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.

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Great point about Mark McGwire and the “one-dimensional” argument

Ted Robinson of At Bat thinks that Mark McGwire is getting a raw deal from MLB Hall of Fame voters and brings up a great point about the argument that Big Mac was a one-dimensional player.

Mark McGwireMore voters are revealing their choices and it’s hard to argue that transparency is bad. I found the comments of a Boston voter puzzling and borderline deceiving. The man in question defended his anti-McGwire stance with the claim that McGwire was “one-dimensional.”

If we accept the premise, then we must ask what exactly is the problem with dominating the most important offensive dimension? McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa were the greatest home run hitters of their era. Bonds won the career battle but McGwire was the pioneer.

McGwire was the first to hit 50 home runs in four consecutive seasons, a mark Bonds reached only once.

One-dimensional? McGwire won a Gold Glove, an award often scoffed at by the Numbers Crowd. Although no one should confuse McGwire with Keith Hernandez, the Gold Glove is voted on by managers and coaches.

Another thought rushes to me when I consider the phrase “one dimensional” when used as an insult, the manner in which the Boston writer intended. (Disclaimer 1: here we will violate, mildly, a personal rule against invoking the comparison argument with any present Hall of Famers. It is never the intent here to denigrate anyone already so honored, however…would that writer call Nolan Ryan “one-dimensional?” Ryan’s resume leads with the career strikeout record, which he smashed and, like McGwire, is a symbol of dominance. (Disclaimer 2: I acknowledge that strikeouts are regarded by many voters as significant, a stance with which I don’t agree).

Strikeouts must be the reason Ryan is in the Hall. It can’t be his 324 wins because his career winning percentage is barely over .500 (.526). Surely, no rational person would conclude that seven regular season no-hitters warrant Hall of Fame inclusion.

It’s hard to argue with that point. Some players (Ryan is one of them) are in the Hall because they excelled at one facet of the game. Ozzie Smith was a career .262-hitter, but he was also one of the greatest defensive shortstops to ever play the game. McGwire was one of the best power hitters to ever play the game.

But the difference between McGwire and those players is that Ryan and Smith never took performance-enhancing substances to excel at their craft. McGwire did and fair or unfair, it’ll likely keep him out of the Hall for a very long time, if not forever. Stats are sacred in baseball and McGwire achieved his stats with help. Hall voters can’t look past that.

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