Inside Sports

By Dave Reardon

Monday, July 8, 1996

Mike Fitzgerald is on vacation.
His column returns July 31.

Wizard of Oz
deserves last All-Star show

Like most people in Hawaii, I haven't had the opportunity to personally attend a major league baseball All-Star Game.

But I'm there in spirit every year.

It is by far my favorite athletic event. It is the one thing on television that I must watch, every year, from beginning to end. I can take or leave the other major sports' all-star events, the Final Four and the Super Bowl...even the World Series.

But the mid-summer classic holds special charm for me.

Everybody plays hard, nobody holds back. Just ask Ray Fosse, the catcher Pete Rose creamed to win one year. They all want to win, and they all want to get in. I swear Dale Murphy looked like he was going to cry once, when he realized the game was going to end before he got a chance to play.

The All-Star Game is where the new stars have their coming out parties and the greats have going away bashes. It's always been that way.

So why are there those who begrudge the farewell of Ozzie Smith, who retires at the end of this season?

Sports are entertainment. Maybe that's why there's an Ozzie Smith baseball card propped up on top of my TV. And maybe that's why it bothers me when people say he doesn't belong in tomorrow night's game.

Last Friday in this space, there was a column by the highly-regarded baseball writer, Tracy Ringolsby.

Ringolsby voiced a reasoned argument as to why Smith should not be in the All-Star Game, citing Smith's declining skills, limited playing time, and his feud with Manager Tony LaRussa.

But rational arguments don't matter when you're a fan. And I'm sure there other Ozzie Smith fans out there who feel the same way I do.

And most people agree that the best 56 players aren't on the All-Star rosters. So why not honor a man on his way to Cooperstown? The player that would've had Smith's spot will get his chance later.

Ringolsby led his column with "Baseball fans deserve an apology."

I certainly don't want an apology. I'd like to shake the hand of the person who decided to add the Wizard to the team.

The first time I took much notice of Ozzie was in the early 1980s, when he was traded to the Cardinals. I was becoming disenchanted with baseball at the time. Free agency, the strike of 1981, and assorted sex and drug scandals were the main reasons.

But then there was Smith; confident but not arrogant, playing to the crowd but not taunting, funny but classy.

And he was an acrobat who never dropped a ball.

Smith was the heart and soul of three World Series teams. What got me was the way he, and they, did it.

Smith may be the greatest defensive player of all time, period, and he was the cornerstone of a team built on defense and speed.

This was something different, and it renewed my flagging interest in baseball, which I loved but was growing tired of. And Smith's showmanship was a breath of fresh air in a sport where most of the players are emotionless and don't play to the fans.

Smith wasn't much of a hitter, but he was a pest on offense, walked twice as much as he struck out, and stole 30 or more bases in 11 seasons.

He did hit one of the biggest home runs in playoff history, against the Dodgers in 1985.

True baseball fans know there is a lot more to the game than power hitting. Yeah, the sluggers are more famous than the slick fielders. But when did fame ever correlate with quality? Sure, a big part of Earl Weaver's winning doctrine was the three-run homer. But the Patton of baseball also said pitching and fielding were equally important ingredients.

As Magic Johnson made being a great basketball assist-man a cool thing to emulate, Ozzie Smith paved the way for more respect for future baseball glovemen.

I'd like to meet Smith someday, and thank him for making me a baseball fan again. For the time being, watching him on TV tomorrow night will do nicely.

Here's to one more backflip.

Dave Reardon is a magazine editor and free-lance writer. His column on recreational team sports appears every other Thursday in the Star-Bulletin. He has written about sports in Hawaii since 1977. His e-mail address is .

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