Ozzie Smith 1992

Why Ozzie Smith wept after his 2,000th career hit

Given Ozzie Smith’s long journey to becoming an above-average major-league hitter, it was no wonder that he began to cry with joy and appreciation after he tripled on May 26, 1992, for his 2,000th career hit.

“I did not want to leave the game being known as a one-dimensional player,” Smith said. “Maybe tonight will change that.”[1]

The former Padres 1977 fourth-round draft choice just a single season at Class A Walla Walla before the Padres promoted him to the major-league club. Though he hit just .258 with one homer and 46 RBIs, Smith placed second to Atlanta’s Bob Horner in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting, largely on the strength of his exceptional defense at shortstop.

In four seasons in San Diego, Smith batted just .231 before he was traded to the Cardinals ahead of the 1982 season. Once he arrived in St. Louis, manager Whitey Herzog challenged Smith to hit the ball on the ground and take advantage of the combination of his speed and Busch Stadium’s artificial turf.


As Smith recalled in his autobiography, “He just walked up to me one day and said, ‘This is what I’d like you to do. Every time you hit a fly ball, you owe me a buck. Every time you hit a ground ball, I owe you a buck. We’ll keep that going all year.’”[2]

With the assistance of bullpen coach Dave Ricketts, who taught Smith to keep his hands on top of the ball,[3] Smith began to hit the ball on the ground regularly.

“He’d come into my office after the game and he would say, ‘You owe me $2, you owe me $3,’ and I had the money for him,” Herzog recalled. “It was called a cash deal. By July I was down $312. I called him in and said, ‘I think you’ve got the idea.’ It wasn’t that he had the idea. I was broke.”[4]

In 1982, as he helped the Cardinals on their way to a World Series championship, Smith hit .248, his highest average since his rookie campaign. Slowly, his average began to climb, as he hit .276 in 1985, .280 in 1986, and .303 in 1987.

By 1992, Smith was well-respected as a batter who could hit for average and steal bases. He entered the season with 1,955 career hits and quickly made it clear he wouldn’t wait long to reach the 2,000-hit milestone. A 12-game hitting streak from May 2 through May 15 improved Smith’s batting average to .310 and placed him 10 hits away.


With seven hits in a three-game series against the Astros May 22-24 and a single on May 25, Smith was on the cusp of history as he and the Cardinals prepared to face Bob Ojeda and the Dodgers May 26 at Busch Stadium.

In the first inning, however, the focus was all on the Dodgers as Kal Daniels hit a two-run, first-inning homer off Cardinals starter Omar Olivares and Smith grounded out to Dodgers shortstop Dave Anderson in his first at-bat of the game.

In the second, the Dodgers’ light-hitting infielders Dave Hansen and Anderson hit back-to-back homers to give Los Angeles a 4-0 lead. Olivares was removed after the inning with a groin injury.

“He wasn’t driving off the mound and that’s what caused the home runs,” Torre said.[5]


One inning later, Todd Benzinger added a sacrifice fly off Cardinals reliever Juan Agosto to extend the Dodgers’ lead to five runs.

Smith led off the bottom of the fourth and Ojeda greeted him with an outside breaking ball that Smith took the other way, sending a looping fly ball down the right-field line. Benzinger, playing right field, couldn’t come up with the ball and it bounced past him into the corner, allowing Smith to arrive at third base standing up.

As Cardinals fans gave him a standing ovation, Smith took off his helmet and, with tears already welling, waved to acknowledge the Busch Stadium faithful. The cheers only grew louder as the fans began to chant, “Ozzie! Ozzie!” Smith tipped his cap and waved to the crowd several times before play could resume.

“The highest compliment any of us as professional athletes can be paid is for folks to get to their feet in respect and appreciation for something that you’ve done,” Smith said. “That’s all any of us can ask for. It was a great moment.”[6]

Smith was on the last year of his contract, and the 37-year-old shortstop was uncertain whether the Cardinals would bring him back for 1993.


“It was a very emotional time because this may be my last year here playing for the Cardinals,” he said. “That ovation came from probably the greatest fans in all of baseball. I’ve had a wonderful 11 years playing for the people here.”[7]

Smith’s 2,000th hit made him the 159th player in major-league history to reach the milestone and just the 11th since 1900 to reach 2,000 hits and 500 stolen bases.

“Even though I have 2,000 hits, people will still talk about my defensive prowess,” Smith said. “That’s OK, but this is a very personal achievement because I worked so hard for this.”[8]

Smith scored on a sacrifice fly by Felix Jose to put the Cardinals on the scoreboard, and an inning later Ray Lankford added an RBI single to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 5-2. That was as close as the Cardinals would come, however, as Ojeda struck out six over 8 2/3 innings. John Candelaria recorded the final out with a runner on first to earn his second save of the season.

The milestone hit was a highlight of one of Smith’s best offensive seasons, as he finished with a .295 batting average and 43 stolen bases. He retired following the 1996 season with 2,460 hits and 580 stolen bases.

“He’s a Hall of Famer whether he’s got 2,000 hits or not,” Cardinals manager Joe Torre said after Smith reached the feat.[9]

Smith was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 2002.

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[1] “Hit No. 2,000 Had Smith’s Stamp on It,” Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1992.

[2] Ozzie Smith and Rob Rains (1988), Wizard, Chicago: Contemporary Books, Page 61.

[3] Ozzie Smith and Rob Rains (2002), Ozzie Smith: The Road to Cooperstown, Canada: Sports Publishing, LLC, Page 29.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Deal for Templeton boosted Smith’s career,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 9, 2002.

[5] Joe Ostermeier, “Dodgers stop hot Cards 5-2,” Belleville News-Democrat, May 27, 1992.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie Takes Sting From Loss,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 27, 1992.

[7] Joe Ostermeier, “Fans toast Smith’s 2,000th hit with long ovation,” Belleville News-Democrat, May 27, 1992.

[8] Joe Ostermeier, “Fans toast Smith’s 2,000th hit with long ovation,” Belleville News-Democrat, May 27, 1992.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie Takes Sting From Loss,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 27, 1992.