THE OZZIE SMITH COLLECTION
“Ozzie Smith was more than just baseball’s finest fielding shortstop. He possessed that rare quality of transmitting his joy to others. Watching Ozzie play made you appreciate baseball all the more.” – Bob Costas
When he was a small boy growing up in Los Angeles, Ozzie Smith played a unique game by himself. He would stand in his front yard, throw a baseball over his roof, and while the ball was in flight, try to race around to the back yard and catch the ball before it hit the ground. The Wizard of Oz, best known for his on-field acrobatics and his ability to make the impossible play from shortstop, played in the major leagues for 19 years, the final 15 in St. Louis. Did he ever get to the back yard in time? No. But the challenge of trying to reach that goal personifies the character of Ozzie Smith, who grew up to become one of the greatest fielding shortstops in baseball.
Ozzie’s rise to greatness was not meteoric; the early road was paved with grit and determination. With a .231 career batting average and a single, solitary major-league home run to his credit after his first four seasons in San Diego, Cooperstown may have seemed a good deal farther away than the actual distance of 2,911 miles to the northeast. Traded to St. Louis, Ozzie went about the tricky business of turning himself into a reliable big-league hitter, which when added to his speed (580 career stolen bases, 22nd on the all-time list) and unparalleled fielding prowess, elevated him to a perennial All-Star. He would end up with 15 All-Star nods, including several where he was the top vote-getter among fans, a Silver Slugger Award in 1987 to accentuate that offensive improvement that had started virtually from his first day in St. Louis and even an extraordinary game-winning home run in the 1985 NLCS against the Dodgers that propelled his ball club into the World Series. That home run in the bottom of the ninth was ultimately voted by St. Louis Fans as “The Greatest Moment in Busch Stadium History,” and famously prompted legendary Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck to exclaim, “Go crazy, folks.” Presumably, no encouragement was needed. Adding to the mythical quality of the moment was the realization that, for the switch-hitting Smith, this was his first major-league home run from the port side of the plate in more than 3,000 plate appearances. After retiring in 1996, he was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He was also named to the All-Century team as one of the 100 best players of the 20th century. Ozzie Smith has lived a legendary life of baseball, having achieved nearly every significant individual and team award imaginable. Yet none of the accolades can truly measure the man himself. As any teammate, friend or fan whom he’s encountered will attest, character, humility, kindness and benevolence define the greatness of Ozzie Smith. Ozzie’s dedication to community, civic and humanitarian causes is inexhaustible. His charitable endeavors almost always benefit children, and he has spent countless hours assisting various charities such as Multiple Sclerosis, The Variety Club, Ronald McDonald House, Annie Malone Children’s Home, The Boys Club of St. Louis, and Kids in the Middle to name a few. It is one thing for an athlete to achieve greatness in their field, it is another to be universally beloved – they are not mutually fulfilling. Ozzie Smith is one of the most beloved players of his generation, as much for the man is off the field as for what he did on it.