Ozzie Smith 1988

How a 1988 Ozzie Smith GQ interview created a firestorm

Coming off the best offensive season of his career, Ozzie Smith came out swinging once again as the 1988 season was about to open, this time with controversial statements that made waves across the National League.

In advance of the April 1988 publication of his new autobiography Wizard, which Smith wrote with St. Louis sportswriter Rob Rains, the Cardinals shortstop sat down with Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell for a three-hour, cover-story interview for GQ Magazine. In the ensuing article, Boswell either quoted or paraphrased Smith criticizing a wide range of baseball colleagues, including former teammate Jack Clark, manager Whitey Herzog, umpires, the New York Mets (particularly third baseman Howard Johnson), and the San Francisco Giants (particularly catcher Bob Brenly).

“I feel that it was an injustice,” Smith said. “It came out totally opposite of the way I thought it was going to come out.”[1]




 

Ozzie vs. Jack Clark

The previous September, Clark tore a ligament in his ankle while attempting to avoid a tag at first base. Originally believed to be relatively minor, Clark’s injury kept him out of the playoffs, and without their top slugger, the Cardinals fell to the Twins in a seven-game World Series.

“A lot of players soured on Jack Clark when he didn’t try to come back … (he) should have taken a shot … everybody would have at least known that he had tried,” Smith was quoted as saying in Boswell’s GQ article.[2]

It was a similar statement to what was published the following month in Wizard: “I think Jack should have taken a shot to try to kill the pain in his ankle so he could play – at least to find out if he could play. It was a way he could have shown the club how hard he was trying to play, since he was in the middle of negotiating a new contract. If he had taken the shot and still hadn’t been able to play, everybody would have at least known he had tried.”[3]

The truth, however, was that painkillers would not have allowed Clark to play through a torn ligament.




“I don’t know what got into him to say those things. He must have done one too many backflips,” Clark fired back. “Both Dr. (James) Andrews and our team physician, Dr. (Stan) London, told me a shot wouldn’t do any good. It wasn’t that kind of an injury. There was a tear in there that they said would take four to five months to heal – which it did. They told me to stay off it.”[4]

In fact, Clark – who signed with the Yankees during the offseason – was still recovering when the 1988 season began, forcing him to miss New York’s first nine games. He was, however, feeling well enough to take aim at his former teammate.

“Ozzie’s obviously bitter about something,” Clark said. “He thinks he should be both the manager and the team doctor now. I think maybe it’s because he was paid $2 million a year when he was a .230 hitter and now that he’s finally earning his money, he can speak out like that. I know this, I was going into free agency and I had a chance to win the MVP. Don’t you think I wanted to play?”[5]




In a 1991 Sports Illustrated article, Clark later suggested that Smith made those comments to gain favor with Cardinals ownership in advance of his own upcoming contract negotiations.[6]

“If you ask me, he should apologize,” Clark said. “Not to me. I don’t care. I’m starting a new life over here with the Yankees and I’ve never been happier. But he owes an apology to Whitey and (Cubs outfielder Andre) Dawson.”[7]

Why would he owe those gentlemen apologies? We’re getting there …




 

Ozzie vs. Whitey Herzog

In the GQ article, Smith criticized Herzog’s comments to the media during the World Series.

In the magazine article, Smith said, “I felt that the team needed a vote of confidence. For the manager to say, ‘You guys are as good or better than they are.’ But Whitey kept saying, ‘I don’t know why we’re here,’ like he expected us to lose. I kept waiting for him to say something positive, but he never did. Maybe he figured we knew how he felt, and he was just trying to lull the other team to sleep. But some guys didn’t understand that. We needed a boost.”[8]

Herzog subsequently explained his postseason comments that painted the Cardinals as clear underdogs as they played without Clark and third baseman Terry Pendleton, who also was out with an injury.




“You lose Jack Clark. Do you think we should beat the Giants?” Herzog said. “We lost Clark and Terry Pendleton. Do you think we should beat anybody in a seven-game series? What I meant was that we overachieved to get there. What I was saying was a compliment to what we accomplished without those guys.”[9]

Nonetheless, Herzog said he wasn’t bothered by Smith’s comments.

“Ozzie is a hell of a good ballplayer, a hell of a guy, and a good friend,” he said.[10]

Instead, Herzog was more concerned about the comments attributed to Smith regarding major league umpires.




