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John Smoltz

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John Andrew Smoltz (born May 15, 1967 in Warren, Michigan) was a Major League Baseball player for the Atlanta Braves and the Boston Red Sox. He is predominantly known as a starter and former Cy Young Award winner; however, late in his career, in 2001 he became a closer, a role he is no longer serving. In 2002 he became only the second pitcher in history to have both a season with 20 wins and a season with 50 saves (the other being Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley). Smoltz is also one of only two pitchers with 150 wins and 150 saves (the other again being Eckersley). Smoltz throws a four-seam fastball that has been clocked as high as 98 MPH, a slider that has long been considered one of the best in the league, and a 90 MPH split-finger fastball that he uses as a strikeout pitch. He also mixes in a curveball and change-up on occasion, particularly since he has returned to the rotation.

Minor Leagues and trade to AtlantaEdit

John Smoltz was an All-State baseball and basketball player at Waverly High School in Lansing, Michigan before the Detroit Tigers drafted him in the 22nd round of the 1985 amateur draft. He was the 574th selection of the draft. He would have been drafted higher, but concerns that he would attend Michigan State University, to play basketball, dissuaded many teams from drafting him.

Before his debut, Smoltz developed in the Detroit farm system for a few years until August 12, 1987 when he was traded to the Atlanta Braves. On that date, the Tigers and New York Yankees were chasing the Toronto Blue Jays for the division lead. In need of more pitching help, Detroit sent their young prospect, Smoltz, to the Braves for proven veteran Doyle Alexander. Alexander responded by pitching the best baseball of his 19-year career going 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA down the stretch. Detroit overtook Toronto narrowly winning the division but Tigers fans have not had much to celebrate since: The Tigers were beaten easily by the Minnesota Twins in the playoffs, Alexander retired two years later, and the franchise degenerated from playoff-caliber to average, to below-average and eventually into the worst franchise in the majors. They wouldn't appear in the playoffs again until 2006 when they advanced to the World Series only to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games.

On the other side of the trade, Smoltz would become a likely Hall of Famer for a 14-time division winning team while winning five pennants and the Braves' first championship in 38 years.

Career Edit

Early yearsEdit

Smoltz made his Major League debut on July 23, 1988. Granted the opportunity to make twelve starts that season, Smoltz did not fare well, finishing with a 2–7 record and a 5.48 ERA.

In 1989, Smoltz had the first of what would be many exceptional seasons at the Major League level. In 29 starts, he recorded a 12-11 record and 2.94 ERA while pitching 208 innings and making the All-Star team. Together with teammate Tom Glavine, who also had a break-out year in 1989, there was plenty of reason for optimism about the future of Atlanta's pitching staff.

After Smoltz began the 1991 season with a 2-11 record, he began seeing a sports psychologist, after which he went 12-2 to close out the season [1], helping the Braves win a tight NL West race. Smoltz then made his first of many post-season appearances in 1991, and established a reputation as a terrific October pitcher. He hurled a complete game shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the seventh game of the 1991 National League Championship Series, propelling the Atlanta Braves to their first World Series ever. In the seventh and deciding game of the World Series that year, he was the starter, facing his former Detroit Tiger hero, Jack Morris, who was starting the game for the Minnesota Twins. While Morris had one of the most memorable pitching performances in World Series history, pitching 10 innings of shutout ball in the Twins' Series winning victory, Smoltz matched him for seven innings, being taken out in the eighth inning with no runs allowed. The Braves ultimately fell in the tenth inning.

The next year, Smoltz won fifteen regular season games and was the MVP of the 1992 National League Championship Series, winning two games and also keeping them in the seventh game, which the Braves eventually won in dramatic fashion.

Before the 1993 season, the Braves signed renowned control pitcher Greg Maddux, completing what many consider to be the most accomplished starting trio ever assembled on a single Major League team. Smoltz again won fifteen, but suffered his first post-season loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS.

