Trade to Cardinals a perfect deal for Ozzie

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

Whitey Herzog was reshaping the St. Louis Cardinals into a team that could take advantage of the lighting-fast artificial turf at Busch Stadium. So to make sure opposing batters didn’t use the same plan against the Cards, Herzog wanted the best defensive shortstop he could find.

What Herzog got was perhaps the best defensive shortstop ever.

On Dec. 10, 1981, Herzog – serving in the dual capacity as manager and general manager of the Cardinals – pulled off a blockbuster at the Winter Meetings in Hollywood, Fla., acquiring Ozzie Smith from the San Diego Padres. The deal took 62 days to complete and included five other players, but the transaction was essentially Smith for Garry Templeton.

“Ozzie is the key to getting the Cardinals in the World Series,” Smith’s agent, Ed Gottlieb, told the Associated Press.

Smith had just completed his fourth season with San Diego but was embroiled in a contract dispute with Padres owner Ray Kroc. Templeton was unhappy in St. Louis, so a trade made sense for both teams.

Smith’s deal with the Padres, however, included a no-trade clause. And with Templeton’s offensive numbers making him a valuable commodity – he owned a career .305 batting average through his first six seasons with the Cardinals – Herzog wanted to be sure Smith would be around for the long haul.

Finally, Smith and the Cardinals agreed that he would waive his no-trade clause and let an arbitrator decide his 1982 salary. The arbitrator sided with the Cardinals’ offer of $450,000, with Smith having asked for $750,000.

It turned out to be a bargain. Smith’s defensive wizardry helped the Cardinals win 92 games and the National League East title – St. Louis’ first trip to the postseason since 1968. The Cards swept the NLCS in three games against the Braves, advancing to the World Series against a slugging Brewers team. In the Fall Classic, Smith’s timely hitting and outstanding defense helped the Cardinals defeat Milwaukee in seven games.

“Every player wants the ultimate,” Smith told The New York Times. “He wants to play for the championship of baseball.”

Smith, who led all NL shortstops in assists (535) and fielding percentage (.984) in 1982, won his third Gold Glove Award following the season and finished 13th in the NL Most Valuable Player Award voting.

The Cardinals quickly signed Smith to a long-term contract – a deal worth $3.6 million over three years. With that, Smith became the game’s highest paid shortstop.

“When a guy takes two hits away from the opposition a game,” Herzog told the Associated Press, “why isn’t he as important as a guy who drives in runs?”

Smith quickly became a fan-favorite in St. Louis with his acrobatic play – including his Opening Day backflips as he took the field. And Smith’s offense began to improve as well.

After famously entering into a wager with Herzog for the 1982 season based on ground balls/base hits vs. fly balls/strikeouts – Smith won about $300 in the bet – Smith steadily improved at the plate until he hit .303 in 1987, finishing second in the NL Most MVP voting that season. He would finish his career with a .262 batting average, 2,460 hits and 580 stolen bases.

It was with the glove, however, that Smith built his legacy. He would play his final 15 seasons of his 19-year big league career with the Cardinals following the trade, earning 11 of his 13 Gold Glove Awards and 14 of his 15 All-Star Game selections in St. Louis.

Smith was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2002.

“I’ve been I this game for 32 years,” Herzog said when Smith signed his contract extension prior to the 1983 season. “I’ve never seen another shortstop like Ozzie.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series