Mention the name Ozzie Smith to baseball fans and they’ll immediately think of his dazzling glove work at shortstop as well as his famous backflips on the diamond. Even those who didn’t see him play with the Cardinals in his heyday remember him for his guest appearance in the iconic “Homer At the Bat” episode of The Simpsons. Known as “The Wizard of Oz,” the Hall of Famer is considered as one of the best -- if not the best -- defensive shortstops of all time.
During 19 seasons in the majors with the Padres and Cardinals, Smith racked up 8,375 assists, the most all-time for a shortstop and set the all-time record for double plays turned, with 1,590 (since broken by Omar Vizquel). He won 13 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1980 to 1992 and started at shortstop in the All-Star Game from 1983 through 1992 (he was a 15-time All-Star).
Though known mainly for his defensive prowess, Smith racked up 580 steals and 2,460 hits during his career. He’s also well known for his iconic walk-off home run off Dodgers reliever Tom Niedenfuer (sorry Dodger fans) to win the 1985 NLCS which prompted Jack Buck’s famous, “Go crazy, folks!” call. Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002 in his first year of eligibility with 91.7% of the vote.
Smith, 58 and living in the St. Louis area where he serves as president of the Gateway PGA Foundation, returned to the Cardinals organization in 2012 as a guest instructor during spring training (he’d had a widely publicized falling out with former manager Tony La Russa). I caught up with the Wizard in Rochester, N.Y. where he was getting ready to take the field in the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams legends game.