Ozzie Smith (Osborne Earl Smith) was born on December 26, 1954 in Mobile, Alabama. He made his Major League debut on April 7, 1978 for the San Diego Padres. In 1978, his rookie year, he hit .258 with 1 home run and 46 RBI. Smith played for the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals over the course of his 19 year career.
Most people believe that Ozzie Smith's best season was 1987, when he stole 43 bases, hit for a .303 average and knocked in 75 runs.
Ozzie went to Locke High School in South Los Angeles where he played baseball with Eddie Murray. Smith was first selected in the amateur entry draft in 1976, when he was drafted in the 7th round by the Detroit Tigers. However, Smith and the Tigers were unable to agree on contract parameters, and he went back into the draft pool the following season, where he was drafted in the 4th round by the San Diego Padres. After only one season in the minor leagues with low-level Walla Walla, Smith broke in with the Padres in 1978 at the age of 23. He would spend 4 seasons with the Padres before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982. He promptly led the team to the World Series, where the Cardinals defeated the Milwaukee Brewers four games to three. The team reached the World Series again in 1985, thanks in large part to Smith's game-winning home run in the NLCS against Tom Niedenfuer of the Los Angeles Dodgers. This homer was made famous for its radio call by broadcaster Jack Buck: "Smith corks one into right, down the line! It may go! [home run lands] Go crazy folks, go crazy!" They went on to lose the World Series to the Kansas City Royals in seven games. They also lost the 1987 World Series to the Minnesota Twins in seven games in an unusual series where each team won games only in their own home stadium. A weak hitter early in his career, Smith never developed much power at the plate, but his hitting improved over the years, and his speed allowed him to serve as a competent leadoff hitter. Smith stole 580 career bases, 20th on the all-time list. But his most potent asset were his glove and his defensive reflexes, with which he often won more ball games than the hitters on his team did. Former manager Whitey Herzog claimed that at his peak Smith saved 75 runs per year with his glove.
He is perhaps best known for his time playing for manager Whitey Herzog where players were known for being scrappy, continually pushing singles to doubles (and doubles to triples), stealing bases, playing aggressively, and continually pushing the opposing teams to catch them in the act. This management and play style has been dubbed "Whiteyball." Even though he wasn't a slugger, his speed was an excellent match to this playing style, which ultimately lead to their 1982 World Series victory and their 1985 National League Pennant.
Smith's greatest season came in 1987, when he had a .303 batting average, 43 stolen bases, 75 RBIs, 104 runs scored, and 40 doubles. Smith mostly batted second in the lineup; his plate discipline allowed him to post a career high on-base percentage of .392. This performance helped the Cardinals get into the playoffs. Smith ended up second in the MVP balloting to Andre Dawson, who had played on the last-placed Chicago Cubs, largely because he and fellow Cardinal Jack Clark split the first-place vote.
Smith is only the 37th of the 252 players elected to the Hall of Fame to be so honored in his first year of eligibility.
Ozzie Smith is remembered for his acrobatics in the field as a versatile shortstop and for the ritual backflip he performed before opening days, All-Star Games, and postseason games. Though he dropped this routine late in his career, he reprised it for "Ozzie Day" on September 28, 1996, when the Cardinals honored his impending retirement with a ceremony before the game against the Cincinnati Reds.
Many say he made the greatest play of all time in his rookie season with the Padres in 1978. After Atlanta's Jeff Burroughs hit a grounder up the middle, Smith dove to his left. But the ball hit a stone in the dirt and took a crazy bounce in the opposite direction. Quickly, Smith reached up with his bare right hand. In one motion, he ripped the ball out of the air, sprang up, and threw Burroughs out at first base. Smith himself called it "the toughest play I've ever had," and in an informal survey of big leaguers, most mentioned this play as the most amazing they have ever seenTemplate:Fact.
At odds with current management
Following his retirement from baseball, Smith has refused to associate himself with the Cardinals in any official capacity, although he continues to make public appearances embracing the franchise. Smith has stated that he will not work with the organization as long as the current management is in charge. Smith has said he is still upset at current Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa for making newly acquired Royce Clayton the starting shortstop in 1996, despite a superior offensive performance by Smith in spring training. The Cardinals had traded for Clayton during the previous offseason as a precautionary move in case Smith did not fully recover from an earlier injury. Smith's playing time shrank under LaRussa's management, and he retired at season's end. Incidentally, the Cardinals traded Clayton less than two years after Smith's retirement.
- Selected by Detroit Tigers in the 7th round of the free-agent draft - did not sign (June 8, 1976).
- Selected by San Diego Padres in the 4th round of the free-agent draft (June 7, 1977).
- Traded by San Diego Padres with Steve Mura and a player to be named later to St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Sixto Lezcano, Garry Templeton and a player to be named later (December 10, 1981); St. Louis Cardinals received Al Olmsted (February 19, 1982) and San Diego Padres received Luis DeLeon (February 19, 1982).
- Granted free agency (November 2, 1992).
- Signed by St. Louis Cardinals (December 6, 1992).
- His son, Nikko Smith, was a contestant on the popular American television series American Idol in the spring of 2005. He was eliminated from the show on the April 6 episode. Nikko sang the Star Spangled Banner to open the 4th game of baseball's 2006 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the St. Louis Cardinals.
- Voiced himself in the 1992 episode of The Simpsons, "Homer at the Bat". He ends up lost in Springfield's Mystery Spot in which, in the Springfield world, he is believed dead.
- Is the hero of fictional detective, Jesse Stone, a character in the stone series by Robert B. Parker.
- Played his namesake, The Wizzard of Oz, in a production of the musical at the outdoor Muny theater in St. Louis during the late 90's.
- Baseball Hall of Fame
- Ozzie's Restaurant & Sports Bar in St. Louis
- St. Louis Walk of Fame