By Ryan Palencer
INDIANAPOLIS — Though Hall of Fame shortshop Ozzie Smith remains in great shape, it’s not done through baseball anymore.
Smith, who spends his spare time on the links now days, made a visit to Victory Field to meet fans and sign autographs Saturday as part of the Indianapolis Indians Signature Saturday’s promotion.
Though golf is his workout these days, “The Wizard” is not celebrating a made putt with his famous back flips.
“I try not to (do any more back flips),” Smith said. “Those days are long gone. Now, I’m scared, believe it or not. The part that keeps me from doing it is the mental part. I thought mentally that I could still do it until 2002 when I did one in front of the Hall of Fame and left there with (an injury) to my wrist and my knee skinned up. That was it.”
For Smith, being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002 came as kind of a culture shock. He recounts the call to the hall as one of his most fond memories.
“Getting the call to tell you that you’re in the Hall of Fame is great,” Smith said. “The Hall of Famers, they were always those guys over there. Those were the same guys that I admired growing up. Those are the guys that I would catch the bus out to the ballpark and sit in the bleachers and watch.”
Today, Smith is still working on placing himself in that class.
“Now, on Hall of Fame weekend, I find myself thinking, ‘how’d I get here,’” Smith said. “You look over there and see Mays, Aaron, Koufax, and on occasion McCovey. I look at where I’ve come and it’s very surreal to sit there and think that way. I still don’t allow myself to think that I’m like Mays and Aaron, because I think that there are different levels of Hall of Famers.”
Smith said he didn’t fall into the career, but earned it “as a byproduct of loving the game, trying to appreciate the game, and never taking anything for granted. I just thank God that I had the opportunity to play 19 wonderful years.”
Smith certainly got the most out of those 19 years. He earned 13 Gold Glove Awards, won the 1987 Silver Slugger Award, the 1995 Roberto Clemente Award, the 1994 Branch Rickey Award, the 1989 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, and was named the 1985 National League Championship Series MVP. He was also voted onto 15 All-Star teams, which he cherishes. He is also honored by both times that he was the leading vote getter.
In addition, Smith was a huge part of the Cardinals’ 1982 World Series squad that defeated the Kansas City Royals.
Along with the World Series title, Smith will always be remembered for his homerun that he hit off Tom Niedenfuer in the 1985 NLCS, which produced Jack Buck’s memorable “go crazy folks,” call. For Smith, that homerun changed some perception.
“It was at that point that people started looking at me as much more than a defensive player,” Smith said. “For those of us who play, I don’t think any of us want to leave this game being looked at as a one-dimensional player.”
For Smith, the game and that position has changed greatly since he left the game.
“I think that teams forgo a little bit of defense for what a guy can give you on offense,” he said. “I think that has worked out for some people…The parks today have changed. What we did is to start making ballparks a lot smaller.”
However, Smith sees something common with the teams who are winning annually.
“The teams that win, and win consistently, still consistently pitch and play defense,” Smith said.