I was given the opportunity to interview Ozzie Smith yesterday while he was in Los Angeles for the All-Star Game festivities. Smith was in town for the All-Star Legends and Celebrity softball game and to get the word out about fighting prostate cancer, the second-leading cause of male cancer-related death in the United States. The Cardinals legendary shortstop was talking baseball all day with bloggers, media, and fans by phone and on the Internet and I was lucky enough to get 10 minutes with the Wizard. I think it’s great to see that a legend of the game is so willing to interact with fans and take a whole day to talk with everyone. Not all players and certainly not all Hall of Famers are so willing and I was impressed with how Ozzie gave us all the time to make us feel important. It was a thrill for me to interview him and it’s something I will never forget. Anyway, here’s what Smith had to say during my time with him. [...]
What’s it like out there to be back in your hometown for the All-Star festivities?
It’s pretty cool. It’s busy. A lot of phone calls, lot of people wanting tickets, the usual.
What do you think of the big game with how the American League’s been dominating in recent years? What are your thoughts on all that?
Yeah, we’re (National League) trying to get back to our winning ways you know because when I started going to All-Star Games I think in 1981, we were on pretty much the same type of run that the American League is on right now. I don’t know where it changed, but we’ve got to try and get back to our winning ways.
And that always meant a lot to you guys in the National League to win that game for bragging rights?
Yeah, it was always important for us to show our dominance. I can remember some of the pregame meetings and things that we had and how we talked about the importance of winning the game and showing our dominance as a league. And I can remember the president of the league actually coming in and sitting down and talking to us about putting our all on the line and we’ve gotten to a point now where the winner of the All-Star Game determines where the World Series is played. There’s something wrong with that picture. Guys shouldn’t need incentives to go out and play in an All-Star Game on the stage where all the best players are.
You obviously made your name as an All-Star and Hall of Famer with your glove and your defense. How much pride did you take in being great defensively and going out there every day and being great at that?
Well, I mean my goal was to be as well-rounded (as possible). Unfortunately, my defensive prowess overshadowed all the things that I may have done offensively. But my goal was always to be as well-rounded a player as I could possibly be. And by the time I retired in 1996 after a 19-year career, I was satisfied that I had become a pretty well-rounded player. So, that was the goal and I think that’s the goal of every player that comes into the major leagues – to be as well-rounded as they can possibly be. And I was no different.
So, in your opinion, what do you think the biggest key – if you had to choose one or two things to being a great shortstop, what would they be?
Well, quickness, agility. And the ability to improvise. Improvisation is the greatest asset that you could have to anything that you do. A lot of things that happen on the field are improvisational. So those two things being the two greatest assets that you could have as a shortstop.
Who do you think the best at that (shortstop, improvisation) in today’s game is?
I don’t know who the best is, but I think that what we have now is we’re finally starting to turn the corner to get back to those prototypical shortstops. When you look at teams that are winning their divisions, you need look no further than the middle infield. You know, you look down at Atlanta, they’ve got a good young shortstop (Yunel Escobar) over there and you look at Texas, they’ve got a good young shortstop (Elvis Andrus) over there. It just kind of goes on and on with these guys are now starting to get back to strengthen themselves up the middle and I think it’s part of the reason Atlanta for instance is leading the East because they’ve gotten back to the fundamentals of the game. Playing the game the way the game should be played. Pitching, catching and hitting. And getting timely hitting, not necessarily hitting the ball out of the ballpark. I think baseball has done a good job of finally coming up with a deterrent that would get guys from using performance-enhancing drugs. And so the game is getting back to the type of game that we as baseball purists are used to seeing.
With the Hall of Fame inductions, they come up later this month, what are your thoughts on your former manager Whitey Herzog getting to join you in Cooperstown?
I think it’s very, very deserving. He’s a guy who is probably one of the most innovative people that the game has ever seen, not to mention one of the brightest. He certainly was a guy that changed my life. I don’t know if things would have been the same had he not gotten on a plane and come out to San Diego way back in 1981. And life has just been wonderful since my transition from San Diego to St. Louis and Whitey was certainly a big part of that. So, I’m looking forward to him getting inducted later this month.
And then the other inductee is Andre Dawson who was a rival with the Cubs. What do you remember the most about playing against him?
Actually, I remember him more in Montreal playing on some of those great young Montreal teams with Warren Cromartie, Ellis Valentine, and possessing one of the best outfields in the game. Later, Tim Raines. But he’s always been a great talent, always been very, very competitive, and I think here again, getting in is long overdue because he certainly has had the numbers to be considered a Hall of Famer.
For you, what does it mean to you to be a Hall of Famer?
Well, it’s everything. You’re at the top of the game when you have the opportunity to write HOF behind your name. That really wasn’t the goal. The goal was to be as good a big league player as you could be and making the Hall of Fame became a byproduct of your consistency, your degree of consistency. Being able to go out there and perform day in and day out. And I couldn’t be prouder.
So, what’s it like to see all the legends like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and all them and be part of everything like that every summer?
Oh, surreal. Sitting there with those guys. I never considered myself when I was growing up to be in the same class as those guys as far as the game was concerned and to have the opportunity now to sit there and be a part of the program is very, very special.
Looking back on everything that you’ve accomplished in baseball, what would you say you’re most proud of or your best memory is from it all?
The fact that I was able to play 19 years. You know, I can honestly say that for 19 years I gave my all every day and hopefully somewhere down the road I had a chance to entertain some people and they enjoyed what they saw.
You’ve also always been very active with education and charity and helping out off the field too and you’ve continued that even more since you retired, so what made you want to get involved with the Depend Campaign to End Prostate Cancer?
Well, there are so may people that, you know, there’s 3.8 million men who live with urinary incontinence. We know that early detection is really the key for everybody and so many guys in baseball have had to deal with this dreaded disease and it’s just my effort to try and help find a cure for it. I’ve teamed up with and am very honored to have teamed up with Depend and Zero with this campaign. They’re continuing their commitment, Depend, and the project to end prostate cancer by donating proceeds from every purchase of Depend men’s products through 2010. I urge all men 50 and older to be proactive about their prostate health by talking to their doctor. African American males and those with family history are at an increased risk for the disease and they need to start getting checked at the age of 40. All it takes is an annual consultation to determine the best course of action. And you know, for men, we’ve always been stubborn. So for the women out there, for the men in your life, stress how important it is for them to get their PSAs and try and reduce the risk of getting prostate cancer.
Do you have any other future goals planned for your charity efforts or you’re mainly focused on this right now and then you’ll find what ever comes your way?
Yeah, whatever comes my way. And then for more information, your people can go to depend.com to get more information about prostate cancer and the risk of prostate cancer.
Learn more about the Depend Campaign to End Prostate Cancer and Ozzie Smith on his profile at depend.com.