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Cooperstown honors Wizard

Posted: Monday, July 29, 2002

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Go crazy, folks! The Wizard is in the Hall of Fame.

Fighting back a tear or two, Ozzie Smith joined baseball's elite Sunday, accepting his position in the pantheon of great stars of yesteryear with a wonderful speech that aptly described his storybook life.

''This is tough,'' Smith, the only former player to be elected this year, said, halting to brush away a tear after his son, Dustin, read the inscription on his plaque. ''I've faced many challenges in my career, and if I was to rank them by difficulty, this moment in Cooperstown would rank at the top of the list. It's almost an impossible task to express in 20 short minutes a journey that has taken me over 20 years to complete.''

Not surprisingly, the man who took the defensive aspect of the shortstop position to another level during his 19-year career accomplished that -- thanking everyone from his mom, Marvella, to his high school coach, to the man who brought him to St. Louis, former manager Whitey Herzog.

Comparing his life to Dorothy's journey down the Yellow Brick Road in the Wizard of Oz and holding a copy of the famed children's book in his hands, Smith recounted every critical aspect of his baseball life and detailed what made him a success: the mind to dream that the Scarecrow cherished, a heart to believe that the Tin Man ached for, and the c-c-c-c courage of the Lion to persevere.

''Ozzie Smith was a boy who decided to look within, a boy who discovered that absolutely nothing is good enough if it can be made better, a boy who discovered an old-fashioned formula that would take him beyond the rainbow, beyond even his wildest dreams,'' said Smith, who was flanked by 46 Hall of Famers, including former Cardinals greats Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Red Schoendienst.

Smith, who holds six career fielding marks for shortstops, including most assists (8,375), double plays (1,590), and chances (12,624), revealed a couple of the secrets that made him such a deft fielder.

His first glove was a paper bag, and he used to lie on the floor of his house in the tough Watts section of Los Angeles, close his eyes and toss a baseball into the air, then catch it without looking at it. Over and over. He also would throw a baseball over the roof of the house, then try to run around and catch it.

''No, I never caught it,'' Smith, who won 13 straight NL Gold Glove awards, said with a smile. ''But it never stopped me from trying. Luckily, I didn't just experience the dream for a moment and then dismiss it as foolishness.''

Smith, also holding a baseball that was sliced in half, said the core of his journey was a dream that took shape in his heart one day when he was 12 while sitting on the front steps of his home.

''I remember I was exhausted from playing yet another game,'' he said. ''I let the dream come into the playground of my mind. I embraced it. I embellished it to the point that I would select the position I would play.''

The 47-year-old Smith, who retired after the 1996 season, said beforehand that he didn't know how he would react on the dais. There was no trademark backflip, but in a summer that has been hard on St. Louis fans with the deaths of longtime Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck and pitcher Darryl Kile, Smith gave them and the audience of 19,000 present a reason to smile.

''I sincerely believe that there is nothing truly great in any man or woman, except their character, their willingness to move beyond the realm of self and into a greater realm of selflessness,'' Smith said before reading a poem he dedicated to the memory of Buck, whose memorable call of Smith's game-winning home run against the Dodgers in the 1985 National League playoffs incited fans to 'Go crazy.'

''Giving back is the ultimate talent in life,'' Smith said. ''That is the greatest trophy on my mantel.''

Also honored were longtime Detroit sports writer Joe Falls, who was given the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for his six decades of work, and Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, who accepted the Ford C. Frick Award.



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