Smoltz, who at the age 27 already had logged 1,355 innings pitched, endured a losing record in the strike-shortened 1994 season. During the strike, he had bone chips removed from his elbow. He posted 12-7 record in 1995, and was clearly the best number three starter in baseball. Smoltz had his worst post-season ever, but the Braves won the World Series, thanks in great part to Maddux and Glavine, who had begun to overshadow Smoltz.

Smoltz responded with a monster year in 1996, his best year as a professional. He went 24-8 with a 2.94 ERA and 276 strikeouts, winning a franchise record fourteen straight games early in season. He won the National League Cy Young with 26 of the 28 first-place votes. Smoltz's effectiveness in 1997 was almost equal to his Cy Young season, but frugal run support limited him to fifteen wins.

Injuries and move to the bullpenEdit

Smoltz continue to post excellent statistics in 1998 and 1999, but he was spending significant time on the disabled list. This culminated in Tommy John surgery during spring training prior to the 2000 season.

After being unable to effectively return as a starter in 2001, Smoltz made a transition to the bullpen, filling a void as Atlanta's closer down the stretch.

In 2002, his first full season as a closer, Smoltz broke the National League saves record with 55 saves (the previous record was 53; Eric Gagne would equal Smoltz's new record the next year). Smoltz finished third in the Cy Young Award voting. Injuries limited Smoltz slightly in 2003, but he still recorded 45 saves with a minuscule 1.12 ERA. He only allowed eight earned runs in 64.3 innings pitched. In 2004, Smoltz finished with 44 saves, but was frustrated with his inability to make an impact as a closer during another Braves' post-season loss.

Return to the rotationEdit

After three years of serving the Braves as one of baseball's most dominating closers, the team's management agreed to allow Smoltz return to the starting rotation for the 2005 season.

Smoltz's revived career as a starter began inauspiciously. He allowed six earned runs in only 1 2/3 innings—matching the shortest starts of his career—as the Braves were blown out on Opening Day by the Florida Marlins. Because of poor run support, Smoltz would lose his next two decisions despite pitching well. After these initial difficulties, things would fall into place. At the All-Star break, Smoltz was 9-5 with an ERA of 2.68, better than his career average. As a result, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa selected Smoltz as a member of the 2005 NL All-Star team. Smoltz gave up a solo home run to Miguel Tejada in the second inning of the American League's 7-5 victory and received the loss. He is 1-2 in All-Star games, putting him in a tie for the most losses.

Smoltz finished the 2005 season 14-7 with a 3.06 ERA with 169 strikeouts while allowing only 210 hits in 229 2/3 innings. Before the season began, many questioned whether Smoltz would be able to reach the 200 inning plateau in his return to the rotation. While the number of innings he logged during the season was impressive, it caused him to wear down towards the end of the season.

Still, even with a sore shoulder, Smoltz, revered in baseball circles as one of the game's fiercest competitors, soldiered on and pitched a gem in the Braves' 7-1 win over the Houston Astros in Game Two of the 2005 NLDS, the only game the Braves would manage to win in the series against the eventual National League champions.

In 2006, Smoltz continued his re-emergence as one of the elite starting pitchers in the game. Although Smoltz still features a fastball clocked at up to 95-96 MPH and one of the game's best sliders, he has utilized a curveball more so than in years past. Smoltz finished the season with a record of 16-9, an earned run average of 3.49, and 211 strikeouts. He was tied for the National League lead in wins, and finished a close third-best in strikeouts. His record would have been even better if not for six blown saves by the much-maligned Braves bullpen.

On September 21, 2006, the Braves announced they had picked up Smoltz's eight million dollar contract option for the 2007 season. He will continue to serve as a veteran leader for the Braves. Smoltz's future beyond '07, however, remains up in the air. While he has stated his desire to finish his career in Atlanta on numerous occasions, the Braves' payroll limitations left the possibility open that he could sign elsewhere following the season. Smoltz eventually did re-sign with the Braves for the 2008 season, but went through surgury early in the season and was sidelined for the rest of the year.

