Former shortstop Ozzie Smith elected to baseball Hall of Fame

Tuesday, January 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Ozzie Smith, regarded as the finest-fielding shortstop in history, was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame by an overwhelming margin Tuesday in his first year of eligibility.

Smith spent 19 years in the majors and won 13 Gold Gloves for his sparkling defensive work with the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres. He was chosen on 91.7 percent of the ballots.

``I don't think anybody ever played the position any better than he played it,'' former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said.

Smith was the only player elected. Players who fell short include former catcher Gary Carter, sluggers Jim Rice and Andre Dawson, and relievers Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage.

Smith, 47, was a 15-time All-Star. He played four years with the Padres, then spent 15 years in St. Louis before his career ended in 1996.

Smith set shortstop records for most assists (8,375) and double plays (1,590) and regularly entertained fans with a backflip when he ran out to shortstop at the start of games. The Cardinals retired No. 1 in his honor.

He also had 16 straight 20-steal seasons and holds the major league records for most years with 500 or more assists by a shortstop (eight) and the single-season assist mark by a shortstop _ 621 in 1980.

However, he batted just .262 with 2,460 hits, 28 homers and 793 RBIs.

To be elected, players had to be listed on at least 75 percent of the ballots of 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Smith is the 37th player elected in his first year of eligibility, which begins five years after retirement.