Known as “The Wizard of Oz,” Smith combined athletic ability with acrobatic skill to become one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time. The 13-time Gold Glove Award winner redefined the position in his nearly two decades of work with the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals, setting major league records for assists, double plays and total chances.
Smith’s talent was evident to those who saw him come up with the Padres in the late 1970s. “Ozzie is the best young infielder I’ve ever seen,” said San Diego manager Roger Craig at the time. “Very soon he’s going to be one of the best shortstops in baseball, if not the best.” Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry added, “I saw him as a rookie in San Diego. I was always hoping they would hit the ball his way because I knew then that my trouble was over.”
Smith’s fame increased after his trade to the Cards, where he helped the team to three National League pennants and one World Series title. While not known for his bat, Smith’s offense continued to improve while in St. Louis. In 1985, he got his batting average up to .276 and helped the Cardinals win their second pennant since his arrival. In the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with the series tied at two games apiece, Smith faced Tom Niedenfuer with one out in the bottom of the ninth and hit his first career homer batting left-handed (in 3,009 at-bats) to win the game. Smith went on to bat .435 in the Cardinals’ six-game triumph and won the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award, but St. Louis lost to the Kansas City Royals in seven games in the World Series.
Smith retired in 1996, the same year the Cardinals retired his number, and in his 19 seasons compiled a .262 batting average, 2,460 hits, 580 stolen bases, and was named to 15 All-Star teams. Smith set the following major league records for his position: most assists (8,375), most double plays (1,590), most total chances accepted (12,624), most years with 500 or more assists (8) and most years leading the league in assists and chances accepted (8).