 

Ozzie vs. the Umpires

In discussing baseball’s umpires, Boswell quoted Smith saying, “Their judgement is bad, their eyesight is bad, their level of consistency is terrible. … Since my contract, my strike zone has all of a sudden become a lot larger. I have to think a lot of umpires are trying to call me out just so they can show me they’re the boss.”[11]

While Herzog brushed aside the quotes regarding his World Series performance, he immediately arranged for a telephone conversation between Smith and National League President A. Bartlett Giamatti to clear the air.[12] With a new season about to begin, Herzog wanted to halt a feud between his star shortstop and the league’s umpires before it began.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, umpires Frank Pulli, Gerry Crawford, and Eric Gregg expressed surprise at Smith’s remarks. “I’ve always gotten along well with Ozzie,” Crawford said.[13]




Smith, meanwhile, said that Boswell had misconstrued his point by indicating the umpires were “prejudiced” against him.

“I’d never say something like that,” Smith said. “I said that in any business, there are people who are incompetent at what they do, not only in baseball. You find players who are incompetent, umpires who are incompetent. I don’t know where the prejudice comes from.”[14]

In Wizard, Smith struck a similar tone and seemed to be saying that any “prejudice” on the umpires’ part was due to his recent, high-paying salary.

“Unfortunately, since I signed the contract, my strike zone seems to have suddenly become a lot larger,” he wrote. “I like to think I have a pretty good eye at the plate, but it sure seems like all of the close pitches now go the pitcher’s way. I want to think that it hasn’t been malicious, but it has happened so often that it suggests a lot of umpires resent my contract.”[15]




 

Ozzie vs. Andre Dawson

Boswell’s GQ article also hinted that Smith believed he should have won the previous year’s NL MVP award over Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson.

Dawson won the MVP trophy with 11 of 24 first-place votes after batting .287 with 49 homers and 137 RBIs. Smith, meanwhile, received nine first-place votes after batting .303 with 75 RBIs, 104 runs scored, and 43 stolen bases.

Smith discussed the MVP results in Wizard, writing, “There is a gray area in MVP voting, in that nobody has ever established whether the award should be for the most “valuable” player – which is what it says – or the most “outstanding” player. Dawson was definitely the most outstanding player in the league. But his club finished in last place. Where would the Cubs have finished without him? How valuable could his performance have been? To me, the MVP should be a player who had an integral role in his club’s winning.”[16]




 

Ozzie vs. the New York Mets

Smith’s comments regarding the MVP race were nothing compared to what he had to say about the Mets. Boswell wrote that Mets third baseman Howard Johnson, who hit 36 homers and drove in 99 runs, should have an asterisk beside his stat line due to suspicions Johnson corked his bat.[17]

“Someone ought to drill that disrespectful jerk, and that’s all I want to say,” said Keith Hernandez, Smith’s former teammate in St. Louis.[18]

“I’m surprised he said it, but I’d rather not comment,” Dwight Gooden said.[19]

“I’m not going to say anything about it,” Howard Johnson said. “I don’t think it would be too wise to say anything about it.”[20]




 

Ozzie vs. Bob Brenly and the San Francisco Giants

In both the GQ article and his autobiography, Smith noted that as much as he disliked the Mets, the Giants were even worse.

While Boswell paraphrased Smith’s feelings, writing that “the New York Mets are disrespectful jerks but the San Francisco Giants are worse. They’re scared loudmouths.”[21] In his own book, Smith used similar phrasing, calling them “loudmouth overachievers.”[22]

Smith particularly called out Giants outfielder Jeffrey Leonard, calling him “one of the main loudmouths,” and was especially irked when catcher Bob Brenly said that Smith misplayed a ball during the NLCS because he was “styling.”




“Bob Brenly, who in my opinion is mediocre at best … once made four errors in the same game playing third base, and he’s telling me about playing defense,” Smith wrote in Wizard. “I don’t tell him how to catch or say anything about all his passed balls. If you walked down the street and asked 20 people if they know who Bob Brenly is, I guarantee 19 of them wouldn’t know him.”[23]

That summer, Smith and Brenly’s war of words turned physical when Giants first baseman Will Clark slid hard into Cardinals second baseman Jose Oquendo to break up a double play. In the ensuing brawl, Brenly appeared to get a few shots in on Smith, bloodying his lip.

“I don’t know if somebody stepped on him or what,” Brenly said. “Maybe his lip got caught rolling over on my hand.”[24]




 

Ozzie vs. Thomas Boswell

In response to the GQ article (his book wasn’t due out until April), Smith called a press conference before the Cardinals’ March 29 game against the Pirates.

