When shortstop Ozzie Smith was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in July 2002, he gave one of the more memorable speeches in Hall of Fame history. He wore a wig to the podium, held up a baseball cut in half and incorporated elements from “The Wizard of Oz” — also his nickname for his wizardry at shortstop — into the story of his career. Smith recently recalled that speech, the moment and what making the Hall of Fame meant to him.
Growing up, my whole thing was just to be a good consistent big-league ballplayer. And I think if you had to choose one word that all of the guys in the Hall of Fame have in common is that they were consistent at what they did. If you do what you do on a consistent basis — you do it every day; you give it your all every day and make sure that you don’t leave anything out there — that can happen to you.
You could sit there by the phone and hope that that phone rings (to inform of a Hall of Fame selection), and for a lot of guys that phone didn’t ring. Fortunately for me, that phone did ring. That wasn’t my goal. My goal was to be the best baseball player I could be. In trying to achieve that goal, I ended up sitting there and looking over and seeing Sandy Koufax and Hank Aaron and Billy Williams and Willie Mays. When I was growing up, I never looked at myself in the same vein as those guys, and even in the Hall of Fame there are different levels. And those guys are certainly at a different level.
The speech was about the whole journey and my life. I was the only player going in that year, so I didn’t want to be one of those people that didn’t deliver. And here again it’s all about how I tried to make myself as well-rounded as I could and even with that, trying to be or wanting to be, one of the best. I wanted to make it one of the best speeches I could so that people would enjoy it, just like the sport.
You’re among the most elite in the game of baseball, and they’re telling you, “Don’t be too long. It gets hot out here, so cut it short.” It’s all of that pressure and wanting to be able to perform at the same level that you did as a player. I had a speechwriter. A guy by the name of David Okerlund helped me put it all together. He was a professional speaker, so when we sat down to talk about what it was I was trying to accomplish, he was able to put it all in my words.
As told to staff writer Carroll Rogers