UPDATE: For a link to the full column, click here.
He was the starter the Braves wanted on the mound when they needed to win a game, particularly in the postseason. He was the reliever any team would have wanted when they needed to close one.
John Smoltz became a Hall of Famer Tuesday. He was elected in his first year of eligibility, just like former Braves teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. Joining Smoltz, as expected: Pitchers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez and second baseman Craig Biggio.
Smoltz goes in a year later than Glavine and Maddux, not because he was any less deserving than Glavine and Maddux but because he labored for an extra year to try to extend his career.
Glavine said of his friend and former teammate, “He was more competitive across the board than anybody. When you got onto the field, we all were competitive, and that served as well. But with John it didn’t end there. He’d be you on the sun coming up, playing golf, playing cards. That competitive nature served him well.”
Unlike Glavine, Smoltz wasn’t an original Brave. He was drafted by the Detroit Tigers’ organization before being dealt to Atlanta in 1987 for Doyle Alexander, a year before his major league debut. But he was the best power pitcher the team ever had and the only starter who consistently shut down opponents in the postseason, with a record of 15-4 and an ERA of 2.67.
Unlike Maddux, Smoltz didn’t win four Cy Young Awards (just one) or 355 games (just 213). But he was dominating in the mid-to-late 1990s, utilized that mental and physical toughness in coming back from multiple arm and shoulder surgeries and was one of the majors’ best closers over three years (144 saves in 2002-04), before making a remarkable transition back to starter.
In addition to Cooperstown, Smoltz belongs in the Orthopedics Hall of Fame.
It was in the spring of 2009 when I drove out to Augusta to see, not a golf tournament, but Smoltz pitch a minor league game. He was 42 years old. He had dropped kicked off the Braves. He was coming off surgery (again) and was attempting to make a comeback (again), rehabilitating with the Single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
“I was in A ball in 1986 when a lot of these guys weren’t even born,” Smoltz said that day. “Their meal money is $29. Mine was $4.50. It was McDonald’s every night. They won’t be eating McDonald’s tonight.”
Smoltz catered a nice meal for the Greenville Drive that night in Augusta. He also pitched three effective innings and eventually worked his way back to the majors. His comeback with Boston (and later St. Louis) didn’t go well as he had hoped and he ended up retiring after that season. But the end came only after he was certain he had nothing left to give. But he had given more than enough.
It was the first time in 60 years as many as four players were elected to the Hall of Fame. Candidates need at least 75 percent of the vote for induction. Smoltz received 82.9 percent of the vote, behind Johnson (97.3) and Martinez (91.1). Biggio, who missed election by two votes last year, easily cleared the threshold this season at 82.7 percent.
The entire voting breakdown: Randy Johnson 534 (97.3), Pedro Martinez 500 (91.1), John Smoltz 455 (82.9), Craig Biggio 454 (82.7), Mike Piazza 384 (69.9), Jeff Bagwell 306 (55.7), Tim Raines 302 (55.0), Curt Schilling 215 (39.2), Roger Clemens 206 (37.5), Barry Bonds 202 (36.8), Lee Smith 166 (30.2), Edgar Martinez 148 (27.0), Alan Trammell 138 (25.1), Mike Mussina 135 (24.6), Jeff Kent 77 (14.0), Fred McGriff 71 (12.9), Larry Walker 65 (11.8), Gary Sheffield 64 (11.7), Mark McGwire 55 (10.0), Don Mattingly 50 (9.1), Sammy Sosa 36 (6.6), Nomar Garciaparra 30 (5.5), Carlos Delgado 21 (3.8), Troy Percival 4 (0.7), Aaron Boone 2 (0.4), Tom Gordon 2 (0.4), Darin Erstad 1 (0.2), Rich Aurilia 0, Tony Clark 0, Jermaine Dye 0, Cliff Floyd 0, Brian Giles 0, Eddie Guardado 0, Jason Schmidt 0.
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