Ozzie Smith: Tony La Russa Lied and Acted Like a Coward

Harold FriendChief Writer INovember 15, 2011

CHICAGO - 1987:  Ozzie Smith #1 of the St. Louis Cardinals readies for a play during a game with the Chicago Cubs in 1987 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Tony La Russa joined the St. Louis Cardinals as their manager in 1996. Ozzie Smith left the Cardinals at the conclusion of the 1996 season. Tony La Russa was not one of Ozzie Smith's favorite managers.

On Dec. 14, 1995, the Cardinals acquired the services of 26-year-old shortstop Royce Clayton. The 41-year-old Smith was far from pleased.  General manager Walt Jocketty and the Cardinals management warned Clayton to expect animosity from Smith.

La Russa announced that Ozzie and Clayton would compete during spring training for the shortstop job. Clayton hit .190 with eight errors. Smith hit .288 without a miscue. Guess who La Russa announced as his shortstop.

Once the regular season started, the Cardinals manager used a platoon system that resulted in Smith playing every third or fourth day.

La Russa explained his thoughts.

"I think it's fair to say he misunderstood how he compared to Royce in spring training. When I and the coaches evaluated the play in spring training—the whole game—Royce started very slowly offensively and you could see him start to get better. By what he was able to do defensively and on the bases, Royce deserved to play the majority of the games."

A real feud developed between the two. At times, it became vicious, with Smith basically saying that La Russa was a cowardly liar.

"You know he's not doing what the man said he would do," Smith told reporters. "Anyone who sits down and listens knows it's a lie. It's things like that that don't allow you to have respect for people. That's cowardice, as far as I'm concerned. But should I expect anything different?

"It wasn't so much about my playing time as the way it was done. I was under the impression I was going to have every opportunity to do what I do. I was told that the position would be earned in spring training. And I thought I did that. I did everything that was asked of me"

The manager who led the Oakland A's to the 1989 World Championship responded.

"This was the most disappointing thing in my career in St. Louis," said La Russa: "Twice to his face I told him that the other guy was a better shortstop on an everyday basis. All he's got to do is look in the mirror. And he can go out with honor and dignity rather than some kind of attempt at camouflage."

Former manager Whitey Herzog took a backhanded slap at Ozzie.

"Ozzie always helped me. I could bring him in my office and tell him what I wanted done, and he'd do it. I'd say, `Tell this guy I want it done this way, or he'd find himself on the wood.' Ozzie liked that. He liked being the king.

"He was the ultimate showman. He'd make two diving-plays a night that would make the crowd go crazy. It started to make me wonder. "I'm thinking, `If Ozzie is making two diving plays a night, how come you never see anybody else ever diving?' You realize, `That's Ozzie.'"

When Joe Torre took over for Herzog, he pinch-hit for Smith in his third game as manager. Ozzie was livid. He ripped off his jersey and went to the clubhouse..

Torre ordered a clubhouse attendant to tell Smith that his place was on the bench. Ozzie adamantly refused until Torre asked the attendant to tell Smith that he would be fined $1,000 for every inning he didn't watch from the bench.

Ozzie returned and there were never any more problems between them.

Smith finished the season batting .282/.358/.370 in 82 games. Clayton hit .277/.321/.371 in 129 games.

At the July 31, 1998 trading deadline, the Cardinals sent Clayton to the Texas Rangers

In 2002, Ozzie became a member of the Hall of Fame.

Source Citation

Nightengale, Bob. "Merry old land of Oz is engulfed by family feud." The Sporting News 1 July 1996: 13. General OneFile. Web. 15 Nov. 2011.


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