Smoltz’s greatness with Braves doesn’t have to be over

John Smoltz would be an asset if Braves brought him back. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

John Smoltz would be an asset if Braves brought him back. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

The last time I doubted John Smoltz was April 6, 2005. No sense denying it because electronic libraries, like DNA evidence, would convict me in court anyway.

The Braves lost their season opener that year at Florida 9-0. In what was to be Smoltz’s celebrated return to starter after three seasons as a closer, he allowed six runs and seven hits in roughly five minutes (or 1 2/3 innings). For one of the few times in his career, people could scream: “Hah! Told you so!”

The cynical, know-it-all columnist that day seized the moment. The review of Smoltz’s start included this excerpt, “Smoltz didn’t have a bad day. Five runs in four innings — that’s a bad day. Seven runs in 1 2/3 innings is not a bad day — it’s usually the last day. It’s the kind of start that usually comes with a bus ticket. Or a bullpen assignment. Or both.”

If you’re looking for the rest of column, it’s in the Smithsonian, adjacent to the Edsel exhibit.

One great thing about Smoltz: Unlike most of his contemporaries, he made no secret that he was aware of everything that was said and written about him. It fueled him. When someone spends every moment competing with a me-against-the-world mindset, it’s often because they really believe it. The thought of sticking it to critics can be wonderful motivation.

So it was that in Smoltz’s next start five days later, he had 15 strikeouts against the New York Mets and allowed only two runs in 7 1/3 innings. Among his postgame comments: “Some people wanted to send me to the minors.”

I bring this up now because it illustrates the resolve, determination and greatness of an athlete who was celebrated for real Friday. The Braves retired Smoltz’s No. 29. It’s a number he never wanted — he sought Mark Lemke’s No. 20 (it represented an attainable win total). Ironically, pitching prospects would line up for 29 now.

At a luncheon in his honor, Smoltz wrapped up his speech saying, “I’m an Atlanta Brave for life.” It was a nice sentiment. It would be nicer still if he were an Atlanta Brave again.

Notwithstanding the ugliness of Smoltz’s split from the organization, the Braves should do everything possible to bring the former pulse of their pitching staff back into the fold at some point. He was great as a starter, great as a closer, great even after orthopedic surgeons opened up his shoulder and saw hamburger meat. He was a great in the postseason (15-4, 2.67) for a franchise so often associated with postseason failures.

He would be a great pitching coach. I must not be the only one who believes that because Smoltz acknowledged Friday that two teams (not the Braves) approached him not long after retirement to ask if he had any desire to be a pitching coach.

He declined. He’s enjoying being a broadcaster, and it’s unlikely he ever would sacrifice family or golf time again to work a full baseball schedule.

But imagine Smoltz as a roving minor-league instructor. Or a sort of screening member of the scouting department. He did not completely dismiss the idea when I asked him about the possibility.

“I’m looking at broadcasting as a two-year deal, and we’ll see what happens after that,” he said. “There’s a lot of things I said I would never do but I ended up doing them. But you can probably scratch politics off the list.”

Scouts recognize talent. But few can recognize whether an athlete has the intangibles to succeed. When Smoltz goes to Cooperstown one day, it won’t be merely talent that got him there — it will because of everything he overcame, including medical odds.

His good friend, comedian Jeff Foxworthy, joked that he watched Smoltz one game and, “He was adjusting his sleeve, and you could see the duct tape and the bungee cords under his jersey. He was throwing 45 [miles per hour], but he wanted the ball.”

Imagine having someone who could recognize that in a player?

“If you lined up all the draftees and allowed me to ask them questions, I think I could peg a lot of them, just based on what they said,” Smoltz said. “And I think I could help them along the way. But I have to wait for the right time.”

If that time ever comes, the Braves should have a uniform ready. And he can wear his old number.

By Jeff Schultz

103 comments Add your comment

Jon

June 8th, 2012
8:20 pm

Kane337

June 8th, 2012
8:26 pm

John Smoltz, see you in Cooperstown.

Paul in NH

June 8th, 2012
8:29 pm

I thought the Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz trade was a complete steal and it was – but not in the way I thought. Smoltz was a great player for the Braves and he could be excellent in an off the field role.

MitchC

June 8th, 2012
8:31 pm

Glad to see they retired his number. Cooperstown will be his next stop. It gives one chills to think that thrree pitchers who followed each other in the same rotation, for the same manager, for more than a decade each, will all be in the Hall one day very soon.

D man

June 8th, 2012
8:31 pm

Thanks for the memories John. You were so much fun to watch all those years. I miss you much and wish you the best.

Jeff Schultz

June 8th, 2012
8:45 pm

Paul in NH — Smoltz made a joke today that at beginning, “Everybody must’ve wondered who’s this guy we got for Doyle Alexander?”

