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A Storybook Moment for Smith

Baseball: The definitive shortstop gives a most definitive speech as he goes into the Hall of Fame.

July 29, 2002|From Associated Press

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Fighting back a tear or two, Ozzie Smith joined baseball's elite Sunday, accepting his position in the Hall of Fame 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, 47, 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 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, flanked by 46 Hall of Famers, including former Cardinal 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 his secrets.

His first glove was a paper bag, and he used to lie on the floor of his house in Watts, 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."

In a summer that has been hard on St. Louis fans with the deaths of longtime Cardinal broadcaster Jack Buck and pitcher Darryl Kile, Smith, who retired in 1996, 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.

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

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

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