I can say with confidence that Ozzie "Wizard of Oz" Smith is the best defensive shortstop ever. He was in a league of his own. He won a Gold Glove every year from 1970 to 1982.
Osborne Earl Smith was born the day after Christmas in 1954 in Mobile, Alabama, one of six children. While the Smiths lived in Mobile, his dad worked as a sandblaster for the Air Force. Future Major Leaguer Amos Otis lived near Smith as a kid. Otis had 1,007 RBI and a .293 batting average in 18 seasons, making five All Star Games.
When Smith was six, his family moved to the ghetto of South Central in Los Angeles. Smith's mother was an influential part of his life who stressed the importance of education, and encouraged him to pursue his dreams.
Smith became involved with the YMCA early in his youth and learned to do his trademark back flip there. In 1965, his family endured the Watts Race Riots, which left 1,032 injured of all races.
"We were right in the middle of the Watts riots. The National Guard set up its camp right across the street from our house. I don't know how many people have ever seen the National Guard break in somewhere, but they mean business. We had to sleep on the floor because of all the sniping and looting going on," Ozzie recalled.
Smith's parents divorced when Smith was in sixth grade. Ozzie played shortstop for his high school baseball team while fellow Hall of Famer Eddie Murray was the first basemen.
Smith was drafted in 1976 by the Detroit Tigers, but refused to sign. He entered college for one more year then was drafted and signed by the San Diego Padres.
After breezing very quickly through the minors, he made the Padres squad in 1978. As a rookie, he had one home run, 46 RBI and a .258 batting average. Despite bad blood between him and management, Smith was starting to get recognized for his outstanding abilities as a shortstop. In 1980 he set the single season record for most assists by a shortstop (621) and began his string of 13 consecutive Gold Gloves.
In 1982, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Garry Templeton and others in a six player trade. Smith had two homers, 43 RBI and a .248 batting average in his first year with St. Louis.
In 1985, he hit perhaps the greatest home run in Cardinals history. It was Game Five of the NLCS and he was batting lefty. Smith was a switch hitter, but had no home runs as a lefty going into the at bat. What do you know? He hit a home run and the Cardinals end up winning the National League Pennant.
As both Cardinals fans and all baseball fans should remember, Jack Buck had the call: "Smith corks one into right, down the line! It may go…Go crazy folks, go crazy! It's a home run and the Cardinals have won the game, by the score of three to two, on a home run by the Wizard! Go crazy!"
By 1987, Ozzie had been with the club for six years and the Cards led the league in fielding five of those years. Coincidence? I think not.
1987 proved to be his best offensive season by far. Ozzie hit no home runs, but had 75 RBI and hit .303. Oh by the way, he won his eighth career Gold Glove and finished second in MVP voting to Andre "The Hawk" Dawson. It was the only season he ever hit .300 and his second-most RBI in a single season was just 54.
Four years later in 1991, he set a record, making a mere eight errors in 150 games and winning his 13th straight Gold Glove to break the record set by Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente for the National League streak.
Smith retired in 1996 and had his No. 1 jersey retired by the Cardinals. Well, you'd figure. He became a host of This Week In Baseball. He served as a color analyst in some Cardinal games and was an analyst for CNNSI.
In 2002, Smith was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame with a 91.7% support rate in his first try.
Smith is a truly heartwarming story. He overcame poverty to become one of the greatest baseball players and greatest fielders.