Tad Kays

June 8th, 2012
8:50 pm

Classic. Love it.

Braves in last palce by the all star brake

June 8th, 2012
8:55 pm

R U nuts? Remeber way back when he neede a shrink because he was such a basket case? U want this guy 2 be a caoch of young palyers? Thats so dum the Brave will prolly do it.

Ronald Millsaps

June 8th, 2012
8:59 pm

My favorite Brave of all time. Wish I had been there tonight. Congratulations, John.

As for facing Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar, the latter we understandably canned; the former Bobby incredibly———–repeat, incredibly—————misused while here.

Let’s see smartness from top to bottom in the organization.

Yes, Smoltz could help the team. and could do so in virtually any capacity. Maybe he can gather a team of investors and buy it from this incompetent ownership—-which is as incompetent as the lawsuit-deserving Roger Goodell, David Stern, and Bud Selig.

Not surprised that Creflo Dollar got arrested; he’s a fraud, and to his followers, you need to vote to promote the truth, which you claim to believe, not according to charisma or financial gain. I’d love to see Joel Osteen and Rick Warren, two more frauds, along with him.

K-Baby

June 8th, 2012
9:14 pm

Hey Braves in Last (who can’t spell and writes like a 5-year old): Just because he saw a sports psychologist who helped him immensely does not disqualify him from helping others. On the contrary, he is more qualified than others to mentor young players because of what he has persevered through.

Russell Savannah

June 8th, 2012
9:17 pm

Amen! You hit the nail on the head Schultzie. He was a warrior and the most enjoyable to watch of the three HOFers.

Fast Ball

June 8th, 2012
9:19 pm

Hell Yea – The Best of the Best – Mr Bravo

george patton

June 8th, 2012
9:22 pm

athletes are NOT warriors!!!!!!!!!

Vesper

June 8th, 2012
9:33 pm

I could easily imagine John Smoltz with a sword and shield!

Nativebird

June 8th, 2012
9:42 pm

I Guess,it’s all chocolates and flowers now that we’re all chummy and I need the final ego message of my jersey retired In the town that I verbally crucified as a bunch of non loyal jerks on my way to Boston when they were the only suckers left in baseball that would ki$$ my hind and pay me millions when I knew I couldn’t pitch anymore. John you may want to conveniently forget that by I never will. Of the big three….only the mr Greg Maddux didn’t bad-mouth this town and these fans on their way out of town, no coincidence the other two couldn’t hold his jockstrap as pitchers, and as a class individual.

Tom got each

June 8th, 2012
9:43 pm

Jeff, maybe you can research this for us, but I’m pretty sure there was an instance after Smoltzie joined the Braves that made people wonder who the heck this guy was. As I recall it, didn’t he burn his sachets trying to iron his shirt while wearing it? I kid you not, that stands out in my mind somehow.

Anyway, one of the best Braves ever. My personal favorite after Mr. Aaron. I’ll be there when he makes the real HoF.

Tom got each

June 8th, 2012
9:45 pm

Typo. He burned his CHEST ironing with his shirt on. I have to stop drinking while reading your column Jeff!

ole dawg

June 8th, 2012
9:50 pm

Hey Ronald… lay off the crack!

Jon… Tuscalloosa is the equivalent of the butthole of the world.

Smoltzie…. THANKS FOR TONS OF GREAT MEMORIES!!!!!

collegeballfan

June 8th, 2012
9:55 pm

Hall of Fame, first ballot.

Willy Explode

June 8th, 2012
10:36 pm

It never ceases to amaze me the level of ignorance on this website. Case in point, we have the President of the Mensa Society who doesn’t know the difference between the word “break” and “brake” (not to mention, and this is the ultimate irony, “dum” and “dumb” (or should I say dumb and dumber?). What a mental midget. Please, please, for the sake of the rest of us on this blog, crawl back under the rock from which you temporarily sprang. You make the rest of us ill. You are vermin. Go away.

drew

June 8th, 2012
10:36 pm

Great Idea !!!
Since the Braves already have one homophobic coach, Smoltz would fit right in….remember his comment comparing gay marriage to beastiality???
Funny how sports folks think the world revolves around such important stuff as a ball…

Younger Than That Now

June 8th, 2012
10:51 pm

Thanks Schultzie… right on target with this one! If the Braves could convince John Smoltz of their need for his expertise, it would be a great hire for sure.

“Braves in last palce”… it’s not quite as “dum” as your clueless rant. I think that if I was gonna be a pure idiot in public, for all the world to see, and in print where I couldn’t correct myself… I would at least check my spelling and try to get the facts straight! Your rant would be hilarious if it wasn’t so pitiful!

