Long-time Braves fans will never forget the day that John Smoltz was acquired. August 12, 1987 still resonates in the hearts and minds of the Atlanta faithful.
John Smoltz, a Michigan native, was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 1985 draft. But, when the Tigers were in the midst of a three-team pennant race and chasing the first place Toronto Blue Jays, they decided to trade their 20-year old prospect Smoltz to Atlanta for 36-year old veteran starter Doyle Alexander. And, while Alexander helped lead the Tigers to a division championship, the cost of giving up Smoltz hurt the franchise for years.
What was Detroit’s loss was Atlanta’s gain. John Smoltz helped lead a fumbling franchise to lengendary stardom. Smoltz, joined by Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, formed the “Big Three,” that anchored Atlanta’s rotation for years during their run of divisional dominance in the 1990’s. John Smoltz won the 1996 National League Cy Young Award and was selected to eight All-Star games during his more than two decade career with the Braves. Smoltz was also a part of all of the 14 consecutive division championships the Braves won, making them the winningest team in any of the four major professional sports over the regular season stretch.
John Smoltz’s years with the Braves weren’t without a few bumps along the way. Smoltz underwent Tommy John surgery on his arm prior to the 2000 season, forcing him to miss the whole year. When Smoltz returned in 2001, he ultimately found himself in a new role… the Atlanta Braves closer. The Braves moved Smoltz to the bullpen down the stretch, where he proved effective. The team felt Smoltz’s new role would be less taxing on his arm and would also provide the team with the dominant, power closer they had been lacking in years past. In his first full season as a closer in 2002, Smoltz broke the National League save record with 55 saves. Smoltz went on to have three successful seasons as the team’s closer, proving his versatility and his willingness to put the team first.
Before the 2005 season, Smoltz’s desire to return to a starting pitcher was too strong to deny. The team finally granted his wish and moved Smoltz back to the rotation, where many critics doubted Smoltz’s ability to stay healthly and return to the effective starter he once was. But like always, Smoltz proved all the naysayers wrong finishing the ’05 season with a record of 14-7 and an ERA of 3.06. More importantly, he reached the 200 inning mark despite the odds stacked against him. Smoltz’s move from starter to closer to back to starter has garnered him Hall of Fame buzz.
Arm injuries continued to dog Smoltz and in June of 2008, he underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. His contract with the Braves expired at season’s end and while Smoltz had hoped to re-sign and ultimately retire for the only professional team he’s ever played for, the two sides could not come to an agreement and Smoltz went elsewhere.
It is now with a heavy heart that Braves fans must now watch John Smoltz try to defy the odds yet again and make another successful return from arm surgery with the Boston Red Sox.
But for a man who has given so much of himself, his heart and his soul to the city of Atlanta, the fans, his teammates and ultimately the Atlanta Braves organization, no Braves fan can say they won’t be rooting for Smoltz.
John Smoltz turned the Atlanta Braves into winners. John Smoltz was the face of this franchise. John Smoltz was and still is a Brave legend.