The Scores Report chats with Ozzie Smith

Twenty-five years ago today, October 14, 1985, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith raised his fist in celebration after hitting a solo home run in the ninth inning to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the 1985 National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Smith, who had never hit a home run in his previous 3,009 left-handed major league at-bats, pulled an inside fastball down the right-field line for a home run, ending Game 5 in a 3 Cardinals victory. Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck used the line, “Go Crazy Folks, Go Crazy,” after the home run was hit. The Cardinals went on to face the Kansas City Royals in the 1985 World Series, known as the I-70 Series. UPI/Bill Greenblatt/FILES

His name is Osborne Earl Smith but to baseball fans everywhere, he’s simply known as “The Wizard.”

In an era when the shortstop was known as being the best defender on the field, Ozzie Smith was the best of the best. For 19 seasons he strengthened the middle of the diamond for the Padres and the Cardinals, making 15 trips to the All-Star Game and winning an astonishing 13 Gold Glove Awards. Before he hung up his cleats in 1996, he helped the Cardinals win a World Series championship in 1982 and was the 1985 NLCS MVP. The Cardinals retired his No. 1 jersey in order to pay homage to the man who thrilled crowds with his dazzling defensive heroics and of course, his entertaining back flips in between innings.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ozzie, which was a great pleasure to someone who has always cherished the game of baseball. He’s currently assisting Holiday Inn with their “Pay it Forward” program, which is encouraging people to show each other a little extra kindness every day to benefit Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) youth initiative. Ozzie spoke about the program and his involvement, as well as how people can be entered to win an all-expense paid trip for two to the 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix, Arizona just by sharing their “pay it forward” stories.

Of course, Ozzie was gracious enough to field some questions about baseball as well, including what current players impress him and what his secret was to always being in the right position to come up big defensively. He also gave his take on whether or not Albert Pujols will return to St. Louis next year and what he thinks of the ever-evolving shortstop position.

For more information on Holiday Inn’s “Pay it Forward” program, including how you could win a trip for two to the 2011 All-Star Game, check out Holiday Inn’s Facebook page.

Ozzie Smith: Hey Anthony!

The Scores Report: Ozzie, how are you?

OS: Doing real good, how are you?

TSR: Excellent! As a fan and big admirer of the game, it’s a pleasure to speak with you today.

OS: Oh, no problem – no problem at all.

TSR: How did you get involved with Holiday Inn and their “Pay it Forward” program?

OS: Well, I’ve always been associated with Major League Baseball and now I’m teaming up with Holiday Inn to encourage people to “pay it forward” by showing each other a little extra kindness every day to benefit baseball’s connection with the inner cities. We’ve lost so many youth to different sports and many programs have been eliminated. Holiday Inn is about celebrating the everyday hero and this program encourages people to act heroically every day, from holding doors open, to giving up your seat on the bus, to buying a friend a cup of coffee. It’s small acts of kindness that make a difference day-to-day, and for each person who shares their story at Facebook.com/HolidayInnHotels, in turn, Holiday Inn will give tickets to Major League baseball games to children participating in RBI. The people who post their stories will be entered to win an all-expense paid trip to the 2011 All-Star Game. It’s a great way to do something good, make yourself feel good, and make someone else feel good, too.

TSR: I was on Holiday Inn’s Facebook page and reading up on the program and as you said, it looks like a great thing to participate in. And not only because you have the chance to go to the All-Star Game, but more importantly because you’re giving something back to society.

OS: Right. There have been studies done that say for people who have had it paid forward to them, it makes them more willing to pay it forward themselves. It’s all about getting as many people on board and if you get enough people doing it, you can certainly make a change. You can’t say enough about Holiday Inn and Major League Baseball for their effort in trying to bring awareness to reviving baseball in the inner city.

TSR: Have you gotten the opportunity to read some of the stories yet that people have been posting?

OS: Not yet because I’ve been working since 6:00AM.

TSR: I imagine you’re doing a lot of these interviews!

OS: Yeah, we’re still going here and I’m going to 4:00 o’clock, so we’re just trying to get the word out there. And like I said, Holiday Inn and Major League Baseball are doing their part to make it happen.

TSR: I saw that you’re teamed up with Nick Swisher and “Big Papi” David Ortiz?

OS: Yeah, “Big Papi” was here today, although I didn’t get the chance to see Nick. But “Big Papi” was here today and he’s working with the program as well, and it’s all about people pitching in and doing their part. We’re just a small part of a giant effort all across the country to get more kids in the inner cities playing baseball.

TSR: What has been your experience been like so far working in the program?

OS: Well, here again, I think the people who head up these programs are wonderful in and of themselves. The coaches sometimes act as parents to a lot of these kids in order to give them the guidance that they need. I had the chance to visit with some of those kids here today and it teaches them responsibility, it teaches them how important it is to give back. So, this is a wonderful program and I couldn’t be any happier to be a part of.

TSR: That has to be big for these kids to see that, not only will they get something out of it, but maybe they’ll learn to pay it forward themselves. Maybe they’ll do something nice for their parents, or their teachers, or their friends because of what they learn through this program.

OS: Yeah, that’s exactly what it’s about – paying it forward. You’d be amazed, because you think about doing something nice for someone else and it makes them feel good, but it makes you feel good as well.

TSR: Mind if I ask you some baseball questions, Ozzie?

OS: No, go ahead.

