Post Content Cardinals News
33 minutes ago
This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
JUPITER, Fla. — Last season, during a particularly reflective moment, Albert Pujols spoke of how fortunate he was to come up through the Cardinals’ system, because of the many built-in advantages the franchise had in place for young players in Spring Training.
Though he was never particularly fast, Pujols led the Majors in runs scored five times and topped 100 runs 10 times, in large part because he got to learn and discuss baserunning with Hall of Famer Lou Brock.
Pujols was also frequently able to talk hitting with the illustrious Stan Musial, someone who always joked with him about the relatively small size of his bat and referred to it as “a toothpick.”
And many of the defensive drills that Pujols put in to pave the way for his two Gold Glove Awards came under the watchful eye of 13-time Gold Glover Ozzie Smith, who has a practice field at Roger Dean Stadium named after him — “The Land of Oz.”
This spring, Smith has been a constant presence at the Cards’ complex in Jupiter, whether it’s doling out advice to No. 2 prospect Masyn Winn or talking defense with Gold Glove winners Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt.
“It’s important for young players to have the opportunity to learn from people who have done it, and our organization always felt it was important to have guys like [Bob] Gibson, Lou [Brock] and Red [Schoendienst] around,” said Smith, a Hall of Famer and a 1982 World Series champion with the Cardinals. “What’s always made this organization special is having those type of people, those type of Hall of Famers, around. You don’t even have to talk baseball. It can just be about life in general. The Cardinals have taken advantage of having people who were successful at their craft around their young players, and it’s paid off.”
Arenado, one of only two players in MLB history to win 10 straight Gold Gloves to start a career, went to Cards manager Oli Marmol in the offseason and requested Smith’s presence in Spring Training. Marmol obliged and Smith said he was honored to answer any questions Arenado had. Away from Spring Training the past three years because of the pandemic, Smith’s mega-watt smile lit up as he found himself around baseball again.
“I watched Nolan take ground balls, and it was a highlight for me because it brings back so many memories,” said Smith, who noted that it’s no accident that St. Louis is MLB’s all-time leader in Gold Gloves, with 98 awards by 29 fielders.
“I was a defensive player who loved to operate on instincts, and when you do that, you don’t have to think, and it just happens. But that only comes from the hard work you do in Spring Training to make it instinctual. You might be blessed with talent, but if you don’t work on it, it goes away. Watching Nolan and Goldschmidt and seeing the instincts they were born with and the way they work, that’s what it’s all about.”
With MLB headed into a new generation of limits to defensive shifts, Smith said elite fielders, such as Arenado, Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan, will become more valuable for the Cards. Personally, Smith was never a fan of shifts and he feels the new rules will make fielders more accountable.
“I used to tell [former teammate and current Cardinals coach] Willie [McGee] that I made life easy for those guys and they didn’t have to shift,” Smith joked. “I don’t know that banning the shift is going to make that big of a difference and it will actually allow guys to show their range. I thought it was crazy to take a third baseman and put him at second. I felt like teams who shifted a lot would take themselves out of position. We shaded defensively and we moved as a unit. I always liked doing that better than shifting. We’ll see what kind of effect it has, but I never liked the shift.”