Boston Red SoxEdit

After the 2008 season, Smoltz became a free agent. On January 8, 2009, Smoltz agreed to a one-year contract worth a base salary of $5 million with the Boston Red Sox. His first choice would have been to return to Atlanta, where he had played his entire major league career, but, in his own words, there were "large discrepancies" in the two offers. Atlanta apparently would not offer more than $3 million in guaranteed money. Smoltz also saw Boston as having more of a chance of making the World Series in what likely will be his final season. Smoltz later revealed that both the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers had offered him contracts.

Smoltz did not join the Red Sox rotation until June 25, at which point he will joined a Red Sox roatation that already included Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brad Penny, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, and Clay Buchholz. Smoltz gave up 5 runs in 5 innings (4 runs in first inning) in his first start (a loss), presently replacing Matsuzaka, who went on the disabled list for the 2nd time in 2009. This was the first time (after 20 active seasons: 1988-1999; 2001-2008) that Smoltz pitched at the major league level for a team other than the Atlanta Braves.

Accomplishments Edit

  • Seven-time All-Star (1989, 1992–93, 1996, 2002–03, 2005)
  • National League Championship Series MVP (1992)
  • Led the National League in Strikeouts (1992, with 215)
  • National League Cy Young Award winner (1996)
  • Holds Braves record for most wins in a season (1996, with 24)
  • Led the National League in wins (1996, with 24)
  • Holds Braves record for most strikeouts in a season (1996, with 276)
  • Led the Major Leagues in strikeouts (1996, with 276)
  • Led the National League in win percentage (1996)
  • Silver Slugger Award Winner for Pitcher (1997)
  • Finished 4th in National League Cy Young Award voting (1998)
  • Led the Major Leagues in Win Percentage (1998)
  • National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award winner (2002)
  • Finished 8th in National League MVP voting (2002)
  • Finished 3rd in National League Cy Young Award voting (2002)
  • Holds Braves record for most saves in a career (154)
  • Holds Braves record for most saves in a season (2002, with 55)
  • Led the Major Leagues in saves (2002, with 55)
  • Tied for the lead in National League lead in wins (2006, with 16)

Trivia Edit

  • Over his post-season career, he has a 13-4 record as a starter (15-4 overall) with a 2.65 ERA. He currently has more post-season career wins than any other player in history. He is followed most closely by Andy Pettitte (14), Tom Glavine (14), and Greg Maddux (11).
  • Smoltz is currently the only member of the Braves roster left over from the worst-to-first 1991 season.

Personal Edit

  • Smoltz met his wife at the Omni Hotel in downtown Atlanta.
  • Smoltz is a born-again Christian who has made Atlanta his home, and is Chairman of the Board at Alpharetta-based King's Ridge Christian School (http://www.kingsridgecs.org/). Smoltz is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America. Smoltz also produced an automated campaign phone recording on behalf of the candidacy of Ralph Reed for Lt. Governor of Georgia during the 2006 primary (Post)
  • During his recovery from surgery in 2000, Smoltz worked on a project for the Atlanta community. As a father of four children, he dedicated himself to the development of a new Christian school in the metropolitan Atlanta region. "Building a school takes an incredible amount of time. In one sense, I'd rather have another surgery on my arm than go through all this again."
  • On February 9, 2007, Smoltz's agent, Lonnie Cooper, released a statement informing the public of the decision by Smoltz and his wife Dyan to divorce after 16 years of marriage. The couple have four young children.

Teams Edit

External links Edit

ReferencesEdit


Preceded by:
Steve Avery
National League Championship Series MVP
1992
Succeeded by:
Curt Schilling
Preceded by:
Greg Maddux
National League Cy Young Award
1996
Succeeded by:
Pedro Martínez
Preceded by:
Armando Benitez
National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year
2002
Succeeded by:
Éric Gagné

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