Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Workhorse's Victory Lap

I watched none of it on Sunday but, nevertheless, I am pleased as a baseball fan that John Smoltz was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of the class.  While he and his fellow classmates may not rise to the level of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the quartet of Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Smoltz is certainly one hell of a high-quality group.  

Smoltz's induction followed fast on the heels of his Atlanta Braves' brothers-in-arms Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, both of whom were enshrined in 2014, along with the manager under whom all three of them thrived while in Atlanta, Bobby Cox.  In the mid-to-late 1990's, when it appeared as if the Yankees and the Braves were destined to do battle in the World Series, which they did twice during that span, I used to pay a fair amount of attention to who was doing what in Atlanta.  While Glavine and Maddux both clearly earned their HOF status, for my money the biggest bad-ass in Atlanta's rotation was Smoltz.  He was a competitor who rose to his highest level when the stakes were the highest.  His team did not always prevail but Smoltz never failed to provide them with an opportunity to win.  

I think that my favorite thing about Smoltz is that when Atlanta needed him to become their closer, he did.  He lost the 2000 season to injury and upon his return to the Braves he went from being a front-line starter to the back-of-the-bullpen stopper.  Between 2002 and 2004 (from ages 35 through 37), he saved a total of 144 games.  When his twenty-one year career finally ended after the 2009 season, he retired with 213 victories and 154 saves.  He pitched in twenty-five post-season series, during which he earned 15 victories (against only four defeats), 4 saves and a 2.79 ERA.  

John Smoltz pitched for more than two decades in the major leagues.  During his career, he never threw a single pitch for a team for which I root.  In fact, he toed the rubber against a team for which I root on more than one occasion.  Yet, while he played he was always a player for whom I found it especially easy to cheer.  I have never been to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  It makes me happy, however, to know that if and when I ever get there, his plaque will be there for me to see.  


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