Ozzie Smith at the Bat (and That’s a Good Thing)

Ozzie Smith is shown holding a baseball bat on the majority of his baseball cards, which can seem a bit confusing considering that he is best known as the greatest defensive shortstop of all time. He tops the leaderboards in terms of range factor and fielding percentage in just about every year of his career. His lifetime defensive runs above replacement are well ahead of the second place Brooks Robinson.

His defense needs no further accolades as it speaks for itself: Ozzie is simply the best glove to ever play in the infield. What I find incredible is the fact that more than half his cumulative bWAR came not from defensive ability (+43.4), but from his offense (+47.9). His career batting average of .262 is tied for the lowest of any offensive Hall of Famer. His hitting was below average with even worse power numbers, yet he was incredibly effective. Smith averaged less than two home runs per 162 games. In 1987 he hit zero homers for the second consecutive year but still managed to drive in 75 runs while leading off the batting order. His career on-base-percentage is higher than his slugging percentage. He rarely struck out (5.5% lifetime KO rate) and walked almost twice as often. Once on base he turned on the jets, stealing 580 bases with one of the highest success rates in history.

So that’s why he is shown holding a bat.

Ozzie Smith’s Cardboard

Ozzie’s rookie cards portray him as a batter. He is wearing a batting helmet on his Topps rookie while he is actually holding a bat on a card produced by Hostess. The trend would continue for years, with the first shot of him in the field appearing several years later as a “Record Breaker” subset in 1981 Topps. His base card in ’82 Topps shows him with a glove in the Padres dugout but it is not until he release of his 1983 Fleer card that we get a shot of him playing defense on a regular card.

Smith’s reputation for defense was slow to impact his baseball card photos. Another iconic Ozzie Smith ability was even slower to be captured on cardboard: His trademark run and backflip when taking the field did not get a card until this 1995 Pinnacle issue hit the market.

A backflip “rookie” picture would have been tremendous for Ozzie’s 1993 Finest. Instead, we are treated to a shot of him batting, along with Darren Daulton sneaking into the foreground.

Fun fact: I once shared a flight with Ozzie as a kid in the late 1990s while on a trip to visit family.