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Smith enjoys induction weekend
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07/27/2002 8:19 pm ET 
Smith enjoys induction weekend
By Matthew Leach /

Former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith signs autographs for fans at the Leatherstocking Golf Course on Saturday in Cooperstown, N.Y. (John Dunn/AP)
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- After six of the busiest months of his life, Ozzie Smith finally made it to this small town on Wednesday. And things got even busier.

Smith, who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, has been going non-stop since he got "The Call" in January. But that pales in comparison to the blur of the annual induction weekend.

Since his arrival, Smith has turned double plays as part of the "Turn Two" charity. He's dined with the members of the fraternity. He's played in the annual Hall of Fame golf tournament. He's taken plenty of advice from fellow greats of the game, and been followed all over by members of the media. And on Saturday afternoon, he sat down all alone in front of a crowd of over 50 reporters and answered media questions for the last time as a Hall-of-Famer-to-be.

"It's moving pretty fast," said Smith, who had about 10 family members in the audience. "Last week things really started to move fast for me. Johnny Bench gave me some advice. He told me to write down everything that's happened, starting with last night with the party with all the guys. It does move so fast. So I took heed (of) that and started jotting some things down so I can remember it. I am getting older, and remembering when you get nervous as I am now, you have a tendency to forget things."

The part about getting older was a joke -- Smith is only 47 -- but little else that he said was. The man widely considered to be the greatest defensive shortstop in baseball history showed that he also remains one of its best ambassadors. Smith fielded questions about a full range of topics with aplomb, from the development of his skills to the state of the game.

With all the questions facing baseball today, and in the midst of a weekend that's all about him, it would have been understandable if Smith had chosen to shy away from some issues. But he did no such thing.

Smith -- who stands in at about 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds -- never looked much like a steroid user. But he was more than willing to weigh in on that particular issue, noting that his success should be an example to youngsters that they don't need to mess with performance-enhancing drugs. And he believes that many of today's bulked-up players are using the same legal methods he did.

"(I was) always trying to improve myself to get bigger and stronger," Smith said. "Not necessarily to hit the ball out of the ballpark, but to be able to drive the ball a little bit more. Drive the ball by the infielders, put the ball in the gaps, put the ball down the line. Through (nutritional) supplements, we were able to do that. That was in 1985, so I'm sure that the supplements and thing have probably gotten a lot better.

"I don't believe the numbers that there are 85 percent of the guys doing steroids today. In any sport, there are gonna be a small percentage of guys that feel that it's OK to take that type of risk. That's in any sport. I don't think that baseball is any different as far as that's concerned. I don't know who that is. I don't think the number is 85 percent. ... I think that I'm an example of a small guy still being able to build strength and stuff through natural means. And I think that there are a lot of guys who are doing that through natural means."

"Johnny Bench gave me some advice. He told me to write down everything that's happened, starting with last night with the party with all the guys. It does move so fast.
So I took heed (of) that and started jotting some things down so I can remember it."

-- Ozzie Smith

Smith believes that the recent offensive explosion in baseball has come from somewhat less natural means, however.

"They say that the baseball hasn't changed," he said. "I think that the fact that we moved fences in, the ball's now being made by machines, makes it a little bit harder, more like a golf ball, the ball carries a little bit more. And with the weight training and stuff, you see such a surge in offense today. I don't know if that's gonna continue."

While "The Wizard" hasn't played in a game in nearly six years, he still identifies with the players on what is likely the biggest issue facing the game today: the labor negotiations.

Smith didn't exactly beat the war drums for the MLB Players Association, and he has no formal role in the contract talks. But he left no doubt that his heart is with the guys on the field -- and the people in the stands.

"I'm hoping that (a work stoppage) doesn't happen. I think that would be a devastating thing. And I think everybody realizes how devastating that would be.

"Until a club folds up its tent and goes home, I know the players are never gonna believe that things are as bad as people say they are. And if things are as bad as people say they are, then show me they're that bad. And then maybe that can be the starting point for us in making the changes that need to be made. ... I've always felt that the basic agreement should be much longer than four years. Because people get tired of, every four years, here we go again."

As for picking and choosing among today's players, Smith's views are not exactly controversial. Indians and Mets fans, the game's greatest defensive shortstop sees things just the way you do.

"I'm gonna go with prototypical shortstops," Smith said, when asked what shortstops he most enjoys watching. "Prototypical shortstops being Omar Vizquel (and) Rey Ordonez. I think there will always be room for guys like that... The other guys have been able to blend great offense and good defense. But the type of defense that I played, I think the best are guys like Omar and Rey Ordonez. Cover a lot of ground, very fluid with the way that they play the position."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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