Starting Nine: At your assistance

Written by: Craig Muder

The Hall of Fame's Starting Nine includes must-see artifacts from every big league team. Check out the Padres Starting Nine online.

The newspapers of the day are filled with photos of his acrobatics, and the grainy VHS videos from the time dots the highlight reels on social media sites.

But to really know how good Ozzie Smith was at shortstop, you had to see it.

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“He didn’t just catch the ball. He turned it into a double play,” Pirates manager Jim Leyland told the Pittsburgh Press about a 1986 would-be single turned into a double play by Smith. “That play couldn’t be made, but he made it.”

On Sept. 26, 1980, Smith was part of a 4-6-3 double play when the Dodgers’ Steve Yeager grounded to Padres second baseman Tim Flannery with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning.

Smith leaped over oncoming Dodgers runner Jay Johnstone to make the throw to first baseman Broderick Perkins to double up Yeager, recording his 601st assist of the season. That tied Glenn Wright’s record set in 1924 with the Pirates.

In the sixth inning, Yeager grounded to Smith – who threw on to Perkins to record the record-setting 602nd assist. When umpire Jim Quick signaled the out, the 14,836 in attendance at San Diego Stadium gave Smith a standing ovation.

Smith would finish the season with 621 assists. Only Cal Ripken Jr. – with 583 assists in 1984 – has come within 40 assists of Smith’s mark since.

Smith won the first of his 13 Gold Glove Awards after the 1980 season. His defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement player) was 3.5 that season – the first of five seasons where he reached the 3.0 mark en route to a career total of 44.2, the top figure for any player at any position in history.

“All three years (his first in the big leagues), I’ve improved on my fielding percentage,” Smith told the Los Angeles Times while referencing the standard defensive evaluation statistic of his time. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of that. The thing I always try to stress is making the routine play. The other things that come along with it are icing on the cake.”

Smith finished his 19-year big league career with a record 8,375 assists add 1,590 double plays. His assists record still stands, while only Omar Vizquel turned two more often.

Few have ever been able to emulate the player known as the Wizard of Oz.

“If a shortstop tries to copy Ozzie Smith,” said Pirates manager Chuck Tanner, “he’s only hurting himself.”

Smith’s fielder’s glove used during the 1980 season is displayed in the One for the Books exhibit at the Hall of Fame.

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

Starting Nine

The Hall of Fame's Starting Nine is a lineup of must-see artifacts from our vast collection containing tens of thousands of pieces that preserve the magical moments and memorable stories of our National Pastime. Our curators have spent countless hours hand-picking special objects from every major league team to create a lineup of pieces you simply won’t believe we have!