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Interview with Hall of Famer and Cardinals legend Ozzie Smith

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The Wizard stops by to talk about his career, Aledmys Diaz, and more.

2011 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Cardinals icon Ozzie Smith has teamed up with Kingsford Charcoal to ask fans what they enjoy most about baseball. This can be done using the hashtag #bestofbaseball, which includes a chance to win a VIP trip for two to the 2017 All-Star Game in Miami. You can check out the press release here.

Ozzie was also kind enough to answer a few of our questions about his playing days and his thoughts on Aledmys Diaz.

Viva El Birdos: First off, I want to say that this is a big thrill for me because I grew up as a Cardinals fan in the ‘80s, in fact, the very first Cardinals game I attended was almost 30 years ago to the day (today, in fact!), the Tommy Herr seat cushion game.

Ozzie Smith: Oh yeah, you know I saw yesterday, they were showing highlights, you know I do the Cardinals Insider, and they were talking about past celebrations and some of the giveaways that the team had, and that was one that was memorable because when he [Herr] hit the walk-off home run, they threw all of the seat cushions on the field.

VEB: Right! My seats weren’t good enough to throw our cushions down to the field so we kept ours. Mine is still buried in my parents’ garage somewhere. That was a game against the Mets and at the time they were your rival, at least in the standings, even though the Cubs are the Cardinals’ all-time traditional rival and probably always will be. Did you want to beat one of those teams more than the others or is that something the fans worry about more than the players?

OS: I think the fans were more into that than we were, we were trying to beat whoever we were playing that day, and not trying to beat anyone more than anyone else. Because it was about winning the division and hopefully getting to the Series. That was our goal. I know that the fans always got involved in the excitement of a rivalry but our goal was just to beat whoever was in front of us.

VEB: I know you’ve worked a bit with Aledmys Diaz. What can you say about his skills to be the Cardinals future every day shortstop. Certainly the bat is there, how do you feel about the glove?

OS: I don’t know if it’s fair to expect him to be any more than just a guy who is reliable when the ball is hit to him and I think he’s been that. I think the expectation level for a guy like that is to hopefully have the total package and to be as good of a defensive player as he is an offensive player and there’s no certainty that that will ever happen.

But I think he’s been efficient as far as short stop is concerned, he certainly has a lot to learn and I think he has already improved a lot. He’s worked extremely hard and he continues to work hard. There wasn’t a whole lot I could tell him that was going to make a big difference, but the most important thing I wanted to leave him with was to be aggressive. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it being aggressive and I think that he’s doing that. And he’s a good listener, he takes instructions well.

VEB: One of the things that I think is overlooked about your career, and I was looking at some of these stats not that long ago, is how good you were for so long after the age of 30. Is there any advice you give to players, particularly shortstops because I imagine it can be a grueling position?

OS: It was real simple, Alex, it was about striving to continue to get better. If I signed a longterm contract, I wanted everyone to know that I was worthy of that, and the only way to do that was to continue to improve and continue to get better. That was my goal. Money was never really my driving force, my driving force was to make sure I gave my all every day, and if I did that then the other things would take care of themselves.

It was also to prove to myself that I could push off that point of diminishing returns. I wanted to play well into my 40s, I think when I retired I was 41, but I wanted to prove that players with the right work ethic could play beyond 40, which was the number put on guys as to when they could no longer contribute and I don’t think that’s true. There have been a handful of guys who have proven that.

VEB: This year the Cardinals are obviously off to a slow start. I’m sure you endured a few seasons where after the first couple of weeks it didn’t look good. With a season as long and as grueling as baseball, how do you overcome that?

OS: Well, all you can do is continue to go out there, and it starts with you. You know, if I got out there and do my job, you go out and do your job, eventually things will turn around. The goal is to be able to catch, pitch, throw, hit, and run, and do those things well simultaneously. If everyone concentrates on themselves and makes sure that they do what they’re supposed to do, then you increase your chances of winning. No one wants to be 3-9, but hey that’s the reality right now. You can’t lose faith in each other and you have to continue to go out there and grind, because it is a grind. 162 games is a long, long way home, and you may wake up tomorrow. and the things that weren’t working, you know you get that one base hit or that one defensive play and things slowly turn around.

No one is running away with it. Everyone is right around .500, so as bad as it may seem right now, this time next week we could be talking about an entirely different team. You start with the game today, and then you just build on that.

VEB: I saw earlier this morning on Twitter that you put out a poll in line with what you’re working on with Kingsford. Can you tell us a little about that?

OS: What we’re trying to do is to get fans to join in the conversation. To talk about the sluggers, the guys who can throw over 100 mph. I’ve always been partial to the defensive gems because of my defensive prowess, I’ve always felt that that was an important part of the game. But fans are a big part of the game of baseball and it’s always fun to sit around the grill and talk about what’s good and bad about the game. So fans can join the conversation by submitting their hashtag #bestofbaseball at Kingsford’s Facebook page or on Twitter for a chance to win a VIP trip to the 2017 All-Star Game. It gives us the chance to find out what fans are thinking, what they think of their favorite team, and what changes they feel may make the game a little bit better.

VEB: I’m biased because I grew up with you guys and loved the defense and running, although I think people forget that when healthy, Jack Clark was one of the premiere sluggers in the game.

OS: He was, he was.

Huge thanks to Ozzie Smith for taking the time to talk with us.