Thanks again Mr. Schultz, and… GO BRAVES!!

Hillbilly D

June 8th, 2012
10:54 pm

The Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz trade was actually a good trade for both teams. Detroit needed an established starter who could put them over the hump. Alexander went 9-0 down the stretch and the Tigers made it to the ALCS.The Braves needed somebody for the long term. We all know how that turned out. Both sides got what they wanted and needed.

My memory of Smoltz was the year in the playoffs (2003 maybe?), when he faced the Cubs was it was obvious he was hurting and pitched on sheer guts alone. That’s a gamer.

Unassisted Double Play

June 8th, 2012
11:06 pm

Drew, buddy…I think you may be on the wrong board if you’re complaining about someone thinking something ‘revolving around a ball’ is important. All the major sports revolve around a ball, and that minor sport that recently left the city revolves around a puck.

I don’t see how someone’s views on homosexuality or beastiality or transcendental meditation has to do with his ability to be a good coach.

Sounds like you mix your politics with your sports, which makes both of them useless.

Eb

June 8th, 2012
11:10 pm

Smoltz is the best representative of ATL sports for my money. He wanted to win -championships!- and gave every game his all. He was also quick to note problems when they evolved- unlike his businesslike brethren who pretend everything’s great. Smoltz was the only Brave to call John Schuerputz out on his stupid statement about division titles being the goal each season. I’ll take Smoltz over any past Brave- including Aaron- and any Falcon or Hawk- including Nique. Smoltz is an open book and genuine guy who wanted to win as bad as we did. Hard to find that with athletes.

Bill

June 8th, 2012
11:11 pm

I said it on another blog..I couldn’t make game but had his 29 Jersey on all day for my favorite Braves pitcher..Well said Jeff. Thanks Ole #29 for many great thrills. Hope to see you back as a coach one day.

Earl Hickey

June 8th, 2012
11:26 pm

I kinda like Dale Murphy in the announcers booth. He adds some candid objectivity to the normal non-stop cheerleading from Caray and Simpson. For example, he pointed out that Freddie appears to be experiencing discomfort when receiving throws. The other two would NEVER mention that since it isn’t on the pep rally agenda.

Unassisted Double Play

June 8th, 2012
11:32 pm

Smoltze was always the ‘tough guy’ of the three amigos. Mad Dog was cerebrial, Glavine was finesse and Smoltze threw the lasers.

I will always appreciate his ‘team first’ attitude. Starting, closing, didn’t matter. He was just out there to do whatever needed to be done to win. And there were games he won on sheer willpower.

I don’t think we’ll ever see a staff like we had in baseball ever again.

mace224

June 9th, 2012
12:11 am

Looking at Smoltz I had a Warren Spahn moment.

G-Buckman

June 9th, 2012
12:20 am

@ Ronald M.: Sorry your life is so miserable.

Csonka

June 9th, 2012
12:40 am

What Eb said.

I was on a business trip in Cincy and happened to stay at the same hotel as the Braves during a series there in May, 1993. That Monday was an off-day, and they arrived Sunday night. I was in the (very small) hotel bar in the lobby that night when they began to arrive. I was 28 at the time and not that much older than most of the team. I had the pleasure of meeting several members of the team, including Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux, Cabrera and even my wife’s crush at the time, Damon Berryhill.

I’m a big sports fan but have always been jaded by stories of the attitudes of “superstars” and their treatment of fans. I can say without any reservation that the Braves I met during our stay in Cincy (Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux, Pendleton, Olson, Berryhill, Cabrera and especially Kent Mercker), were as “regular guy” as your next door neighbor. They all handled being approached by fans and autograph requests with grace and class. Mercker even bought me a pitcher of beer :-) .

As I type this, I’m looking at an autographed ball on my shelf from Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux I got while I was there. I’ll never personally approach greatness, but that ball is proof to my kids that their old man was once in the presence of Legends.

Thanks for the memories, Smoltzie.

P Rose

June 9th, 2012
12:53 am

I was at the game tonight. It struck me as funny when the organ player played “Fortunate Son” as Kyle Drabeck was batting. It’s ironic that as the Braves honored Smoltz, one of the catalysts of the magical ‘91-92 years, on the weekend they’re giving away “Sid Slid” bobbleheads (tomorrow), the guy on the mound for the other team was the son of the guy who started against the Braves the night Sid slid, Doug Drabeck; and now he was pitching for the Blue Jays, the team that ultimately beat the Braves in the World Series that same year.

Anyway, it was a moving ceremony before the game, a weird game and a great finish. They scored three of their runs on a bases-loaded walk, a balk, and (the winning run) on a steal of third and an E-2. I’m glad they won this one for #29.

