And now, 14 years after retiring from baseball and eight years after being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Ozzie Smith is still doing his best to connect with fans.
"It's been part of what I've tried to do my whole life," Smith said on Friday. "I've been blessed, very fortunate to do something I love and entertain people."
Smith spent a rain-soaked Friday afternoon at Cooperstown's Doubleday Field for his annual "PLAY BALL With Ozzie Smith" clinic, through which fans have the opportunity to field ground balls, turn double plays and chat up a few Hall of Famers.
Unfortunately, rain forced this year's action into the seats, where Smith sat with Paul Molitor, Class of 2004, and Bruce Sutter, Class of 2006, and answered questions from roughly 20 attendees about the game and their fondest memories.
"It's a way for us to give the fans an opportunity to get close to some of their heroes," Smith said. "I try to use different guys every year. It's just a way of thanking them. This is always fun. It's a way to stay connected."
With Andre Dawson the lone player set to be inducted this weekend into the Class of 2010, Smith said that bringing out Sutter would be great for the Cubs fans in attendance. Sutter saved 133 games in five seasons with the Cubs while posting a 2.39 ERA.
Sutter and Smith would later play together on the Cardinals, from 1982 to 1984, winning the World Series in 1982 under manager Whitey Herzog, who will also be inducted this weekend as a selection of the Veterans Committee.
"It's always special when you have someone from your organization going in," Smith said. "[Herzog] doesn't seem nervous, but I know, and all of the guys here know, how nerve-wracking it can be."
For Smith, the moment he was inducted into the Hall of Fame trumps any moment during his playing career, including that World Series victory.
"All of those are big moments, but not any bigger than this, because this means that you have made it to the top of the mountain," he said. "That makes it very, very special, and it puts a lot of pressure on you to go out there and hopefully deliver."
Smith and Sutter have an obvious connection to Herzog and the 1982 Cardinals, but Molitor also remembers that year and that team very well, as he was on the Brewers team that lost to the Cards in the World Series. Molitor would later win a World Series and a World Series MVP Award with the Blue Jays in 1993, perhaps making it easier for him to recall Herzog and his teams fondly.
"I love Whitey Herzog's style of baseball," Molitor said. "It's kind of what I grew up on. It's kind of what got me in the Major Leagues. It's a great tribute to a man who really knew how to shape a team, and speed, to a ballpark with the Astroturf."
Kyle Maistri is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.