When I got the assignment from SBN to write about my favorite player from the 1980s (specifically a player who had played between 1982-1985), I didn't know who exactly I would write about. After all, not only did the Rockies not exist at that time, but the 1993 squad only featured a couple of players who had debuted by 1985. Also, I was not alive at that point, and wouldn't be for several years thereafter. So I did the next best thing - I asked my dad.
It's hard to imagine for fans of my generation or younger, but there was once Major League Baseball played in which the Rockies did not yet exist and there was no major league team within 600 miles of Denver. The Rockies came to town when I was five, so I certainly don't remember this world, but my dad assures me that it happened. In any case, the MLB team followed by my dad (and many in Colorado at that time) was the St. Louis Cardinals.
And why not? Cardinals games were often the only games that made their way onto Colorado's radio broadcasts due to the 50,000 watt power of St. Louis' KMOX. Even today the Rockies get quite a few Cardinals fans at Coors Field for their home games. If it weren't for the Rockies, the Cardinals are who I would be following.
In 1982, many baseball fans in Colorado were very happy. After all the Cardinals won the World Series that year - and one of their top players was my dad's favorite player, the Wizard of Oz, Ozzie Smith. The Cardinals had acquired Smith during the off-season in a trade with the Padres for a package that included Sixto Lezca (who actually had a better 1982 than Smith did) and Garry Templeton (who also had a couple of good years with San Diego).
Forgot that Ozzie Smith was with the Padres (for four years)? The only reason that I didn't is because he was wearing their uniform when he made his best defensive play as a rookie - and with an all-time defensive great like Smith, that's saying something. Go ahead and watch it, I'll wait. It actually might be the best play in league history period.
Smith only hit .248/.339/.314 in 1982, but he still garnered a 5.0 rWAR season thanks to an incredible 3.4 defensive wins...and that was only the 3rd most defensive wins he was credited for in a season. In 1989, Smith's best year in the big leagues, Smith added a whopping 4.7 wins with his defense. In his career, he added 43.4 dWAR! Here's agreat tribute to Ozzie's defensive wizardry.
Ozzie was also pretty adept with the bat, compiling seven full seasons in which his wRC+ was over 100, 2,460 hits, and 580 steals. Still, the reason that a career .262/.337/.328 hitter made it to 15 All-Star games (winning 13 straight Gold Gloves) and is in the MLB Hall of Fame was his defense. Well, that and gratuitous backflips.
I was fortunate enough to witness Smith play defense in the latter part of his career and he was still magnificent even if he'd lost a step or two. Also, he appeared on what is probably the greatest Simpsons episode ever.
Two questions for the peanut gallery:
What team did you follow before the Rockies came to town?
What is your favorite Ozzie Smith moment?
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