Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 5/24/13

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 11: Former MLB player Ozzie Smith during the MLB All Star Game Celebrity Softball Game at Angels Stadium of Anaheim on July 11, 2010 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)
Mention the name Ozzie Smith to baseball fans and they’ll immediately think of his dazzling glove work at shortstop as well as his famous backflips on the diamond. Even those who didn’t see him play with the Cardinals in his heyday remember him for his guest appearance in the iconic “Homer At the Bat” episode of The Simpsons. Known as “The Wizard of Oz,” the Hall of Famer is considered as one of the best -- if not the best -- defensive shortstops of all time. During 19 seasons in the majors with the Padres and Cardinals, Smith racked up 8,375 assists, the most all-time for a shortstop and set the all-time record for double plays turned, with 1,590 (since broken by Omar Vizquel). He won 13 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1980 to 1992 and started at shortstop in the All-Star Game from 1983 through 1992 (he was a 15-time All-Star). Though known mainly for his defensive prowess, Smith racked up 580 steals and 2,460 hits during his career. He’s also well known for his iconic walk-off home run off Dodgers reliever Tom Niedenfuer (sorry Dodger fans) to win the 1985 NLCS which prompted Jack Buck’s famous, “Go crazy, folks!” call. Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002 in his first year of eligibility with 91.7% of the vote. Smith, 58 and living in the St. Louis area where he serves as president of the Gateway PGA Foundation, returned to the Cardinals organization in 2012 as a guest instructor during spring training (he’d had a widely publicized falling out with former manager Tony La Russa). I caught up with the Wizard in Rochester, N.Y. where he was getting ready to take the field in the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams legends game. Amanda Rykoff: You served as a guest instructor for the Cardinals during spring training. What advice did you have for young up and coming players in the Cardinals organization? Ozzie Smith: When guys make it to the big league level, especially with the Cardinals organization, they’ve already experienced what it is to win. There’s not a whole lot new that we’re going to tell them other than if you think it was hard last year when it’s not about surprising anybody, it’s going to be that much tougher. You have to apply yourself and work that much harder. That’s not been a problem with those guys -- as you can see they’re playing very very well. I think their minor league system is very plentiful with good young players which I think is very important to the success of any organization. And I think that’s the one thing that has kept the Cardinals organization, the Yankee organization, the Dodgers organization, all those organizations are very good with their minor league systems. [Reggie Jackson came over to give Ozzie a bearhug]. It’s one of the things that keeps them strong. Amanda Rykoff: Who are the young major league players you enjoy watching play? Ozzie Smith: I always enjoy watching the shortstops. People always ask me what do I think. I think that position is one where the guys have to be very very athletic, have to be talented, they’re really the leader of the teams. Derek Jeter and Elvis Andrus are good young players who have proven themselves -- I guess Derek is not as young -- but Elvis Andrus certainly has been the reason that the Texas Rangers have become such a competitive team over the past few years. It’s tied into his getting there. I think pitchers now feel that they don’t have to strike everybody out. They can get a ground ball and know they’re going to get an out and from a confidence standpoint it’s very important. Amanda Rykoff: How impressive are some of the plays the shortstops today make? Ozzie Smith: The thing for me was always the level of consistency and being able to do it every day. I don’t know if we see it as much every day as we did when I was playing. We’ve got a lot of guys who are certainly good. I think the guys today are probably more offensive oriented than they are defensive. I don’t know if it’s fair to expect big guys like Cal Ripken to be able to play shortstop like an Omar Vizquel or an Ozzie Smith. I think we’re more of the prototypical shortstops that were notably more defensive oriented than offensive. That to me is where the game is changed. They forego a little defense now for the offense. Amanda Rykoff: You have one of the great nicknames of all time. Why do you think we don’t have as many great nicknames in baseball as in years past? Ozzie Smith: Just a change in the times. Baseball back then everybody had a nickname. If you had been playing you would have had a nickname. Amanda Rykoff: You’re a big golf fan and avid golfer. Who are your favorite players to watch on the PGA Tour? Ozzie Smith: Freddie Couples has always been one of my favorite players to watch and of course I’m a big Tiger Woods fan. There are so many good young players it’s fun watching any of them especially if you have a chance to see it firsthand as I’ve had. I’ve gotten a chance to play with Jim Thorpe on the Senior Tour and this week coming up I’m going to play in the Pro-Am because we have the Senior PGA championship in St. Louis [at the Bellerive Country Club]. Amanda Rykoff: Who is your dream golf foursome of all-time? Ozzie Smith: Tiger, Jack, Arnie...and me. Amanda Rykoff: When was the last time you tried a backflip? Ozzie Smith: 2002 and it wasn’t pretty. Amanda Rykoff: How often do people ask you about appearing in The Simpsons “Homer at the Bat” episode? Ozzie Smith: That probably is the second most asked question after the flip. I didn’t realize that episode of The Simpsons was so popular. Amanda Rykoff: Where does falling into the Springfield Mystery Spot rank in your career accomplishments? Ozzie Smith: Ranked second now. [Ozzie laughs] Photos by Bill Wippert/Invision for Pepsi MAX/AP Images. [follow]

This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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