Smith over Ford, August 1986

Dear Brian,

Please help me settle a wager. I am sure you recall the great catch that Ozzie Smith made while running into the outfield and laying out to catch the ball while diving over the incoming outfielder. I believe Mr. Buck’s call was, “He caught it! Ozzie caught it!”.  The wager involves the outfielder who Ozzie dove over. My brother believes it was Willie McGee while I maintain it was Curt Ford.

Could you please supply me with anything to support the answer?

Thank You

Robert Gould

Walton’s take: Robert, it is so weird you sent this tonight. Not five minutes ago, I swear I saw this very play on the new MLB Network. (Maybe you were watching it, too?)

The commentators were discussing the seven-year anniversary of Ozzie being voted into the Hall of Fame and the chances of Omar Vizquel of making it. Not surprisingly, Ozzie was the measuring stick and Vizquel was falling short.

The answer to your question is “Curt Ford”, though it is often mistakenly said to be Willie McGee. Yet, I can’t stop there since you require proof to collect your bet. (Of course, I can’t condone betting, though I thoroughly understand family baseball arguments. I live them every week!)

From Ozzie’s biography in the annual Cardinals’ Media Guide:

“Smith’s most eye-popping play came on August 5, 1986 against the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium. He took off on a short fly ball to left field hit by Von Hayes and with his back to home plate, flew parallel to the ground and completely stretched out to make the catch.”

It doesn’t say who the left fielder was, though. And, as it turns out, the esteemed Media Guide is off by one day. The play in question actually happened in the top of the ninth inning in a 2-2 tie game the night before, on Monday, August 4.

Courtesy of Retrosheet, here is the link to the box score from that game. Clean-up hitter (!) Ford played in left the entire game. McGee was out due to injury and did not appear.

Here is the clincher – from the play-by-play account of the game per Retrosheet. (Note the bolding of the text below is not mine!)

PHILLIES 9TH: WORRELL REPLACED KNICELY (PITCHING); Schmidt singled to shortstop; Wilson struck out; HAYES BATTED FOR SCHU; Hayes popped to shortstop; Ozzie makes incredible catch diving over sliding Ford; Russell made an out to shortstop; 0 R, 1 H, 0 E, 1 LOB. Phillies 2, Cardinals 2.

To top it off, Ozzie scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on a Terry Pendleton sacrifice bunt, giving the win to Todd Worrell.

By the way, three years ago, ESPN selected the top web gems of all time by team. The play to which you refer is their #1 for the Cardinals.

Thanks for writing and for the chance to take a trip down memory lane!