ST. LOUIS - Fifteen years after a feud with manager Tony La Russa contributed to his retirement, Cardinals hall of fame shortstop Ozzie Smith will return to the field as a guest instructor with the club during Spring Training.
Smith accepted an invitation from new manager Mike Matheny to join the club in uniform this spring, something he hasn't done since he retired following the 1996 season.
The 13-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner is scheduled to visit the Cardinals' Spring Training complex at Roger Dean Stadium the first week of March and stay about four or five days.
"I think the tide has turned here and things are hopefully back to where they should be," Smith said. "I'm looking forward to spending some time down there."
The source of the strained relationship between Smith and La Russa occurred in 1996, when La Russa took over as Cardinals manager and announced an open competition at shortstop between the incumbent Smith and Royce Clayton, who the club acquired during the offseason.
The 41-year-old Smith appeared to clearly win the competition, hitting almost .100 points higher than Clayton in Spring Training and committing no errors compared to Clayton's eight errors.
But it was Clayton who saw most of the playing time in the regular season, prompting Smith to announce midway through the season that he would retire at the end of the year.
Smith has returned to Busch Stadium to be honored at events such as Opening Day and during the playoffs with the other Cardinals' Hall of Famers. But unlike Lou Brock and Bob Gibson, Smith's sour relationship with La Russa kept him from any official duties with the club such as appearing at spring training.
With La Russa enjoying his retirement, Smith will be one of several former prominent members of the Cardinals organization to make appearances in Jupiter at some point this spring.
"One of the things that Mike mentioned was giving the players the opportunity to sit down and talk to people like myself which I am more than willing to do," Smith said. "I am kind of letting Mike drive this train and whatever he needs me to do, which is one o the things I always wanted to do. It should have been a natural transition, unfortunately it wasn't, but now it gives me the opportunity to do that.
"There's no secret formula. It's the basics. You have to throw it, you have to hit it, you have to run and you have to catch it and if you do those things consistently you have a good chance of winning and if you don't, your chances of winning are diminished."
A complete list of guest instructors is scheduled to be released in the coming days. Among those likely to attend will be Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog, who also hasn't appeared in an official role with the club since La Russa arrived in St. Louis.
Smith, 57, was a 15-time All-Star during his 19-year career with the San Diego Padres and Cardinals. He played 15 seasons with the Cardinals from 1982-96, leading them to three National League pennants and the 1982 World Series title.
"The one thing I don't want to do is make people thing I am going to come in with some secret formula or something of that nature," Smith said. "It's just being able to give back and hopefully help the guys from a confidence standpoint and make sure they are confident enough to know they can go back and do what they did last year.
"These guys know what their job is and they did it very well last year so for people like myself and the Whitey Herzog's and all of those people, is just really about reinforcing what they've already done and allowing them to go out and do that again."
Smith said he hasn't talked with the Cardinals about a spot with the organization in the future but would be open to continuing his coaching with members of their minor league teams during the season.
But for now, Smith and the Cardinals will enjoy a sweet reunion that likely should have happened several years ago.
"I'll get myself reacclimated with being around, but I don't want to hang around too much," Smith joked. "I don't want people to get tired of me.
"I'm open to all things as I've said all along. I've never been opposed to being that type of person for this organization and it's one of the things I've missed."
The Cardinals and their fans have missed it, too.