Hall vote: O. Smith in class by self

Cardinals shortstop named in first year

Carter 11 votes shy

January 09, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Baseball's Hall of Fame is filled to the brim with big swingers and .300 hitters, but acrobatic shortstop Ozzie Smith proved yesterday that there is room at Cooperstown for a little guy with a big heart and a legendary way with leather.

The aptly nicknamed Wizard of Oz, who defied both convention and gravity during a 19-year career with the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals, was named on 91 percent of the ballots cast by voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America to gain induction in his first year of eligibility.

He was the only player to receive the minimum 75 percent vote in the annual election and will be the only 2002 inductee because of a recent change in the rules governing the Hall's veterans committee, which means that induction weekend at Cooperstown (July 27-29) should be an unprecedented homage to the most underrated aspect of baseball.

"To be the only one going in I think speaks to the impact I had at my position," Smith said, soon after becoming only the 37th player to be elected in his first year on the ballot.

Smith was perhaps the flashiest defensive infielder in the history of the sport - a shortstop so athletic and agile that he became a much-loved superstar without the impressive offensive skills normally required of position players seeking Hall of Fame recognition.

"The guys who get into the Hall of Fame are the guys who hit the ball out of the ballpark," he said. "I think my going in is going to reinforce the defensive aspect of the game."

Catcher Gary Carter, who played most of his 19-year career with the Montreal Expos and New York Mets, came up just 11 votes short of induction (72.7 percent). He also was the first runner-up last year, when Kirby Puckett and Dave Winfield were elected in their first year of eligibility.

First-time eligible Andre Dawson was believed to have a decent chance for induction, but was named on only 45 percent of the vote to finish fifth, behind Boston Red Sox great Jim Rice (55 percent) and relief specialist Bruce Sutter (50 percent).

Smith won 13 Gold Gloves, appeared in 15 All-Star Games and temporarily upstaged baseball's big boppers by becoming the game's highest-paid player ($2.3 million) in 1987, proving the economic value of great defense in a sport that has long put a greater premium on power hitting and dominant pitching.

Though Smith did not transform the shortstop position, he turned it into a personal stage for his amazing athletic feats. He will be the 22nd shortstop to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

He was not known for his offensive abilities, but that doesn't mean he was unable to handle a bat. Smith was a .262 lifetime hitter with just 28 career homers and 793 RBIs, but he delivered his share of clutch hits for three pennant-winning teams in St. Louis and batted a career-high .303 with 75 RBIs in 1987 for the last Cardinals team to reach the World Series.

But while Smith was illustrating the value of a truly great defensive middle infielder, he was already becoming an anachronism. Orioles superstar Cal Ripken arrived in the major leagues just four years after Smith and inaugurated the era of the big-hitting shortstop.

The current generation of superstars at the position - Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra - all are known more for their big numbers at the plate than their proficiency with the glove, though all are very good defensive players.

"When you're hitting 40 or 50 homers, you have to give up something," Smith said. "If it's a middle infielder, that usually means range. There will always be room for the prototypical shortstop."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Voting

(472 votes cast; 354 needed; x-elected) x-Ozzie Smith, 433; Gary Carter, 343; Jim Rice, 260; Bruce Sutter, 238; Andre Dawson, 214; Goose Gossage, 203; Steve Garvey, 134; Tommy John, 127; Bert Blyleven, 124; Jim Kaat, 109.

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