Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today, we look back on the career of Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.Regarded as one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball
Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today, we look back on the career of Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.
Regarded as one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball history, Smith patrolled the infield for the Padres and Cardinals for nearly two decades from 1978-96, winning 13 consecutive Gold Glove Awards and making 15 National League All-Star teams.
Smith was a fourth-round Draft pick of the Padres in 1977 out of California Polytechnic State University. He only needed one season in the Minors before his promotion to the big leagues, debuting on April 7, 1978, against the Giants in San Francisco, and he immediately impressed with the defensive prowess that earned him the nickname "The Wizard."
Smith held a monopoly on the NL Gold Glove Award at shortstop for 13 consecutive seasons, beginning in 1980. After his first All-Star campaign in '81, Smith was dealt from San Diego to St. Louis, where he spent the rest of his career building a Hall of Fame legacy. It was with the Cardinals that Smith developed an improved bat to pair with his legendary glove.
With Smith as their starting shortstop, the Cardinals won their first NL East title and advanced to the World Series in 1982. Smith hit .303 in the postseason, and St. Louis defeated Milwaukee in seven games for the franchise's ninth championship.
Smith's run of Gold Gloves continued in St. Louis, as did his All-Star appearances; he was voted the NL's starting shortstop for the first time in the 1983 Midsummer Classic. The Cardinals returned to the World Series in '85, and while they lost to the Royals, Smith delivered one of baseball's most memorable postseason moments in the NL Championship Series.
In Game 5 of the NLCS against the Dodgers, Smith clubbed a left-handed walk-off homer to right field, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 lead in the series. In 3,009 previous left-handed at-bats in the big leagues, Smith hadn't hit a single home run. It was later revealed that Smith played much of the 1985 season with a torn rotator cuff.
The Cardinals lost in the World Series again in 1987, this time to the Twins. Smith enjoyed one of his best statistical seasons at the plate that year, batting .303 with 40 doubles, 43 stolen bases and 75 RBIs. He finished second in NL Most Valuable Player Award voting behind the Cubs' Andre Dawson and earned his only Silver Slugger Award.
Smith's Cardinals didn't make the postseason again until 1996, his final season, but even when his team wasn't contending, Smith amassed a number of personal accolades, continuing his run of Gold Gloves and All-Star appearances, reaching 500 steals and recording his 2,000th hit.
Smith's career ended when he retired after the Cardinals' NLCS Game 7 loss to the Braves in 1996. He finished his 19-year career with a .262 career average, 2,460 hits and 580 stolen bases, also establishing Major League records at shortstop for most assists (8,375) and most double plays (1,590).
The Cardinals retired Smith's No. 1 jersey in September of his final season, and he was a first-ballot Cooperstown inductee in 2002. Smith was also part of the 22-member inaugural Cardinals Hall of Fame class in '14.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.