Smoltz, best known for his certain Hall of Fame career with the Braves, won 213 games as one of the most feared pitchers to wear a major league uniform.
The 1996 Cy Young Award winner took the unusual step of converting from starter to reliever in 2001 following his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He spent four years as the Braves’ closer before he returned to the hill as a starter. He is only the second pitcher in MLB history to record both a 20-win season and a 50-save season. Smoltz is also the only pitcher in major league history to garner 200 wins and 150 saves.
At his best, his four-seam fastball reached 98 mph, complementing a slider, split-finger fastball, curve and changeup.
Today, Smoltz is heard around the world on TBS as a sports broadcaster announcing nationally televised baseball games. The transition from being in crucial situations on the pitcher’s mound with a game on the line in front of thousands of people has been a smooth one for the 1995 World Series champion. Sitting in the booth, however, has not kept Smoltz from looking down on occasion and wishing he was back on the dirt.
“Oh, my. There has probably been a hundred of those situations already in the last two and a half years. I think anytime you are up there (in the broadcast booth) the No. 1 goal is to not make it seem easy or ask, “What would you always do?” But, having experience in so many opportunities I think it speaks more of knowledge of having been there than trying to create something you don’t even know. I use all of those opportunities to say what could or should be done, then it is up to each individual player to either supersede that or learn from the situation.”
Preparing for a game was second nature for the Braves hurler. Preparation varied from regular-season outings to postseason appearances. Mental preparation for each individual performance played a key role in his success.
“I concentrated every game. But if I pitched every regular-season game like I did a postseason game, I’d never make it to the end. There is just no way,” said Smoltz. “I pitched a postseason game like there was no tomorrow and I pitched a regular-season game like I need to get 35 of them in.”
Even the revered John Smoltz was roughed up on occasion. There are three names he tossed out when asked who he hated to face most.
“Tony Gwynn,” Smoltz said without the slightest hesitation. “Barry Bonds and (Albert) Pujols were a close second and third.”
The 1995 World Champion Atlanta Braves will always be at the top of his list when he talks about teams he was a part of. Smoltz also went on to say it isn’t always the best teams that win.
“The ’95 World Series champs are obviously going to take precedence over anything. But, I thought the ’93 team was better and we lost to the Phillies. There was the ’96 team that was possibly even better than the ’95 team,” he said. “It is often said the best teams don’t win and we fell under that category more than we should have.”
He said also pitchers have their favorite stadiums and it isn’t always the prettiest or fanciest ones where pitchers like to throw.
“Personally and selfishly it was the Houston Astrodome. There was nothing maybe sexy about it, but it was just big and I could challenge a lot of hitters with fastballs. I don’t know how statistically I did there, I just felt good when I was going out to that mound knowing the field was a lot bigger than most,” Smoltz said of the now-empty enclosed showplace.
His least favorite diamonds to pitch on? “Colorado, for obvious reasons and San Francisco. I never did well there. It seemed like the weather was nothing I was fond of. Those two stadiums, I don’t think I did very well based on statistical categories,” he said.
Having to work only once every four to six days was no problem for a Brave known by teammates as somewhat of a jester. Smoltz found a myriad of ways to busy himself between starts and found very little time to get bored.
“I kept myself pretty active. Between being a jokester and having fun with the guys, I created all kinds of venues from card tournaments, backgammon tournaments, I was also the golf concierge. So, I kept myself pretty busy,” he said. “There weren’t too many boring days although we sat and watched a 130 games a year. You can imagine there is a lot of time to kill.”
Smoltz, who has been praised by the likes of Tiger Woods for his golf game, is also well known by colleagues for his prowess on the links. Being an avid golfer, he likes to find time to enjoy a round with other athletes who are talented from tee to green.
“I think Mark Mulder is a great golfer, one who can hit it a ton,” Smoltz said when asked who the best golfer is who plays baseball. “There are a lot of guys who can hit it way, way past me. But, I would say at this point, I know Jeff Francoeur would love to be that name. But, he is not yet. Mark Mulder is a great golfer.”
Smoltz said since his transition to broadcasting, the difficulty of being away from the game has eased quite a bit after the initial changeover. He still visits with friends when he is in Atlanta.
“I’m past the point of crossing that line of playing in the game. Going back to the locker room as a broadcaster was tough for about a year, but everybody knows now that there is no chance I’m coming back,” said the former major leaguer.
“Actually, doing my job has been a lot easier going back to these venues. When I go to Atlanta it’s hard not to go back to the training room, which is breaking the rules of a broadcaster, and see all the people I know. I still do that (in Atlanta), but I don’t do it anywhere else.”