I always check the sports-calendar type sites, to take a look at notable events that occurred on a specific date of the year. I never know what I might find. And even if it amounts to nothing more than thinking about a sweet memory, that’s good enough for me.
On this date (Dec. 10) in St. Louis sports history, the Cardinals transformed their franchise.
The bold Whitey Herzog made a trade with San Diego.
You may have heard about this one (sarcasm alert):
1981: The Cardinals and Padres trade shortstops as Garry Templeton goes to San Diego along with outfielder Sixto Lezcano and Ozzie Smith and right-hander Steve Mura heading for St. Louis.
To be factual, the personnel terms of the trade were completed on Dec. 10, 1981 with the Padres. But the deal didn’t become official until early February. It was a bit complicated. Basically, Ozzie used the no-trade clause in his San Diego contract to leverage his way to a salary boost in St. Louis for the 1982 season.
The standoff turned contentious in late January, and Herzog threatened to cancel the trade. He also had a no-trade clause. Smith used his leverage to push the Cardinals for a salary boost. It was reported that Smith asked Herzog for $750,000 — a hefty increase from his $300,000 salary paid by the Padres in 1981.
As we know, Herzog doesn’t mince words — and we love him for it
And when Whitey is ticked off, he doesn’t hold back.
“Ozzie would like to play for me, but it looks as if we’ll have to cancel the trade,” Herzog said at the time. “Ozzie is a great fielder and baserunner. I’d like to have him, but if he doesn’t want to come to St. Louis, I don’t want him. No .220 hitter is worth what he’s asking.”
That’s kind of funny now, eh?
The two sides agreed to take the matter to an arbitrator. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the Cardinals, but Smith did pretty well: a salary of $450,000 with incentives that could grow the one-year deal to $500,000.
The transaction was worthy every last syllable of bickering … and every last dollar going to Ozzie. This became one of the greatest trade in Cardinals’ history. Smith altered the Cardinals’ trajectory, becoming the catalyst for the impressive and entertaining speed-defense strategy deployed by Herzog to give the Redbirds a competitive advantage in the vast, state-park dimensions of the previous Busch Stadium.
The highlights exceeded the hope and the hype:
A World Series championship in 1982, the first for the Cardinals since 1967.
National League pennants in 1985, and 1987.
The NL’s second-best winning percentage between ‘82 and ‘87.
The “Whiteyball” style of play attracted huge, noisy crowds to Busch Stadium, an exciting change from the rather quiet 1970s.
Smith’s career sped in the direction of Cooperstown, and he became a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2002. His career achievements are extraordinary…
- 13 gold gloves (11 with the Cardinals.)
- 15 All-Star Games, 14 as a Cardinal.
- MVP of the 1985 NLCS. (“Go crazy folks, go crazy.”)
- One Silver Slugger award as the best offensive shortstop.
- The Roberto Clemente award for his humanitarian work.
- 580 stolen bases, 433 as a Cardinal.
- 2,460 hits — more than Mickey Mantle. And 1,944 of his hits came as a Cardinal.
- 1,257 runs (nearly 1,000 as a Card.)
- The most assists by a shortstop in MLB history with 8,375.
- No. 2 in MLB history among shortstops in WAR runs fielding.
- No. 2 among all shortstops in Baserunning WAR.
- He’s among MLB players that spent at least 75 percent of their careers at shortstop, only Cal Ripken Jr. has more overall WAR than Smith.
- Ozzie ranks among the Cardinals’ all-time leaders in many categories whether it be defense, baserunning or offense.
And there’s so much more … including backflips.
And I think we can elevate Ozzie Smith to another prestigious place.
With the sad, sad deaths of icons Bob Gibson and Lou Brock this year, Ozzie Smith is now the Greatest Living Cardinal. I intend no disrespect to other Cardinals legends. Managers Tony La Russa and Herzog are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and closer Bruce Sutter is also inducted in Cooperstown. Joe Torre was a player and manager for the Cardinals, and our town is fond of him. But Torre’s Baseball Hall of Fame resume was written in New York as the manager of the Yankees. And Baseball Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons is worthy of mention. He’s one of the all-time best Cardinals.
(About Albert Pujols: He’s still playing, he isn’t retired, and he hasn’t been voted into Cooperstown. He isn’t in the Cardinals Hall of Fame, either. Obviously he will be a first-ballot lock for Cooperstown down the road, and Pujols one day will be wearing the red jacket as part of being a member of the Cardinals Hall of Fame. But for now, I’m only focusing on the Greatest Retired Cardinals. And this also excludes Yadier Molina.)
Ozzie Smith is No. 1 right now.
In his book “White Rat: A Life In Baseball,” Herzog saluted Smith in grand terms. (Hat tip to RetroSimba, the excellent Cardinals’ history site, where I found the quote.)
Here’s Whitey: “Watching him every day, I’ve found out just how good he is. Of all the shortstops I’ve seen, and I’ve seen some good ones _ guys like Marty Marion, Mark Belanger and Luis Aparicio _ Ozzie is the best. I’ve never seen anyone do the things on a baseball field that he can do.”
It took one of the Greatest-Ever Cardinal trades to deliver The Greatest Living Cardinal.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie Miklasz hosts the afternoon-drive show at 590 The Fan, KFNS, each weekday from 3 to 6 p.m. You can stream it live or catch the post-show podcast at 590thefan.com