“Anybody who knows Ozzie Smith knows that it’s completely out of character,” Smith said. “What you have here is a situation where Ozzie Smith is saying one thing and Tom Boswell is saying another. That puts Ozzie Smith in a very vulnerable position. You pick it up and you read it, and you’re not going to be able to read between some of the lines.”[25]

Boswell, meanwhile, stood by his work, noting that his editor was in the room during the three-hour interview.

“It’s a good thing Ozzie has good hang time because he doesn’t have a leg to stand on,” Boswell said. “In 19 years, this is the first time I’ve ever had the senior editor of the publication sit in on the whole interview.




“Everything that’s in the story is in the book at least three times over,” Boswell continued. “Every paraphrase of mine is a weakened, watered-down version of what’s in the book. What he said was not as strong in the interview as he was in the book. And if he changes the book, we still have the manuscript he showed us.”[26]

Interestingly, while the GQ interview created a brief stir, the St. Louis media seemed disappointed by the contents of Smith’s published autobiography. Post-Dispatch reporter Rick Hummel wrote that Wizard “isn’t as controversial as the recent Gentlemen’s Quarterly article would suggest.”[27]

Sports editor Kevin Horrigan, who was collaborating with Herzog on his own autobiography, White Rat: A Life in Baseball, wrote that, “If Ozzie Smith’s book was a shortstop, it would be Don Buddin. He gives us the standard career recap, never telling us much about himself. But that’s nothing new. In his seven years in St. Louis, Ozzie has never really opened up. He is a careful, cautious, precise man who happens to be the greatest shortstop who ever lived.”[28]

Of course, given all the controversies Smith initiated when he cast caution aside in his GQ interview, maybe caution was a better path for the star shortstop.





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[1] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie Criticizes GQ Article,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 30, 1988.

[2] Bryan Burwell, “Ozzie: Clark, Whitey costs us Series,” New York Daily News, March 30, 1988.

[3] Ozzie Smith and Rob Rains (1988), Wizard, Contemporary Books, Pages 163-164.

[4] Bill Madden, “Clark: He’s flipped too many times,” New York Daily News, March 30, 1988.

[5] Bill Madden, “Clark: He’s flipped too many times,” New York Daily News, March 30, 1988.

[6] Rick Reilly, “This is the life that Jack built,” Sports Illustrated, July 22, 1991.

[7] Bill Madden, “Clark: He’s flipped too many times,” New York Daily News, March 30, 1988.

[8] Bryan Burwell, “Ozzie: Clark, Whitey costs us Series,” New York Daily News, March 30, 1988.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie Criticizes GQ Article,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 30, 1988.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie Criticizes GQ Article,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 30, 1988.

[11] Tom Wheatley, “Ozzie Charged With Error For Not Accepting Blame,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 2, 1988.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie Criticizes GQ Article,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 30, 1988.

[13] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie Criticizes GQ Article,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 30, 1988.

[14] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie Criticizes GQ Article,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 30, 1988.

[15] Ozzie Smith and Rob Rains (1988), Wizard, Contemporary Books, Page 113.

[16] Ozzie Smith and Rob Rains (1988), Wizard, Contemporary Books, Page 168.

[17] Bryan Burwell, “Ozzie: Clark, Whitey costs us Series,” New York Daily News, March 30, 1988.

[18] Bryan Burwell, “Ozzie: Clark, Whitey costs us Series,” New York Daily News, March 30, 1988.

[19] Bryan Burwell, “Ozzie: Clark, Whitey costs us Series,” New York Daily News, March 30, 1988.

[20] Bryan Burwell, “Ozzie: Clark, Whitey costs us Series,” New York Daily News, March 30, 1988.

[21] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie Criticizes GQ Article,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 30, 1988.

[22] Ozzie Smith and Rob Rains (1988), Wizard, Contemporary Books, Page 171.

[23] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie Says ’89 Could Be Last Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1988.

[24] Edvins Beitiks, “Fighting-trim Giants ready for Dodgers,” San Francisco Examiner, July 25, 1988.

[25] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie Criticizes GQ Article,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 30, 1988.

[26] Tom Wheatley, “Ozzie Charged With Error For Not Accepting Blame,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 2, 1988.

[27] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie Says ’89 Could Be Last Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1988.

[28] Kevin Horrigan, “Latest Book On Ozzie Smith: Good Field, No Write,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 20, 1988.

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