TSR: I would love to know what current players impress you on a day-to-day or year-to-year basis, whether it’s with how they play the game or their overall talent level.

Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus cannot catch the throw in time as New York Yankees runner Brett Gardner (11) steals second base in the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, April 18, 2010. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

OS: Having the opportunity to see Albert Pujols play every day is very, very special. I think he’s one of those special players, a guy that you know what you’re going to get out of whether you’re up by 10 or down by 10. You know, Hanley Ramirez in Florida is a fun player to watch. Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia is a great player to watch. You have Elvis Andrus in Texas. You have this young kid in Kansas City named Alcides Escobar who seems to be playing very well, although the thing that determines greatness is time, so we’ll have to give him more time before we give him on the props. But any time you get a young player that comes into the game and there are parallels made between them and myself, I always give them an extra look. That seems to be the case with Elvis Andrus in Texas, who has been one of the main reasons they’ve turned things around. He’s stabilized things for them and it appears that this young kid in Kansas City has the ability to do the same thing.

TSR: It seems like the shortstop position is always evolving. When you played, you were the best of the best at a position that demanded athletes to be skilled defenders. Then the Derek Jeters, Alex Rodriguezs and Nomar Garciaparras came along and the position become more offensive-minded. Now there are players like Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes who can do it all. Can you talk about how the position has evolved in your eyes?

OS: I don’t think you’re ever going to be without the need for a prototypical shortstop – a guy that can give you that degree of consistency in the middle of the diamond. I think what they’ve been able to do is forgo a little defense for the offense that they’re going to present, and sometimes that balances itself out. You’ll always need that guy in the middle of the field, be it the centerfielder, shortstop, second baseman or catcher, that needs to be fundamentally sound if you’re going to contend. There are a lot of good teams but if you’re going to contend for a championship, then those are the areas you certainly have to be strong at.

TSR: I’m sure you’ve gotten this question a lot but as a fellow ballplayer I have to ask: What was your secret all of those years to always being in the right spot to make a play defensively? You always seemed to be in the right position and I would just love to know your secret.

OS: Well, the secret was really working hard, studying and always making sure you kept yourself in a position to be in the right place at the right time. It’s just studying and truly getting into your craft. I truly loved what I did and I put everything I had out there every day. When I left the field and asked myself, ‘did I do the very best that I could do?’ for 19 years that answer was yes. If that answer for you is yes, then there’s nothing more that you can do. I never left anything out there and I didn’t leave the game feeling that I needed to change or I did not get the most out of my talent. I gave it everything I had every day.

TSR: I live in St. Louis so I know how beloved you are in this city. And I think that answer right there is just one of the many reasons why you’re beloved in the game of baseball.

OS: Thank you very much.

TSR: If you could do your career all over again, what’s the one thing you would change? Not that you have any regrets, but is there one thing that you would do differently if you were given the opportunity?

OS: No, I think you live it as it comes. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m a strong believer in manifest destiny and what’s meant to be is meant to be. You know, I look at some of these salaries today and want to have been born a little later… (Laughs)

TSR: (Laughs) Definitely!

OS: (Laughs) But no, I wouldn’t change a thing.

TSR: You mentioned this man earlier and I wanted to get your take on him. Albert Pujols is a guy that does a lot for his community and I don’t think people realize how much he gives back…

OS: He’s one of those guys that pays it forward. That’s what we’re talking about today: paying it forward, and making sure you do good deeds for people because it truly does come back to you tenfold.

TSR: Absolutely. Specifically I wanted to ask you whether or not you believe Albert will be back in St. Louis next year given his contract situation.

St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols walks back to the dugout after flying out in the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on March 31, 2011. Pujols grounded into a career-worst three double plays while going 0 for 5 as San Diego defeated St. Louis 5-3. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

OS: Well, we’re keeping our fingers crossed. I know there’s a picture that has been circulating and I’ve been asked a million times about it today.

TSR: (Laughs) Yeah, I was staying away from that one. (Editor’s Note: A photographer snapped a shot of Pujols hugging Cubs GM Jim Hendry during a recent Cubs-Cardinals series, and the situation was drawing a lot of headlines around the time I spoke with Ozzie.)

OS: It’s a single hug – he’s just saying hi, man! (Laughs)

TSR: (Laughs) Yeah, people are really diving into that trying to read the tealeaves.

OS: We hope that his allegiance is with the Cardinals, which I believe it is. Hopefully we’ll get him re-signed.

TSR: What’s one thing that never ceases to amaze you about professional baseball?

OS: Well, I think we went through a period of about 10 or so years where the game had a real black eye. But I think it has resiliency as far as fans are concerned and I think it’s coming back stronger. I think the game has some things in place, as far as this steroid thing is concerned, and is now bringing the game back to where it should be. We’re starting to focus more again on the on-field product than we are with the off-field stuff. So, the resiliency of baseball is what has always amazed me.

TSR: I know you’re busy today Ozzie so I’ll let you go. I just wanted to thank you again for sitting down and talking with us about the Holiday Inn “Pay it Forward” program and what your participation means to you. Is there anything else that you would like to say about the program and the direction it’s heading in?

OS: For your readers, please go to Facebook.com/HolidayInnHotels for the chance to have a chance to go on an all expenses-paid trip to the 2011 All-Star Game just for posting their stories.

TSR: You’ve been an absolute pleasure Ozzie, thank you!

OS: All right, take care!

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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