Life may not be all about going down a yellow brick road, but retirement is pretty good for St. Louis Cardinals legend Ozzie Smith.
At 64 years old, Hall of Famer Osborne Earl “Ozzie” Smith is doing what he likes nowadays. Nothing more, nothing less.
Sure there are the aches and pains that come from a long career in baseball, but Smith said he has no complaints.
“I’m not doing bad for an old guy,” Smith quipped. “I’m still moving around. I don’t have a rocking chair [but] I do have a lounger that I like a lot.”
While he’s not chasing ground balls or running the bases anymore, Smith remains tied to the St. Louis Cardinals. He attended the Fantasy Camp earlier this year and recently returned from Jupiter, Florida, where he spent time helping out at spring training.
“I’m as busy as I wanna be,” Smith said. “I play a lot of golf now. I work for PGA Reach where we work with young kids and introduce them to the game of golf.”
Smith was the ambassador of the 2018 PGA Championship that drew rave reviews and record crowds.
“That was one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of … to have something like that in our city,” Smith said. He brought the Wanamaker Trophy to the winner while riding on the Budweiser beer wagon at Bellerive Country Club. “There’s nothing like riding on that wagon with the Dalmatian [at your side] and the Clydesdales pulling you.
“I just didn’t want to drop that trophy. It’s heavy.”
Smith also is active with the Ozzie Smith IMAC Regeneration Center in West County, which uses new therapies to help people recover from sports-related injuries like a torn ACL, MCL, meniscus, Achilles tendon, rotator cuff or other damage. It’s something Smith uses himself, and he’s happy to have his name on the door.
“This is a good way of giving people their lives back without surgery,” he said, “and I’m glad to be associated with it.”
Smith is no stranger to entrepreneurship.
“I had the restaurant for 21 years [Ozzie’s Restaurant & Sports Bar in Westport Plaza]. That’s a long run for a restaurant,” Smith said. “I take things as they come. You never really know what’s around the next corner.”
He started a youth sports academy in 1990 that remains open in Chesterfield and has appeared in local radio and television commercials.
But it all began on the ballfield. His monicker sums up his skill on the diamond.
Nicknamed “The Wizard” for his defensive brilliance, Smith set major league records for career assists [8,375] and double plays [1,590] by a shortstop [the latter since broken by Omar Vizquel] and set a National League record with 2,511 career games at the position.
He won the NL Gold Glove Award for play at shortstop for 13 consecutive seasons [1980-92]. A 15-time All-Star, he accumulated 2,460 hits and 580 stolen bases during his career and won the NL Silver Slugger Award as the best-hitting shortstop in 1987.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility; named on 91.7 percent of the ballots. He was inducted on July 28, 2002. Days later, on Aug. 11, Smith was back at Busch Memorial Stadium for the unveiling of a statue in his likeness by sculptor Harry Weber.
“Going into the Hall of Fame was a great moment for me. It was a moment I’ll never forget,” he said.
His induction was the last time he did one of his trademark backflips.
“… I pulled a calf muscle, scraped up my knee on the concrete and messed up a pair of pants,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty. My bones don’t heal the same way as they used to, so I try to stay away from those now.”
But fans have their memories.
In 2014, he was elected to the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame.
Born in Alabama, Smith moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was 6 years old. When he reached the major leagues, he played in his home state for the San Diego Padres. But in 1981, the Cardinals were unhappy with shortstop Garry Templeton and the Padres were upset with Smith and his agent. A deal was made.
“The transition was easy from the standpoint of a player. You get traded for a player like Garry Templeton, one of the most talented players to ever don a pair of spikes, a five-tool player, meant to me the Cardinals really wanted me,” Smith said. “Whitey [Herzog] told me I would be able to go out and perform. He made it easy for me to be me.
“My job was to go out and do my thing every day. I had fun doing it.”
Smith never looked back.
When his playing days were over, he stayed in St. Louis.
“It really worked out here for me,” said Smith, who today lives in St. Albans. “I didn’t want my kids to have the transition of going back and forth from here to California. This is a great place to raise a family.
“Baseball is the centerpiece of this area. It’s off the charts. That’s why I chose to be here and stay here.”
Naturally, Smith has several takeaways from his career that bring a smile to his face.
“Of course, winning the World Series in 1982 was great. Going back in ’85 and ’87 to the Series was great,” he said. “But what I’m most proud of is people didn’t look at me as a one-dimensional player. I became a good hitter. I worked extremely hard on that part of the game to make myself one of the best hitters I could be.”
His achievement was immortalized by Jack Buck during the 1995 National League Conference Series.
The game was knotted 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning. Los Angeles manager Tommy Lasorda summoned reliever Tom Niedenfuer from the bullpen.
The switch-hitting Smith batted left-handed against Niedenfuer with one out. Though he had never hit a home run in his previous 3,009 left-handed major league at-bats, he pulled an inside fastball down the right-field line for a walk-off home run, ending Game 5 in a 3-2 Cardinals’ victory.
Buck’s call: “Smith corks one into right, down the line! It may go … Go crazy, folks, go crazy! It’s a home run, and the Cardinals have won the game, by the score of 3 to 2, on a home run by the Wizard! Go crazy!”
The call still sends chills down Smith’s spine.
“It meant everything. Being in this town and baseball being what it is here makes it so special,” Smith said. “It will be part of Cardinals’ history long after we’ve gone.
“A little boy came up to me once and his mom told him to show me. The boy mimics Jack’s call. When you touch lives like that, we’re all very blessed. It’s a memory of a lifetime. It’s a part of Cardinals’ lore.
“One of the best moments for me is when someone comes to me and says one of the best times in my life was going to the ballpark with my dad and watching you play. You can’t put a price on that.”