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Ozzie Smith to retire at end of '96 season

Even the real Wizard of Oz eventually had to call it quits.

At age 41, his fabled defensive skills on the decline, his playing time almost nil, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith announced yesterday in St. Louis he will retire at the end of the 1996 season.

"I feel that the time is here now," Smith said during a tearful news conference before the Cardinals played the Philadelphia Phillies. "This is the best time. I'm ready for it. I know it is in my heart."

Smith wasn't in yesterday's lineup and has started only 15 games this season, while 26-year-old Royce Clayton has become the regular shortstop.

The farewell tour begins now for Smith, who will get occasional chances to add to his major-league records for games played at shortstop (2,474), assists (8,250) and double plays (1,564).

The Cardinals also announced that Smith's No. 1 jersey will be retired Sept. 26, the final week of the regular season, and that Smith would be retained in an unspecified front-office job for at least 10 years.

* Bud Selig says he's too busy trying to save baseball in Milwaukee and reach a labor accord with the players to consider becoming the full-time commissioner. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Selig, who has been acting commissioner since 1992, is considering accepting the position as a full-time job.

* The players' union asked arbitrator Nicholas Zumas to stop Albert Belle's three-game suspension and hold a hearing into whether the penalty was proper under baseball's rules.

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