The greatest shortstop in the long, storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals franchise is celebrating his birthday today.
On December 26, 1954, in Mobile, Alabama, Osborne Earl Smith was born. At age six, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Ozzie started his path to the major leagues. High school ball was followed by a move to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo for college.
A fourth-round pick of the San Diego Padres in the 1977 June amateur draft, Smith made his major league debut on Opening Day of the next year, a very quick rise to the majors that demonstrated his readiness to play with and against the best ballplayers in the world.
While the Wizard's greatest defensive play was made as a member of the Padres, with whom he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, Smith reached his greatest heights following a move to the St. Louis Cardinals. While the trade consisted of six players, the deal was essentially a shortstop swap, with Garry Templeton headed to San Diego. (Thank you, Whitey Herzog!)
Picking up where he left off over his final two seasons on the West Coast, Smith continued his run of Gold Glove awards, adding another 11 straight to his trophy case, finishing with a shortstop-record 13 consecutive awards. Ozzie also was an All-Star his first 11 years with the Cardinals, part of 12 straight seasons receiving such recognition, and he was selected three more times to wrap up his career after not being selected to the Midsummer Classic in 1993.
The Wizard's bat started showing greater signs of life in the Gateway City, too. While Ozzie had just a single home run during his time in San Diego - and that was back in his rookie campaign - he hit twice as many his first year in St. Louis. He peaked in 1985 with a massive output of a half-dozen long balls, nearly a quarter of the 28 regular-season homers he hit in his career. (He also had one post-season home run you may be familiar with, his first ever as a left-handed batter.)
Of course, Smith's game was never about power. He paired that magnificent glovework with a hitting approach that peaked a bit above average. He made contact, moved runners over, and was a fantastic baserunner, stealing 580 bases in his career with a 79.7% success rate. (His stolen base total is in the top 20 among all players since 1900.)
Ozzie's best overall season probably was 1987, when the Cardinals made it to the World Series but lost to the Twins in seven games. While he didn't have any homers, Smith batted a career-best .303, with his top on-base percentage (.392) and slugging percentage (.383), as well. That performance earned him second place in MVP voting, as well as his only Silver Slugger award.
The Wizard hung up his cleats following the 1996 season (I was at his retirement weekend) with the litany of awards mentioned above, along with 2,460 hits, three World Series appearances, and one championship. He was elected to the Hall of Famer on his first year of eligibility, being inducted in the summer of 2002. (I was there, too.)
Twenty years after that ceremony, there's probably just a small party with family and friends today, celebrating the birth of this Cardinals great who entertained and amazed millions of baseball fans in St. Louis and around the globe. Happy 68th birthday to Ozzie Smith, the one and only Wizard!