John Smoltz was a key member of the best starting staff in baseball when he pitched for most of his 21 seasons with the Atlanta Braves. He won 213 games, saved 154 and finished with 3,084 career strikeouts and was known for his ability to win big postseason games. He pitched for the Red Sox and Cardinals in 2009, retiring after that season.
Smoltz, who won the 1996 Cy Young Award and helped the Braves win the 1995 World Series, recently wrote a book called Starting and Closing: Perseverance, Faith, and One More Year, and will have his jersey No. 29 retired by the Braves in a ceremony on June 8, joining former teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
He spoke with FOXSportsSouth.com Braves writer Andy Johnston this week.
Q: How are things going? Whats keeping you busy these days?
A: Its the time of year where Im bouncing around trying to learn about the new players and talking about the old veterans that I know.
Q: Do you like broadcasting?
A: Im one of those guys that if I wasnt broadcasting, I probably wouldnt be here too many times, just because its (the players) gig, its their time. Im not one to come to the stadium and hang. No disrespect to anything. I just want to respect what these guys are doing. And so as a broadcaster, its part of my job to come down and talk to the guys and see them. And for that, Im grateful and I try not to cross any lines, from player to broadcaster. I think time has been long enough to where Im kind of accepted in the role that Im in.
Q: Was it a tough adjustment, at first?
A: The toughest adjustment was the part I just said. Going into the locker room and going, Im too fresh. I cant talk to players yet. And then I started doing interviews and I started doing sit-downs with people and specials for MLB Network, and then it kind of became commonplace, where I could let my personality kind of hang out. Ive had fun. Ive had fun with it. Ive made mistakes, but its one of those things where Im not afraid of mistakes.
Q: Youre obviously a very competitive person. How has that translated into retirement?
A: I want to be the best broadcaster I can be. I dont do it for that reason, but if Im going to do, Im going to try to be the best I can be. So anything I engage in, I want to give it the utmost respect and utmost energy and effort to be the best. Im constantly learning different tricks of the trade and Im comfortable with certain things now that maybe before, I dont know if I enjoyed it as much.
Q: Was it tough stepping away from baseball in 2009?
A: That part was not. I think thats the one thing that everybody thought would be a more difficult transition for me because they knew how competitive I was and how much I loved competing. But once you know -- Id always prayed for the desire to know thats it. You know, part of it is job offers. I couldve kept pitching, but that wasnt me. It wasnt me to be mediocre or not to be in the right place, where I felt I could have an impact. You know, I stepped away with no fanfare. I didnt have a press conference or anything that wouldve drawn attention. Im done. I kind of entered the game that way. I dont have any reservations to anything Ive done in regards to entering or exiting the game that I love and brought me so much pleasure.
Q: What do you think about the Braves starting staff?
A: They have had the daunting task of living up to some things that are very difficult, and theyve done a great job doing it. They really have. Theyre the youngest staff in baseball and theyre pitching well beyond their years. They didnt have the luxury that we had in not being very good when we were brought up. We basically had our lunch handed to us. Theyve had to do it on the cusp of winning. Their learning curve is shorter.
Q: What do you see in some of the guys, like Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor? Do you see yourself and Tom Glavine from 20-plus years ago?
A: I cant honestly say I do, because theyre a little bit more advanced than we were. Tommy, and the way he went about his business, was consistent from Day 1 until the end. He won 300-something games, but it wasnt like we were all polished when we all got up here. And certainly, they benefit from playing with some pretty good teams, which maybe, didnt equate with the records that we had. Im not afraid to admit that I was nowhere near the pitcher that I became. These guys have just been tutored in the right way, mentored in the right way. Somebody has had an impact in making them who they are. Theyre tough individually, and that in itself, has allowed them to pitch in the heat of the moment.
Q: What prompted you to write your book? Was that something that was on your heart?
A: It wasnt. I was led to the opportunity and thought maybe (it would) make an impact on those who read it. If I wrote a book to bring attention to me, it would defy everything I just told you and how I exited the game. I did a book because (I thought) it would be a great way to leave a mark on at least one person, who could gain some insight or learn something that had not known unless they had read your book. Hopefully, its more than one person. For entertainment purposes, I hope its right up there with the likes of whatever people like to read, but I didnt do the book for any reason like, Ive got a story to tell and I want everybody to know it, so they can appreciate what I did, or how I did it. Thats not the motive at all. So I said Im never going to do it, but when the opportunity came, it worked.
Q: What do you think about the Braves retiring your jersey this summer?
