1/8/2001 2:00 pm ET
Smith voted into Baseball Hall of Fame
By Ian Browne, MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Considering that Ozzie Smith will forever be known for making even the most challenging play look easy, it shouldn't be a big surprise that he gained entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame so smoothly.
And the way his acrobatics so often took center stage, it is somehow fitting he was the only player selected for this year's induction class.
The spectacular shortstop -- regarded by many as the best defensive player ever at his position -- was overwhelmingly elected into the Hall of Fame Tuesday on the first ballot, receiving votes on 91.7 percent of the ballots.
The votes are made by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
It was somewhat surprising that Smith didn't have company in this year's class, as catcher Gary Carter and outfielder Andre Dawson were viewed as strong candidates.
The revamped Veteran's Committee won't vote again until 2003.
A player needs to receive votes on at least 75 percent of the writers' ballots to get in, and once again, Carter fell just short.
After falling 10 percentage points shy a year ago, Carter was elected on 72.7 percent of the ballots this time, an agonizing 11 votes too few. Carter -- whose candidacy has picked up steam since fellow catcher Carlton Fisk was elected in 2000 -- was on the ballot for the fifth year.
"I'm very surprised when you look at Gary's numbers," Smith said. "I thought for sure he would probably get in this year. I think eventually he will."
A long-time teammate of Carter's in Montreal was a candidate to go in on the first ballot. But Dawson -- the run-producing outfielder known as the "Hawk" -- received only 45 percent. Dawson -- an eight-time gold glover -- was the 1987 NL MVP for the Chicago Cubs.
Another power-hitter and former MVP came up shy as well, as Jim Rice -- who spent his entire career with the Boston Red Sox -- was 25 percentage points shy on his eighth year of eligibility. ###
Bruce Sutter, who helped revolutioniz the split-finger fastball and the role of late-inning specialist, finished 20 percentage points shy in his ninth year on the ballot. Goose Gossage, one of Sutter's most esteemed peers for many years, received votes on 43 percent of the ballots.
Smith will be formally inducted in Cooperstown, N.Y. on Sunday, July 28.
"I never played the game to make it to the Hall of Fame," he said. "I played it because I loved it and to be the very best with what I was given. But to get in speaks to the impact I had at my position."
Though it was his defense that Smith -- a 13-time Gold Glover and 15-time All-Star - was defined by, he couldn't have gotten in on the first try without dedicating himself to become an effective offensive player.
"Every player wants to be as well-rounded as he can possibly be," Smith said. "I didn't like the moniker of being a one-dimensional player. It's not easy learning to hit at the big-league level when you're hitting against Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard. They take you to school. But my teams gave me the time it took to become a better offensive player."
After Smith was traded from the Padres to the Cardinals for fellow shortstop Garry Templeton in 1982, he improved his offense -- once a liability -- dramatically.
"When I came to the Cardinals, Whitey Herzog came up with a plan," said Smith. "He said, You're going to help us by keeping the ball out of the air. So I worked on staying on top of the ball. Once I learned how to stay on top of the ball, things started to make sense. To be able to drive the ball a little bit, hit it in the corners, all of it came together for me in 1985."
The affable switch-hitter finished his 19-year career with 2,460 hits, 1,257 runs and 580 stolen bases. Though Smith -- with 28 career homers -- never hit for much power, the most memorable hit of his career was a home run that won Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS for the Cardinals.
It's no coincidence that the Cardinals won the World Series in 1982 -- Ozzie's first year with the team. In large part behind Smith's wizardry, the Cardinals got back to the World Series in 1985 and '87, losing both of those Fall Classics in seven games.
"I remember Whitey coming over to San Diego and telling me if I came to the Cardinals there was no reason we couldn't go all the way," Smith said. "I knew I was going to an organization that had some tradition. I knew I was coming to a much better situation. I had to prove to not only everybody else, but to myself, that I could help a team win. Whitey Herzog gave me that opportunity."
An opportunity on which Smith capitalized, leaving countless indelible memories along the way.
When you think of Smith, you think of the trademark backflips he often did when he took his position. You think of his competitive fire. But most of all, you think about the mesmerizing plays at short.
"He was great, acrobatic," said Phillies Manager Larry Bowa, a fellow National League shortstop though much of Smith's career. "He made all the plays. He became a very good hitter. He's a Hall of Fame player. But what I'll always remember is the one play, the one where he dives and catches it with his glove, it takes a bad hop and he catches it with his other hand, that was an unbelievable play."
Just one of a number of unbelievable plays that Smith will take with him to Cooperstown.
So even as today's great shortstops -- Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, etc. -- are measured in large part in terms of power, Smith has no fear that his type of shortstop will eventually become obsolete.
"There will always," said Smith, "be a place for the prototypical shortstop in the game."
For Ozzie Smith, that place just happens to be Cooperstown.
Ian Browne is a regional writer for MLB.com based in New York.