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Ozzie Smith inducted into Hall of Fame

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y., July 28 (UPI) -- Ozzie Smith, whose spectacular defense is the barometer by which all shortstops are measured, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in an emotional ceremony Sunday.

Known as the "Wizard of Oz" for his acrobatic style and effervescent personality, Smith was elected to baseball's shrine in his first year of eligibility. Named on all but 39 of the 472 ballots, Smith was just the 32nd player to make it on his initial try.

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Holding the book "The Wizard of Oz," Smith often made references to the famous story, noting that he needed the brain of the scarecrow, the heart of the tin man and the courage of the lion to make it through his baseball odyssey.

Smith thanked many of his colleagues throughout his 30-minute speech, offering a special praise for the fans.

"It is almost impossible task to express a journey that took almost 20 years to complete," Smith said. "I'd like to express to all of those baseball fans who understand the true significance that this sport has on our American culture."

Before an estimated crowd of 19,000 that included 47 Hall of Famers, Smith showed a baseball cut in half to emphasize the simple core.

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"This core weighs less than an ounce represents the core of my quest. All journeys begin with a dream of what one might do," Smith said. "That's what the scarecrow wanted most from the Wizard of Oz -- a mind to think and dream."

Smith was most emotional at the beginning of his speech after his son, Dustin, read the words on the plaque that will be displayed in the hallowed hall.

A switch-hitting 15-time All-Star who amassed 580 stolen bases for San Diego and St. Louis between 1978-96, Smith was best known for his incredible defense, which resulted in 13 Gold Glove Awards.

"My glove has given me much, the ability to give back," Smith said. "That is the greatest trophy on my mantle. That is where it will remain."

He also gained recognition for a game-winning home run in the 1985 National League Championship Series and his ability to do a backflip on his way onto the field.

Among shortstops, Smith ranks first all time with 8,375 assists and 1,590 double plays. He is second with 2,511 games played and a .978 fielding percentage.

"He made scores of plays I didn't see other shortstops reach," said Dave Winfield, a former teammate of Smith's.

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Smith had 2,460 hits, scored 1,257 runs and served as one of the catalysts for the Cardinals during the 1980s and 1990s. He was acquired by St. Louis for shortstop Garry Templeton following the 1981 season.

With Smith at the middle of the infield, the Cardinals won four National League East Division titles, three pennants and the one World Series between 1982-96.

In the mid-1980s, Smith teamed with Vince Coleman to form one of the most exciting speed tandems in the game. But he also hit one of the more unlikely postseason home runs ever.

In Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS, he lined a game-winning shot off Los Angeles' Tom Niedenfuer. His first career lefthanded home run helped him to MVP honors that series.

The Cardinals went on to lose a memorable seven-game World Series to the Kansas City Royals.

Smith began his career with the Padres but never hit higher than .258 in four years with San Diego. Following the 1981 season, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog lobbied for the acquisition of the light-hitting shortstop, who went to St. Louis in the winter of 1981 to work on his batting.

In his early days with the Cardinals, Smith received $2 from Herzog for every ground ball he hit and had to pay him $1 for each fly ball, a wager that helped him in the long run.

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In 1985, Smith hit a then-career-high .276. He dipped below the .270 mark just once again through 1993.

And when Smith reached base, he was extremely dangerous. He twice recorded 57 steals and had more than 30 in 11 different seasons.

While Smith was the only player inducted, Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas received the Ford Frick Award and Detroit columnist Joe Falls was given the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.

Kalas, who has called baseball for more than four decades, has been the voice of the Phillies since 1971. Blessed with a powerful but soothing voice that is known not only in Pennsylvania but nationwide, he has called more than 5,000 Phillies games and spent 27 years working with Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn.

"Thank you so much to the Philadelphia sports fans, the most passionate sports fans in America, for sharing in a day I will never forget," Kalas said.

Falls, 74, spent more than 50 years covering baseball. He arrived in Detroit in 1953 and spent time with the Detroit Times, Detroit Free Press and Detroit News.

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