April 15, 1985: Ozzie Smith announces new contract, homers in Cardinals’ home opener

Headed into the 1985 season, the St. Louis Cardinals were an enigma.

After trading Keith Hernandez to the New York Mets in 1984 and allowing Bruce Sutter to leave for Atlanta via free agency, Cardinals fans feared that star shortstop Ozzie Smith, entering the last year of his contract, would be the next Redbird out the door. Reports indicated that the Wizard and the Cardinals were as much as $800,000 per year apart in their negotiations[1] and that Smith could be dealt to the Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, or Pirates.[2]

“I think obviously if we can’t sign him that there’s got to be some thought about trading him,” Cardinals chief operating officer Fred Kuhlmann said prior to the season.[3]

Meanwhile, the former ace of the Cardinals’ pitching staff, Bob Forsch, entered the season as the team’s fifth starter after a 1984 campaign that was decimated by a back injury. Forsch, who had won at least 10 games in each of the seven previous seasons, went just 2-5 with a 6.02 ERA in 1984 and required surgery in June that limited him to just 52 1/3 innings.

His spring hadn’t been much better, as he lost his first four exhibition starts, allowing 12 earned runs in 15 innings.[4]

“Everybody has doubts,” Forsch said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. I haven’t been very dazzling down here.”[5]

On April 15, Smith, Forsch, and the Cardinals began to get the answers that would help carry the club to the National League pennant.

The day began with a press conference at Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals, who had won just once during a five-game, season-opening road trip, were set to play the Montreal Expos in their home opener. The Cardinals announced that they had signed Smith to a four-year extension worth $8.7 million. The deal, which Smith’s agent, Ed Gottlieb, said made Smith the highest-paid player in baseball, included primary consideration for an Anheuser-Busch wholesalership.[6] According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the contract included a $700,000 signing bonus, a $1.8 million annual salary for 1986 and 1987, and a $2.2 million annual salary for 1988 and 1989.[7]

“There was real doubt about whether I’d stay here, but my memories are here, we won a World Series (in 1982), my family is happy here,” Smith said. “I’m delighted to stay. I work hard at what I do, and I try to be sure people who come to the park get their money’s worth. Success and contracts like this one seem to go hand in hand.”[8]

“It’s a great deal, but he deserves every cent,” said Expos shortstop Hubie Brooks. “He’s an excellent fielder.”[9]

“If I’d known about this, I would have been a shortstop,” added Expos third baseman Tim Wallach.[10]

The contract made Smith something of an outlier – a player with a multimillion-dollar contract who was paid based on the value of his glove instead of his ability to hit home runs. While Smith hit just .257 in 1984 with one homer and 44 RBIs, he had won five consecutive Gold Glove awards and been on four straight all-star teams. He was coming off a season in which he had committed just 12 errors in 682 chances.

“He’s the best,” Expos catcher Steve Nicosia said. “If he saves you 150 runs a year, then it’s the same as paying somebody a lot to drive in 150.”[11]

Once the game started, it was Forsch who looked like a million bucks, retiring the first 11 Expos he faced. With two outs in the fourth inning, Andre Dawson doubled for Montreal’s first hit of the game and Dan Driessen singled before Forsch got Brooks to ground out. In the fifth, Vance Law hit a one-out single and, with the hit-and-run play on, Mike Fitzgerald doubled to bring home the first run of the ballgame.

St. Louis answered in the bottom half of the inning. Mike LaValliere walked and Smith singled to lead off the inning. Forsch laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance runners to second and third, and Tom Herr, who entered the game batting .400, hit a two-run single. Smith was called safe on a close play at the plate, drawing the anger of Expos starting pitcher Bill Gullickson, Fitzgerald, and Expos manager Buck Rodgers on home-plate umpire Jerry Dale.

“From where I stood he missed the plate by that much,” said Gullickson, holding his hands about a foot apart. “It was a pretty dumb call.”[12]

Terry Pendleton followed with an RBI single to make it 3-1 after five innings.

