Redbird Rants was given the opportunity yesterday morning to talk with Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, the St. Louis Cardinals great and the greatest defensive shortstop of all time.
Daniel Solzman: Thanks for joining Redbird Rants this morning at this early hour. How are things treating you?
Ozzie Smith: Alright. How are you, Daniel?
Daniel Solzman: I’m doing good. Having that caffeine slowly kick in!
Ozzie Smith: (Laughs) I’m not a coffee drinker myself.
Daniel Solzman: Neither am I. I stick with Diet (Coke). You’re playing in the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams Game later this month.
Ozzie Smith: Yes. It’s May 18th at Frontier Field in Rochester. A fan by the name of Johnny Perotti of Rochester and Stephen Katchmark of Washingtonwon a chance to play in the American League vs. National league baseball game. I’ll be playing with Stephen on the National League team with other legends like Johnny Bench, Trevor Hoffman, Fred McGriff, and Mike Schmidt. The American League team has Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Pedro Martinez and Frank Thomas. It’s just a great time. I had a chance to play in the game last year and we had a lot of fun. The fans are able to get involved. It’s an exciting time for the fans in Rochester. Pepsi MAX has done a great job of promoting this and creating a game that I think fans can reminisce, and players can reminisce as well, about the good old days and get a chance to see how their heroes have aged (Laughs) over the years.
Daniel Solzman: Will you be doing your back flip as you run out onto the field?
Ozzie Smith: Not intentionally, Daniel. No. It’s taken me 58 years to realize it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do and it can be dangerous—certainly at this old age.
Daniel Solzman: How did that tradition come about?
Ozzie Smith: Well, I was in spring training with the Padres. Gene Tenace, who was a teammate at the time, had girls that were into gymnastics and asked me to show if I could do it at some point in time during the season, which we weren’t able to do. Fan Appreciation Day, the last day of the season—he and the PR guy thought it would be a good idea for me to do it going out to my position, which I did and fell in love with. They asked me to do it Opening Day the next season and lo and behold, it became my trademark.
Daniel Solzman: You are the golden standard at short stop for the Cardinals. Since you retired at the end of the 1996 season, the Cardinals had stability at short with Edgar Renteria and David Eckstein. However, since Eckstein left, there seems to be a revolving door at the position. What are your thoughts on Pete Kozma and are there any guys that you saw in Jupiter that have the potential to play in the middle infield for a long time?
Ozzie Smith: Well, you know—here again—if you are able to find a guy that be there for an extended period of time, that’s a blessing but—here again—Pete is doing a great job. Pete is one of those guys that could be there for a long period of time, barring any serious injury. I like his attitude. I like the way he’s gone about it. I think he works extremely hard. I think he can be a good big league shortstop if given the opportunity and he seems to be taking advantage of it right now. There are some young guys down in the minor leagues but there again, you never know. It can look good in the minor leagues and be a part of what you can see as your future but the only thing that you can do is give them time and it’s up to them as to how long they remain at the big league level.
Daniel Solzman: You have been a Hall of Famer for 11 years now. What is the best thing that you enjoy about that?
Ozzie Smith: Well, first of all, being considered a Hall of Famer. When you’re growing up, that was the furthest thing from my mind—making it into the Hall of Fame. It’s always one of those things where you talk about well “those guys.” I never looked at myself as one of those guys. I just wanted to be able to say that I had a good big league career. I worked extremely hard and got the most out of my talents. With that approach came the realization that I played well enough to even be considered for the Hall of Fame. Then, of course, going in on my first time on the ballot was more then—I didn’t dream of that. I just wanted to be a good big league ballplayer. That was just the icing on the cake. The fact that I could sit in a room with Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Hank Aaron—it just very surreal sitting in that room having the opportunity to be considered part of a fraternity such as the Hall of Fame.
Daniel Solzman: Thanks again for joining us and Go Cards! Any final words for the readers of Redbird Rants?
Ozzie Smith: No, no. Just keep believing! It’s a long season.