Few Hawks have done more to put the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in the college record books than former baseball player Ira “Dude” Smith.
The Chestertown, Md., native was the first player in college baseball history to win back-to-back batting titles when he did so in 1989 (.488) and 1990 (.519). Smith’s 1990 average placed him sixth in the all-time NCAA Division I record books and his career average of .431 ranked him fourth all-time.
Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Ricky Weeks matched Smith’s back-to-back batting title feat at the University of Miami.
Considered the most consistent hitter to wear a Hawks’ uniform, Smith once collected hits in 10 straight at-bats and hit three home runs in one four-game stretch. He was the Hawks’ MVP in 1989 and 1990.
After starring at UMES, the versatile Smith was drafted in the 37th round of the 1990 Major League Baseball amateur draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an outfielder. He spent nine seasons in the minor leagues, followed by five seasons playing for independent league teams.
In the spring of 1995, the then 27-year-old Smith crossed the picket lines of a strike that began during the 1994 season and participated in spring training with the San Diego Padres because he saw his chances of playing in the major leagues slipping away.
After hitting .325 with Class AAA Las Vegas, San Diego general manager Randy Smith attempted to add the veteran minor leaguer to the major league roster, but the 24 Padres on the team at the time voted against his promotion. He would spend three more seasons in the minors.
Smith hit .294 in 817 minor league games, but never made a major league roster. He continued to play until the age of 35, hitting .289 in 338 independent league games.
Smith’s storied career earned him a place in the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Hall of Fame (2004), the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame (2005), and most recently, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame (2010). Smith has been a nominee to the College Baseball Hall of Fame as well.