A: It just came up this year. Im not one of those guys who expects, OK, its now my turn. Thats never been my motive. Thats something that you cant predict or plan. Thats why I kind of laugh when people say, Oh, youre going to be in the Hall of Fame or You must be thinking about getting into the Hall of Fame. Ive never thought once about it. I never planned to do anything but play the game to the fullest. Everything else is out of my hands. It really is. Its a subjective, at best, elite group of players thats in, whether its the Braves Hall of Fame, or the big Hall of Fame. Im just honored. The moment will hit me, and Ill be like, Wow! Ill probably think back to when I was 4 years old, when I remember playing the accordion, and Ill go, This has all happened in a span of 40-something years.
Q: Are you still a little dumbfounded?
A: This isnt a (good) comparison, but when I know theres a baby on the way, and my son or daughter is going to be born, I dont get carried away or enamored with anything until the moment happens. Theres nothing I can do. I really dont sweat anything that I cant do anything about, until the moment happens. Thats how Im approaching this. I dont know what its going to feel like, whether Ill be in check with my emotions when the moment happens.
Q: Were you that way when you pitched?
A: Oh, Im looking forward to it. Its a difference in looking forward to it and being consumed with it. Pitching was the same way. I no more thought about pitching Game 7 I probably thought less about pitching than everybody else in the history of the game, but I wanted the moment. I thrived in the moment. And I wanted to be clutch. I was never like, Oh, Im two days away from pitching. Now, on the flip side, I cant do that with a golf tournament, yet. I get too excited. I get too geeked to do something that I havent measured anything against yet. Ive got to learn that.
Q: Has there been any talk about the Senior PGA Tour?
A: Thats been a goal of mine since I can remember. Since about my middle-20s. For some reason, that popped in my head after I learned to play the game. Why not? Thats sort of my theory in life. Why not? There are days when I know Im not going to do it, but there are days when Im like, You know what. If I put the right effort in, and I stay healthy, why not?
Q: Would your body allow you to do something like that?
A: Right now, my body is beat up. Im feeling the effects of a lot of things. I had my left shoulder operated on four months ago. I hopefully have only one knee surgery that I have to do. And thats it. I dont hold back from the fact that I ran my body. I wasnt a football player, but I went hard. I ran hard. I played hard. I threw hard. Those combinations can add up.
Q: When you think about the past two decades, can you believe that it went by so fast?
A: When I think about it, I cant believe I had 20 years with the Atlanta Braves. It seems like yesterday when I started in West Palm Beach with Pete Smith, Tom Glavine, Zane Smith and all the guys I broke in with. The evolution of it was just so real. Words cant describe. You could never have anticipated what we were about to do. No way. In 1989, I made the All-Star game in my first full year, and then, blam, just plummeted. I had a really good year in 1990, and then in 91, blam, plummeted. It was too much (roller-coaster) going on. And then it turned around for me and progressed from 1996 on.
Q: You said you dont talk about the Hall of Fame, but do you feel like you had a career, with the starting and relieving, thats worthy of the Hall of Fame?
A: I didnt set out to do that. I sacrificed a lot for the team to do what I did. To think about the Hall of Fame, I would have done things totally different. I would have, if I had made the transition (from starting to relieving), never gone back. Thats just facing death. When youre having success at a high rate in the closers role, everybody assumes thats your ticket. Well, it was difficult for me to hear that. Fourteen years of starting was pretty good, too. I was able to amass over (3,084) strikeouts and (213) wins and (154) saves. Thats the subjectivity that I dont get carried away with. Whats my measuring stick? There really isnt one. Does that alone make the Hall of Fame? But regardless of what happens, nobody can take away the playoff wins, nobody can take away the transitions that I made. Cant take that away. It may not be worthy of the Hall of Fame, but it might. So for me, thats never been the issue. Its not a motivating factor. If I did, I would have done different things. Its like all the years I stayed here and took less money. I did it because I wanted to stay here. If I wanted the most money, I could have got it. When people ask me if I think Im a Hall of Famer, I dont think so highly of myself to even (answer it). If I did, I would have had a press conference. I would have done things that feed me. And honestly, Im not into that.
Q: Youre supposed to be retired, but it sounds like youre very busy. Do you ever relax?
A: My life has been pretty busy. I have a lot going on. I guess, in a way, its how I like it. There are times when you just want to get on a hammock and kick back and not have the phone ring. My version of resting and relaxation is not what anyone else would think. I would just soon get on a lawn mower and cut grass for four hours. I am content with that Ive done and how Ive done it.