Baseball legend Ozzie Smith says giving back is a no-brainer

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If Ozzie Smith had his way this spring, everyone would’ve enjoyed a day off to enjoy the start of baseball season.

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Smith talks to Edward Mendoza, owner of Kitchen 1454, before tasting one of his burgers at Monday's Boys & Girls Club of Augusta's Burger Battle.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
Smith talks to Edward Mendoza, owner of Kitchen 1454, before tasting one of his burgers at Monday's Boys & Girls Club of Augusta's Burger Battle.

Teaming up with Budweiser, the baseball legend led the campaign to make Opening Day a federal holiday. Despite more than 100,000 people signing a petition, the effort to establish a new holiday didn’t get off the ground – at least not yet.

“In most places, it’s already a holiday. We’re just trying to make it official,” Smith said. “I think (Congress) is well aware of how important it is to everybody now and will take another look
at it next year and hopefully we’ll get it done.”

Smith and comedian Bill Engvall entertained hundreds of people as featured hosts at the Boys & Girls Club of Augusta’s Burger Battle on Monday.

Smith, who said organizations like the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club were fundamental to his youth, said giving back is a no-brainer for him.

“My mom has always stressed the importance of giving back,” the 59-year-old Hall of Famer said. “That’s probably one of the greatest gifts of life – the ability to give back. This is certainly one of the ways to do that.”

Known as “The Wizard of Oz,” the former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop won 13 Gold Gloves during his career. In the fall, Smith presented another up-and-coming slick infielder, Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons, his first Gold Glove award at a postseason dinner. Simmons is drawing comparisons to Smith. In 228 games, he has a .983 fielding percentage – just ahead of Smith’s .978 career mark.

“Andrelton Simmons is probably one of the premier shortstops in the game today,” Smith said. “You just have to see what time brings as to how great he can become.”

When Smith played from 1978-96, African-Americans represented at least 16 percent of all baseball players, according to a recent USA Today story. This season, only 67 African-American players are in Major League Baseball. He said he’s hopeful the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program will catch on in the near future.

“A lot of boys are growing up in single-parent homes and aren’t exposed to it as they used to be,” he said. “That’s why the Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs are important vehicles for kids to be able to learn sports.”

Smith witnessed the greatness of two-time MVP Dale Murphy, one of the game’s top defensive outfielders of his era. Smith said he deserves to be considered by the Baseball
Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee.

“I think he truly loved what he did,” Smith said. “He was a great player for an extended period of time. I think he’s one of those guys who deserves a lot of attention when it comes to making it into the Hall of Fame.”


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