(BaseballStL) -- Ozzie Smith played the majority of his Hall of Fame career with the St. Louis Cardinals en route to obtaining a World Championship while winning 13 consecutive Gold Gloves, but a strained relationship with former manager Tony La Russa kept the Wizard from the organization for the last 15 years.
Smith will accompany new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and his coaching staff at Jupiter for spring training this year...something that never happened under Tony La Russa.
“It was one of those things that was supposed to be anyway and we knew it would be just a matter of time because nothing lasts forever,” Smith said. “I was very, very thrilled that (Matheny) would take the opportunity to do that to ask me to come back...it is just about being a voice of a person who has had some experience that guys can draw on.”
The Smith-La Russa feud seemed to instantly happen once La Russa joined the Cardinals in 1996. The team had acquired shortstop Royce Clayton during the offseason and La Russa announced that the position would be an open competition during spring training. Smith believed he had won the starting job after committing no errors and batting nearly .100 higher than the younger Clayton who racked up eight errors.
Smith was put into a “platoon situation” with Clayton seeing most of the playing time for the season which would be Smith’s last. Midway into the 1996 season, Smith announced he would retire at the end of the year.
“It was tough because I had been the face of the organization for a long time and unfortunately there are situations where we all have experienced where prominent people end up being the odd man out and in this case that was me,” Smith said. “Tony (La Russa) just did not see me fitting in here and that is the way it was so I tried to remove myself from it and stay away from all of the things that go on when people who don’t see eye-to-eye are around each other and all of that is behind us now.”
Smith’s “rightful place” will start at this year’s spring training 15 years after he retired from the organization. His role may be undetermined right now, but it can be expected that fans may soon see more now that the Wizard is back.
“I am looking forward to finding my rightful place here in this organization.”
by Scott Bierman, BaseballStL