|THE CARDINALS WERE DOING BACK FLIPS |
AFTER THEY ACQUIRED OZZIE.
|EARLY ON, THE PROTOTYPICAL GREAT GLOVE, BAD BAT.|
THE FRONT PAGE
- Similar to the '84 Topps Traded Pete Rose, getting this card was one of the highlights of acquiring the set. Of course, this is Ozzie Smith's first card with the Cardinals, a team he would play his final 15 years with and come into his own not only as the best defensive shortstop ever but also as a much improved switch-hitter.
THE BACK PAGE
- Glenn Wright of the '24 Pirates held the season assists record with 601.
- Ozzie's clean autograph shows up well against his powder blues.
- I became aware of Osborne Earl Smith on April 20, 1978, 10 games into his rookie season with the Padres. That's the date he robbed Jeff Burroughs of the Braves with a sliding barehanded catch of a shot up the middle and rocket throw to first. I hadn't seen such wizardry since Brooks in the '70 World Series.
- "He hit a ball back up the middle that everybody thought was going into center field,'' Smith said in his book Wizard, published in '88. "I instinctively broke to my left and dove behind second. As I was in the air, the ball took a bad hop and caromed behind me, but I was able to catch it with my bare hand. I hit the ground, bounced back up and threw Burroughs out at first.'' See, simple. No problem. For The Wizard of Oz, that is.
- Finished '78 hitting .258 with 548 assists to place second in Rookie of the Year voting to the Braves' Bob Horner. In that season's final game, on Fan Appreciation Day, the team's promotional director talked Ozzie into performing a back flip as he took the field. The rest, as they say, is history.
- Nobody was doing back flips over his hitting the following season. He won the reverse Triple Crown, with the lowest average (.211), fewest home runs (0) and RBI (27). In the off-season, he began having a contract dispute with Padres ownership that would grease the skids for the memorable trade for shortstop Garry Templeton, who was having his own problems in St. Louis.
- Smith at first wasn't sure about accepting the trade during the '81 winter meetings, but after Manager Whitey Herzog flew to San Diego to insist he was the missing piece to a championship club, he waived his no-trade clause and went east. Ten months later, the Cardinals beat the Brewers to win the World Series.
- In Ozzie's first spring training as a Cardinal, Herzog hatched a plan to make him a better hitter: Every time Smith would hit a fly ball, he would owe Herzog a $1; every time he would hit a grounder, the manager would owe Smith a $1. At the end of the season, Herzog owed Smith close to $300.
- Reminds me of Major League and Manager Lou Brown telling Willie Mays Hayes he had to do 10 push-ups every time he hit a fly.
- While Smith hit only .248 in '82, he increased his on-base percentage to .339.
- In addition to the Burroughs' play, Smith is most known for an at-bat in Game 5 of the '85 NLCS, taking Dodgers closer Tom Niedenfuer deep on an inside fastball with the score tied in the bottom of the ninth. Sure, Ozzie clubbing a homer was notable -- he had hit only 13 in his career until then -- but what made this one all the more remarkable was hitting it left-handed. In his previous 3,009 lefty at-bats, he had never homered.
- Had his best offensive season in '87, moving to the second spot in the order. He hit a career-high .303, drove in 75, and had 43 steals and 104 runs to earn the Silver Slugger Award. He tacked on an eighth consecutive Gold Glove, too; he eventually would win 13 in a row.
- With Tony La Russa taking over as manager in '96, Smith saw his playing time erode after Royce Clayton was acquired. Smith retired at the end of the season, vowing to have no contact with the club because of La Russa. That changed after La Russa retired after the '11 season and Ozzie was spotted at spring training as a guest instructor.