The Cardinals rallied for three more runs in the sixth. Jack Clark led off with a single, chasing Gullickson from the game. With Dan Schatzeder now on the mound, Brian Harper doubled. Clark scored on a groundout by Andy Van Slyke and LaVallierre hit a sacrifice fly that scored Harper, who bowled over Fitzgerald on the play at the plate.

Smith struck the game’s final blow with a solo home run that made the score 6-1. Smith, whose only home run of 1984 also had come in the Cardinals’ home opener, received a standing ovation from the crowd of 42,986.

“The people here have always treated me and my family well,” Smith said. “It makes you want to go out there and perform that much better for them.”[13]

Tom Herr, Smith’s double-play partner, said, “He’s the kind of player who rises to the occasion, but the thing I like about him is that, sure, he had a good game tonight, but he plays hard every night. It’s a lift for the other guys because of his intensity.”[14]

Forsch held the Expos in check in the game’s final innings with the assistance of outstanding outfield play. After Law singled with one out in the seventh, Fitgerald hit a line drive into right field. Van Slyke made a diving catch, then doubled up Law at first base. An inning later, center fielder Willie McGee caught a fly ball from Tim Raines and threw out Miguel Dilone trying to score from third.

“The play of the game,” Forsch said.[15]

McGee strained a muscle in his left thigh during the game, an injury that led the Cardinals to call up speedster Vince Coleman to make his major league debut a few days later.[16]

In the ninth, Forsch retired Driessen, Brooks, and Tim Wallach in order for his first nine-inning complete game since September 26, 1983, when he no-hit the Expos.

“People have written off Bob Forsch,” Smith said. “He proved he’s still capable of throwing. Anything we get from him is gravy.”[17]

Forsch scattered eight hits on the night without walking a batter.

“It’s been so long since I was around when the game was over,” Forsch said. “I’m really happy the way things went tonight. The guys made some great plays. Mike Lavalliere called a really good game. And six runs – we get that every time, we’re gonna win a lot of ballgames.”[18]

Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog agreed.

“We played good,” he said. “God Almighty, we played good.”[19]


[1] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie, Cards At Odds On A New Contract,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1985: E1

[2] “Rumors Abound On O. Smith Deal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 4, 1985: D1.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Trade ‘Possible’ For Ozzie Smith,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 1, 1985: C1.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Forsch Goes 6, Finds His Solace,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 7, 1985: 5G.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Forsch Goes 6, Finds His Solace,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 7, 1985: 5G.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Intoxicating: Ozzie’s $8.7 Million Deal Called Baseball’s Richest,” St. Louis Post Dispatch, April 16, 1985: A1.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Intoxicating: Ozzie’s $8.7 Million Deal Called Baseball’s Richest,” St. Louis Post Dispatch, April 16, 1985: A6.

[8] Brian Kappler, “Wizard of Ozzie discovers pot of gold over Cards’ rainbow,” Montreal Gazette, April 16, 1985: F1.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie’s HR Helps Cards Win,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 16, 1985: C2.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie’s HR Helps Cards Win,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 16, 1985: C2.

[11] Brian Kappler, “Wizard of Ozzie discovers pot of gold over Cards’ rainbow,” Montreal Gazette, April 16, 1985: F1.

[12] Brian Kappler, “Cardinals look impressive in handing loss to Expos,” Montreal Gazette, April 16, 1985: F2.

[13] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie’s HR Helps Cards Win,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 16, 1985: C1.

[14] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie’s HR Helps Cards Win,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 16, 1985: C1.

[15] Brian Kappler, “Cardinals look impressive in handing loss to Expos,” Montreal Gazette, April 16, 1985: F2.

[16] Tom Wheatley, “Coleman Express Arrives At Busch,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 18, 1985: D1.

[17] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie’s HR Helps Cards Win,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 16, 1985: C1.

[18] Tom Wheatley, “Forsch: I Never Lost Hope,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 16, 1985: C2.

[19] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie’s HR Helps Cards Win,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 16, 1985: C1.

 

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