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Jayson Stark

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Sunday, July 28, 2002
Smith's induction speech was a class act
By Jayson Stark

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Phil Rizzuto ripped up his notes and winged it. Bill Mazeroski got so mushy-eyed, he couldn't get through it. Carlton Fisk talked almost as long as he played.

Ozzie Smith
Ozzie Smith wears an Afro-style wig as he is introduced at the Hall of Fame.

You put the greatest baseball players on earth on a podium in Cooperstown, you never know what might come out. It's the only Hall of Fame induction speech they will ever give. And all the early BPs they took in their lifetime can't help them with this one.

But we should have known that when the great Ozzie Smith headed for the microphone on his Hall of Fame induction day, we'd get more than a routine 6 to 3.

What the Wizard gave Sunday couldn't be described as just a "speech." It was a veritable multimedia extravaganza. It was tough to tell whether Ozzie wrote it or Steven Spielberg.

It started with Smith marching out wearing an old brown-and-gold Padres cap and a big old afro wig. It ended with Judy Garland singing, "Over the Rainbow." In between, the Wiz juggled a baseball sliced in half and an old hardcover copy of "The Wizard of Oz."

"Being a professional," Smith said afterward. "I wanted the speech to be as professional as it could possibly be."

Heck, if it had been any more professional, he'd have had to give it while carrying a briefcase. His Hall of Fame plaque says he "revolutionized defensive play at shortstop." Some day, they may need to add a line mentioning that he also revolutionized the art of the Hall of Fame speech.

Many players look back on their careers and see a highlight film. The Wizard looked back and saw a grandiose Frank Capra analogy.

In one hand, he held a baseball. In the other hand, he held his copy of the "The Wizard of Oz." And somewhere between the insides of that baseball and Dorothy's trip down the yellow brick road, Smith wove the story of his life and times.

All that was missing was Toto, the Munchkins, a laser show and a tip of the cap to Tony La Russa.

He linked the core of that baseball and the scarecrow's journey with Dorothy as the place where his trip to Cooperstown all began -- "with a dream that took shape in my heart one day while sitting as a child on the front steps of our house."

He connected the wool woven around the baseball's core with the tin man's quest for a heart. That connection, he said, represented "the strands of love and faith that so many other people have wrapped around Ozzie Smith as a person and wrapped around my dream."

And in the cover of that baseball, he saw Dorothy's pal, the lion -- who wanted the "c-c-c-c-c-c-courage to face adversity." The Wiz said he wasn't the only one for whom "it takes c-c-c-c-c-c-courage to see any great quest through to its ultimate completion."

After doing his Bert Lahr lion impression three times, Smith chuckled: "I always wanted to play that part."

It was pure poetry. So it figured that Smith would read some actual poetry, too -- an ode by an unknown poet called "To Any Athlete," which urges ballplayers, athletes and heroes everywhere to set "an example, every day in all you do."

After all that, he couldn't just finish this speech with a few thank-you's and a wave to his adoring, red-shirted fans spread out on the distant hillsides. So cue the soundtrack.

As he spoke about his family, violins began to play. Softly at first. Then louder and louder. And as he reached the part where he said, "I want you all to know there IS no wizard in Oz," Judy Garland began warbling "Over the Rainbow" in the background.

"Ozzie Smith is not a uniquely talented person," the Wiz said, not quite bursting into song himself. "In fact, he is no different than any man, woman, boy or girl in this audience today. Ozzie Smith was a boy who decided to look within. A boy who discovered that absolutely nothing is good enough if it can be made better. . . . A boy who discovered an old-fashioned formula that would take him beyond the rainbow."

This, however, was not a speech he just gave once in a lullaby. In fact, he has been delivering a version of it, he revealed later, since he was once asked to give a speech in St. Louis at a function in which the other speakers included those famous ex-Cardinals, Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev.

"It's the core of what my life has been since retiring," he said. "This is the basic core of my message to people.

"One of the great things about having that moniker (the Wizard) to hang onto," he said at another point, "is I can make things a little bit different. . . . So I sat down and started thinking of my life and the way I played, and there was a synergy. That's the theme. I was just trying to bring some excitement in that would tell the story of my life in my own way."

Nobody ever played the way Ozzie Smith did. And he has those 13 straight Gold Gloves, those 15 all-star teams he made and those six all-time defensive records he holds to prove it.

And nobody ever told his story on the big stage in Cooperstown like he did, either. And the Hall of Fame folks asked for the cap and wig to prove that.

Maybe you'll see them sitting in a glass case in the Hall some day. If you do, listen real closely and maybe you'll be able to hear Judy Garland singing -- and a man they called the Wizard back-flipping his way down baseball's yellow brick road.

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