This morning, I read an article here on Bleacher Report that made me scratch my head. A writer wrote about 25 players who shouldn't be in the Baseball Hall of Fame and No. 25 on his list was the great St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith.
In the interest of full disclosure I will let you know that I didn't go any deeper into the slideshow than the second slide, which was the Ozzie Smith slide.
Basically, the writer's justification for including Ozzie Smith was that "other than defense and speed, Smith was an average player at best."
Yes, anything the Cardinals were able to get from Ozzie at the plate was a bonus. There's no denying that Ozzie Smith simply didn't scare anyone at the plate.
However, what the writer doesn't realize or refuses to acknowledge is that defense is a huge part of the game, especially at certain positions. Prior to the time of Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken Jr., the shortstop position (and others like second base) were a defensive position, with rare exceptions such as Ernie Banks and Honus Wagner. This means the players at those positions had to be better than average on defense in order to see the light of day in Major League Baseball.
Teams didn't want a shortstop that could hit but couldn't play defense. If a shortstop of today that couldn't play defense, such as Derek Jeter, were to go back in time and play baseball, he would have been moved to a different position such as a corner outfield spot, because teams wanted defense up the middle of the infield.
What the writer of that article also needs to realize is that while Ozzie was "merely average" offensively, the defense he played was simply the best defense at his position ever. It's not like he was the 24th man on the roster and would be inserted into games in the eighth inning as a defensive replacement because his defense is barely better than someone else's. He provided the best defense ever at his position!
In fact, Ozzie Smith is considered one of the greatest defensive players in baseball history, regardless of position. If you had to start a team and it was time to pick a shortstop and Honus Wagner was off the board, the next shortstop taken just might be Ozzie Smith.
Is Mike Piazza not a Hall of Famer because his defense wasn't very good but his offense ranked among the all-time greats? Of course not.
It would be great if every player in the Hall of Fame was fantastic at all aspects of the game. Unfortunately though, not every player is a "five-tool player."
Baseball has always had its share of tremendous five-tool players, but it also has had its share of players that were simply the best ever at one aspect of the game and average at the others. How many true "five-tool players" are there in the Hall of Fame? A handful, or maybe two handfuls at best.
The Hall of Fame isn't just for the best offensive players or the best "five-tool players;" it is simply for the best. Whether that player was one-dimensional or not, if he was the best ever at a key component of the game, that player deserves a place among the immortal greats of the game.
Yes, there are some players that deserve to have their Hall of Fame credentials questioned. However, Ozzie Smith is not one of them.