Book Report: Wizard by Ozzie Smith with Rob Rains (1988)

Book coverI read Bob Gibson’s From Ghetto To Glory earlier this year, so it seemed a prime time to pick up this book as I came across it in a partial book turning this autumn.

Ozzie Smith played a generation after Gibson, starting his career in the late 1970s in San Diego before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. I knew him twice: Once as an enemy as a member of the team that eventually beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series, and a couple of years later as a favorite on the team that then lost the World Series to the Royals and then to the Twins. He didn’t get traded; I moved from Milwaukee to St. Louis, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch kept me awash in free Cardinals tickets for good grades. Between my brother and I, we got to see six to eight games a year gratis, so we became fans of the hometown team. So I’ve seen Ozzie Smith in person, and I’ve seen him do a back flip as he took the field, and I booed Royce Clayton when he appeared in the Dennis Quaid movie The Rookie (Tony LaRussa replaced Smith when Clayton in the 1990s, which caused a rift between the Cardinals and Smith that took years or decades to heal).

At any rate, this book does talk about Ozzie Smith’s race (he’s black), and it mentions he lived in the ghetto (Watts, during the riots in the 1960s, when Smith was very young). But the book focuses mostly on the business side of baseball–Smith’s dealings with the Padres, a penny-pinching team in that era who didn’t want to spend money on retaining players and vilified players who went elsewhere for more money, often beginning in their contract years if the players did not sign right away–to the difficulties and pressures of being a highly paid defensive player. The book also focuses on how Smith approaches self-improvement, including trying to become a better hitter even after he received a big contract.

So the book is more inspirational throughout than the Gibson book. I wonder how more modern sports bios written later than 35 years ago and with different generations scan. Probably not as hopeful as this one.

Not many books have sentences where I know exactly where I was when they happened. This one does.

Some of the fans may have had a little doubt in their hearts about then, but we didn’t. If anything, the Brewers’ rally picked us up as we came up to bat in the bottom of the sixth. We loaded the bases, and that brought up Keith Hernandez to bat against Bob McClure, who had been Keith’s teammate in Little League in California. Keith must have had the book on him, because he came through with a single to score me and Lonnie and tie the game.

Gentle reader, my brother and I left Boogie’s apartment, where his mother had been watching us while my mother had gone out, when the score was 3-1, and when we got to our apartment in the next building over, the score was tied. And we know how the game turned out–if not, you can read this book to find out–and I cried myself to sleep. For a long time, I called Bob McClure “Chicken” McClure, and that probably wasn’t fair. But I was ten, understand.

I also flagged a bit in the book where Ozzie Smith said about a trip to San Francisco for the All Star game where he was going to start the game for the second time, but he was more excited to meet Huey Lewis. C’mon, man, did Ozzie Smith say that, or did Rob Rains through that in because Huey Lewis was one of the biggest musicians of the 1980s? I guess we’ll only know when there’s an estate sale at Smith’s house–if we see a bunch Sports and Picture This on cassette, we will know he really was that excited.

Given that he retired a couple of decades ago, he’s still a beloved figure in Cardinals nation. We used to eat at Ozzie’s when we lived in Casinoport, and a relatively new medical center called Ozzie Smith IMAC Regeneration Center opened in Springfield a couple years ago.

Maybe someday I’ll come across a copy of Ozzie Smith–The Road to Cooperstown by Smith and Rains, written 14 years after this book. I’d like to think it has a similar tone, but one never knows when it comes to athletes who have retired and are not in the middle of their careers.

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