Joey the Bull

June 9th, 2012
12:55 am

Too bad he won’t go into politics. I bet he would make a great President and he was born here! Luv ya Smoltzy! You were one of the greatest of all time. (and you still are!)

Spud

June 9th, 2012
1:10 am

Csonka, that’s an awesome story! Thanks for sharing!

goldenglove002

June 9th, 2012
1:45 am

If they don’t get him as coach of some sort, they should bring him back as a permanent fixture in the broadcast booth. I love hearing him call games!

Csonka

June 9th, 2012
1:51 am

Thanks, Spud. And I can assure you it’s 100% true.

Mitchell

June 9th, 2012
2:03 am

As I type this, I’m looking at an autographed ball on my shelf from Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux I got while I was there.

You have a ball that they collectively signed in your pressence?

Wow.

Autographs don’t really do it for me personally, at all. Less so when you don’t even know when it was signed or by who.

Even if memoriabilia is authenticated, who cares? It’s impersonal.

To have them all sign a baseball specifically for you upon your request while occupying the same physical space, in person in a specific location?

That would be something worth hanging on to.

Anyway, very cool.

SawThat1nce

June 9th, 2012
3:12 am

Shultz, why would Smoltz want to be involved with a team that
“crumbles at the first sign of adversity”?

SawThat1nce

June 9th, 2012
3:22 am

“Just like 2011.” ??

Pink Pony

June 9th, 2012
5:21 am

Congrats Smoltz – just stay away from buying real estate

JSS

June 9th, 2012
6:30 am

The thing that I always respected about Smoltz is that was a grown man who asked for help when was not working… Living in SE Michigan in the mid 80s, everyone knew about that kid at State and then the kid phenom who a few years behind him (that was Steve Avery). Give the Braves (Paul Snyder) credit, the pitcher they got from Glen Falls in 1987 was pure potential. By the time he got that mind to work with that body in 91-92, he only was only held back by his failing tendons and ligaments. His ‘96 season is the greatest thing I’ve seen along with the year Doc Gooden was nearly unhittable and not on coke. Unlike some of his teammates, even when he was hurt, he was always an asset to them and tried to lead… He deserves the honor…

John Ellison

June 9th, 2012
6:52 am

Is he an announcer on the radio? I never hear him when watching games on tv.

cloudodust

June 9th, 2012
8:13 am

He was a hitter, too. Congrats and thanks, John Smoltz…
http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=115&position=PB

Larry

June 9th, 2012
8:49 am

Did I miss something ? Where was Tom Glavine last night ? I could not help but notice that his name was only mentioned once during the retirement before the game, and nothing was ever said during the game about him or why he was not there ?

coach joe

June 9th, 2012
8:51 am

thanks for the memories

DaveinNEPA

June 9th, 2012
8:55 am

As great as Maddux and Glavine were, there wasn’t anyone on the staff better in the postseason than Smoltz.

It’s funny how the memory works though. I remember the losses and no decisions better than the wins. The gme that sticks out most in my mind was Game 5 of the 96 WS when Grissom and Dye got criss-crossed on a fly ball resulting in an unearned run leading to a 1-0 loss. That may very well have been the greatest game Smoltz ever pitched only to get a loss.

Smoltz was as good as it got and there are a lot of good memories here. Thanx Smoltzie.

runtt

June 9th, 2012
9:23 am

A friend of mine’s son was very sick and spent Christmas in the hospital at Scottish Rite. On Christmas morning he had two visitors, Santa Claus and John Smoltz. One of the classiest things I ever heard done by a famous athlete.

BravesWin

June 9th, 2012
10:03 am

My favorite Brave of the recent era, and second all-time behind Hank. He seriously could (should) have won 30 games in ‘96 with a bit more run support from his teammates and bit less meddling by management.

Braves 2012

June 9th, 2012
10:10 am

Czonka: great story, and I always liked Mercker too as he seemed like a good dude.

Reflecting on Smoltz last days as a Brave makes me appreciate the way Chipper has handled his departure even more. I hope the Braves do ask Smoltz to evaluate talent. What an advantage to have a hyper-competitive, yet smart and decent guy in that role. Talent evaluation is the foundation of all winning teams. Look at how badly Billy Knight set the Hawks back by squandering high draft picks.

Sonny Clusters

June 9th, 2012
10:40 am

We are reminded of our own story when we was at the Dairy Queen and a major league ballplayer came in and bought us all a peanut butter parfait and asked for extra nuts and whipped cream for everybody. That player grew up with us eating at that Dairy Queen and he never had any money to pay for anything and sometimes he would sneak stuff off our plate and stick it in his lucky underpants and then we’d be grossed out and let him eat it because it had been in his lucky underpants. He was crafty like that. Those are the memories we carry and some of them arent’t pretty.