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Ozzie Smith Did Something the Best

As the reader may or may not know, the present author has thrown his hat — and other, sexier pieces of his outfit — into the metaphorical ring known as the Pitchers & Poets Reading Club (hosted, if one can believe it, by the gentlemen of Pitchers & Poets).

The first book is Chad Harbach’s very new novel, The Art of Fielding, and the protagonist of said novel is named Henry Skrimshander. Though he makes his way to an elite liberal arts college on the lake coast of Wisconsin, Skrimshander’s only real literary experience is with a book by legendary (and also fictional) shortstop Aparicio Rodriguez called The Art of Fielding.

Rodriguez is essentially the Platonic shortstop, but certain details — the fact that he played for the Cardinals, mostly, and is only recently retired — suggest that the character is based, at least in part, on Ozzie Smith.

Because his peak ended before I was really aware of him, I never got a chance to see Smith with any frequency. But his reputation is obviously excellent and, if one were so inclined to make a top-10 list of defensive players by the numbers — by adding together their defensive runs, that is, to their positional adjustments — then one would find something similar to this:

Unfortunately, the internet offers little in terms of Smith-related highlights. Really, only the above-embedded video exists in terms of substantive footage. It (i.e. the above-embedded footage) comes from April 20, 1978 — less than a month into Smith’s major-league career — and was (apparently) integral in forming his reputation as an elite fielder.

It’s a fantastic play Smith makes, of course, but I’m suspicious as to whether it’s really the best he ever made. Because he was really good, I mean, and played for 19 years.

This, of course, is the problem with the past: basically all of it pre-dates HDTV. Of course, one could also argue that, in an age when we expect everything to be recorded, we lose our capacity for mythmaking and eulogy.

That person would be wrong, but he could still argue it.