World Champion Cardinals when he led them in hits, doubles, triples, batting average, runs, and stolen bases. He also tied a NL record by stealing five bases in a game. He experienced drug problems in 1983; he fought through them but wasn’t the same player. Traded to Kansas City for outfielder John Morris in May 1985, Smith faced his old teammates in the World Series that fall and contributed a .333 average, four RBI, five runs, and two stolen bases to the Royals’ victory.
Released after a disappointing 1987 season, Smith signed with Atlanta’s Richmond (International League) farm club and worked his way back to the majors in 1988. He exhibited newfound power in 1989 as Atlanta’s left fielder and had his best season ever (.315, 21 HR, 79 RBI, .415 on-base average).