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Wizard redefined term shortstop

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 28, 2002

Some will remember specifics.

The acrobatic back flips. The ungodly, barehanded grab of Jeff Burroughs' grounder during his rookie season with the Padres in 1978. The home run off Tom Niedenfuer to win Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series. The squabble over playing time during the 1996 season, his last.

Others will remember only this about Ozzie Smith: The Wizard might be the best defensive shortstop the game has ever seen.

"I don't think anybody has even come close to him," Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez said.

The 47-year-old, who played 19 seasons, becomes the 254th member of the Hall of Fame during a ceremony today in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Smith, as spindly now as during his playing days, is just the 37th player elected in his first time on the ballot.

"Defense still has to be played no matter how good you are offensively," Smith said in January. "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."

A 15-time All-Star, he compiled 2,640 hits, stole 580 bases, won 13 consecutive Gold Gloves and set shortstop records for assists (8,375), total chances (12,624) and double plays (1,590).

Much like Luis Aparicio, Smith's defensive capabilities overshadowed his .262 career average, 28 homers and 793 RBIs and proved enough to gain entry into the Hall.

"He dispelled the thought that a shortstop couldn't leave his feet and get the runner at first," said Rays manager Hal McRae, who faced Smith in the 1985 World Series. "Everybody does it now, but he paved the way. He showed them that it could be done."

FRUSTRATED UNIT: The price of performing at a high level for an extended period of time, as Arizona left-hander Randy Johnson has learned lately, is everybody expects you to do it every game.

Johnson, who missed the All-Star Game to spend time with his family and rest a sore back, was 12-2 with a 2.38 ERA through his first 17 starts. He is 2-2 with a 4.38 ERA since.

"When am I going to have room to have consecutive bad starts? When I'm 45 or 46?" the 38-year-old said. "When am I entitled to have my velocity go down? I don't want any of this to happen, but after 12,000 pitches (with Arizona), yeah, your body's going to take some wear and tear."

ATTENDANCE SPIKE: The Marlins drew 20,000 to their game against the Expos on July19 at Pro Player Stadium. But all were huddled under Seat 1 of Row 13 of Section 145 and didn't count toward the actual attendance.

Chris Harvison, a bee exterminator, was called to the stadium to remove about 20,000 bees from under the seat with a vacuum.

"This is a first," Harvison said.

The Marlins have drawn more than 20,000 fans just twice this season.

ROASTED ROGERS: The decision by Texas pitcher Kenny Rogers to veto a trade to the Reds on Tuesday did not sit well with some in Cincinnati's clubhouse.

"Kenny Rogers must not be much of a gambler after all," Reds reliever Scott Sullivan said. "If he doesn't want to be here, we don't want him."

Shortly after Rogers rejected the trade, Cincinnati acquired pitcher Brian Moehler and infielder Matt Boone for infielder David Espinosa and players to be named.

"I don't want somebody you have to break their arm to get here," said Reds manager Bob Boone, Matt's father. . "I want someone who wants to be here. I know Brian Moehler makes us better. He makes us better right now."

APOLOGIES: Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski apologized for making comments about Tigers players at a July19 luncheon for season-ticket holders.

"In my career, it's the most embarrassed I've been about a situation," Dombrowski said. "The whole talk, I wish I wouldn't have said it."

During the talk, which was taped and later aired by a Detroit area radio station, Dombrowski mentioned several Tigers who have been difficult to trade.

THE LAST WORD: "It's not an eating contest out there or anything, so I can play." -- Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros, who July21 returned to the starting lineup one day after needing 12 stitches to close cuts after he was hit in the face by a pitch.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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