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It was almost as if Ozzie Smith said, “Let’s have some fun!” when he did backflips before he returned to his position prior to the start of Cardinals home openers.
Watching Smith sustain defensive wizardry at shortstop was indeed fun for his multitude of aficionados, whom he treated to 13 consecutive National League Gold Glove Award-winning seasons and 15 All-Star selections in a 19-year big league career spent mostly with St Louis. He could also swing a bat. He was a skilled player, with 2 ,460 lifetime hits.
Here’s a collection of 10 top moments and events from Smith’s career, on the occasion of his 67th birthday:
1. Go Midwest, young man
Dec. 10, 1981
Embroiled in a contract dispute with Padres management, the 27-year-old Smith underwent a change of scenery when the Cardinals acquired him in a six-player trade. Smith’s San Diego contract contained a no trade clause. However, Whitey Herzog, the Cards manager, assured Smith that St. Louis would be one of the best teams in baseball with him on its roster. Smith waived that clause two months later and became a Cardinal.
2. Sudden slugger
Oct. 14, 1985
In the ninth inning, the score was tied at 2-2 in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series. The series between the Cardinals & Dodgers was even at two games each. Then the light-hitting Smith, a switch-hitter who had not homered in his previous 3,009 left-handed at-bats, came to the plate with one out against Los Angeles right-hander Tom Niedenfuer and yanked a fastball over the right-field barrier to win it for St. Louis, which went on to capture the NLCS in Game 6. Jack Buck, the Cards’ broadcaster, urged Smith to go deep after he went deep. Smith won the series with a. 435 batting record and was awarded the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award.
Smith was awarded his first NL Gold Glove Award for accumulating a record 621 shortstop assists. Smith already had begun building his reputation as “The Wizard” by making plays such as the one he recorded against Atlanta on April 20, 1978, when he dove to his left for a Jeff Burroughs smash, caught the ball barehanded after it caromed unexpectedly off a rock, and threw to first base for the out in the fourth inning. The Padres won, 2-0.
4. Numbers don’t lie
Smith finished among the league’s Top 10 in defensive bWAR 14 times during his career and led the NL in that category six times during the 1980s. Of course, Smith sparkled in compilations of conventional statistics, leading Senior Circuit shortstops eight times in fielding percentage in his career.
5. One tough wizard
Smith was sidelined for the second half due to an impingement in the right shoulder (throwing). This forced Smith to change his throwing motion, which in turn led to a rotator cuff tear.
6. Second-rate at first spot
Herzog promoted Smith to second place in the batting order during this season. Smith did a great job in coping with the increased responsibility. 303 with an. 392 slugging percentage, 75 RBIs, 104 runs and 40 doubles. This was Smith’s best offensive year.
7. MVP: It’s a tough call
Smith was praised for his excellence all around and was awarded the NL MVP Award. But voters favored Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson, who amassed 49 homers and 137 RBIs. Smith had zero homers and compiled a 6.4 BWAR. Dawson’s was 4.0. However, WAR was not yet included in baseball’s statistical vocabulary. Smith’s St. Louis teammate Jack Clark finished third in the voting, which may have inadvertently robbed Smith some support.
8. Cooperstown: No Doubter
A first-ballot selection for the Hall of Fame, Smith received 91.7 percent of the vote — 16.7 percent more than the minimum necessary. He required 354 votes, and collected 433. votes. He was the only player to be elected to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in that year.
9. Ozzie Smith, shortstop
Even the most talented performers will have to play an alternate position in their career at one point or another. Smith was not the exception, as he manned shortstop in both of his ,511 regular season appearances.
Tony Gwynn, San Diego’s best hitter, said that “He leaves a Legacy of the Correct Way to Play Shortstop.”
10. Let’s talk about the backflip.
Andy Strasberg (team promotions director) noticed Smith doing backflips in the early pregame exercises before the Padres reached the Major Leagues. Strasberg asked Smith for a surprise on Fan Appreciation day, which was the Friars’ final home game of the season. Smith’s gymnastics attracted a cheering ovation.
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