Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

'Baseball Whisperer' in Iowa Helped Ozzie Smith, Many Others

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

'Baseball Whisperer' in Iowa Helped Ozzie Smith, Many Others

Article excerpt

When Ozzie Smith entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002, he made sure that Merl and Pat Eberly had front-row seats at the induction ceremony.

The Eberlys were family, not by blood, but in ways just as intimate.

The Eberlys are not well known to the general public, or even by most baseball fans. But in the small world of people who run and play collegiate and professional baseball, they are iconic.

Their baseball team, the A's, in small-town Clarinda, Iowa, is renowned as a place where college players, like Smith, go to sharpen their game and, in some cases, turn their lives around.

Michael Tackett, in his new book, "The Baseball Whisperer: A Small-Town Coach Who Shaped Big League Dreams," has written a fitting tribute to the Eberlys. (Merl died five years ago. His widow continues to run the business side of the team, while one of their sons is the field manager.)

Smith is the team's most famous alumnus. Other premier alums are Von Hayes, Bud Black, Chuck Knoblauch and Jamey Carroll. All had long major-league careers.

But Tackett's book is as much about the players who didn't make the bigs, players who had been told by someone they weren't good enough. (The author's son, who was in that category, played for Eberly.) They learned and thrived under the disciplined approach to life and baseball taught by Eberly.

Smith, who grew up in the Watts section of Los Angeles, arrived in Clarinda, population 5,400, in 1975. His college coach, who had met Eberly at a coaches' convention, thought Smith could sharpen his game there. Eberly wasn't sure the 150-pound Smith could cut it.

"Let's see what you've got," Eberly said, and began hitting ground balls at him.

Tackett writes that Eberly "started to hit the balls harder and harder, deeper in the hole at shortstop, over the bag at second base, sometimes trying to create a bad hop."

Smith did not miss one. …

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