On the back of his uniform should be the word ‘Shazam.’ Instead of ‘1,’ his number should be ‘8,’ but turned sideways, because the possibilities he brings to his position are almost infinite.
…Yet to understand Smith as a natural phenomenon is to deliberately misunderstand him – and wrong him – as much as if we thought the magician’s tricks were done without endless practice. Smith is, by temperament, a student of the game who devises new ways to do the old. For instance, he was the first to realize that, on Astroturf, you could dig a ground ball out of the hole backhanded while skidding on your knees in a controlled slide, then pop to your feet and throw in one sudden motion. The effect is that of an arcade-game toy, grown to human size, springing out of the ground through a trapdoor. Smith also was one of the first to use the deliberate turf-hop throw to first, recognizing a millisecond edge when he saw one.
However, he is also, by acrobatic talent, an innnovator who stretches the boundaries of infield play. Only a man who can take the field doing backflips could attempt the pivots at second base that Smith completes routinely. Dr. J brought terms like ‘hang time’ and ‘degree of difficulty’ to his dunks. Now Ozzie has introduced them to the double play. Smith’s all-time-favorite showstopper displayed both his reflexes and his gift for improvision. He dove behind second base for a smash by Jeff Burroughs, but while Smith was in midair, parallel to the ground, the ball hit a rock and bounced sideways. Smith reached back and behind himself to grab the ball – bare-handed. Then he did a somersault and came up throwing. Burroughs was out by days (pp.12-13).
Taken from Thomas Boswell’s wonderful book on baseball, The Heart of the Order (Doubleday, 1989). This is his description of longtime St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, whom I grew up watching. He always did a backflip when he came on the field for the start of the game, and his wizardry at “SS” is now legendary.
Below is one video of such a flip – and this when he was 40 years old!
if you wish to see some of his highlights, watch this video:
And if you want to see that amazing play that the Wizard of Oz made against Burroughs, watch this video: