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Ozzie gloves solo Hall of Fame nod

The defensive wizard is a first-ballot entry. Gary Carter falls 11 votes short.

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 9, 2002

There was champagne, a television crew and a backup plan.

Just in case.

"If the news wasn't good, we were going to Steak n Shake for lunch," Ozzie Smith said from St. Louis on Tuesday. "There was a plan in place in case the call didn't come. But it did and I was elated."

The Wizard became the 37th player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, receiving 91.7 percent of votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

A player must receive at least 75 percent for election.

"I never played the game to make it to the Hall of Fame," said Smith, 47, a 15-time All-Star. "I played the game because I loved it. And I played it to be the very best that I could be with what I was given.

"To go in and be the only one going in, to get the amount of votes I did speaks to the impact that I had at my position."

Viewed by many as a better all-around catcher than Carlton Fisk, who was elected to the Hall in 2000, Gary Carter finished an agonizing 11 votes shy.

Smith, who spent his first four major-league seasons with the Padres before being traded in 1982 to St. Louis for Garry Templeton, is widely considered the best defensive shortstop ever.

The 13 consecutive Gold Gloves he won from 1980-1992 are evidence.

"Defense still has to be played no matter how good you are offensively," said Smith, who will be inducted July 28 in Cooperstown, N.Y. "Most of your teams that win championships are pretty sound defensive ballclubs.

"I just happened to be one of those players that helped re-emphasize how important it is. I think it was that defensive prowess that allowed me to get into the Hall of Fame."

Smith set shortstop records for assists (8,375), double plays (1,590) and chances (12,624) and became a fan favorite not only in St. Louis, where he spent the final 15 seasons of his career, but around the country for aspiring shortstops in youth leagues.

"Momentum is not just offense," said Smith, who was scheduled to carry the Olympic torch with Rams quarterback Kurt Warner on Tuesday night. "Momentum can be defense, too, and I prided myself on being able to change the momentum of the game simply by making a great defensive play."

If there was one blemish, it was the switch-hitter's offense.

Smith finished with a respectable, but not spectacular, 2,460 career hits, 1,257 runs scored and 580 stolen bases. Never a power hitter like some shortstops today, Smith's most memorable home run (there were 28 in his career) was the winner in the ninth inning of Game 5 in the 1985 National League Championship Series.

His offense improved after the trade. A .231 hitter in San Diego, he batted .303 in 1987 and topped .280 six times with the Cardinals, who won the World Series in 1982 and lost in '85 and '87. He also drew as many as 89 walks. Smith used to entertain fans by doing back flips before games.

"I probably could do one today," Smith said. "I don't know about tomorrow, but possibly today."

Outfielder Jim Rice received 55 percent of the vote, closer Bruce Sutter 50 percent and first-time candidate Andre Dawson 45 percent.

Carter, an 11-time All-Star who played 19 seasons for the Mets and Expos, will have to wait until next year.

"I am very surprised when you look at Gary's numbers and stuff and having come up so short last year," Smith said. "I thought for sure that he would probably get in this year. I think eventually he will."

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