40th birthday edition: Q&A with Smoltz
Braves hurler sits down with MLB.com to reflect on career
John Smoltz spent the early parts of his career with the Braves pitching in the shadows of Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. As time has elapsed, he has gained the same sort of legendary status and given reason to believe that he will indeed one day join them in the Hall of Fame.
With his 40th birthday on Tuesday, Smoltz joined a club that also includes Maddux and Glavine. The veteran Braves hurler joins an increasing group of pitchers who are proving they can still get outs after they enter their fifth decade of life.
Smoltz's Hall of Fame credentials are strong. He is two victories away from being the first Major League hurler to record both 200 wins and 150 saves in a career. His all-time record of 15 postseason wins is a product of the fact that he helped the Braves capture an unprecedented 14 consecutive division titles.
Smoltz recently sat down with MLB.com to reflect on a stellar career that began in 1988 and look ahead to a future, during which he may find himself playing on the PGA's Senior Tour.
MLB.com: When you began your Major League career in 1988, did you envision that you would still be pitching at 40 years old?
JS: I always thought I would get to 40. I really did. I knew the desire would be there. I just didn't know if the body would be there.
MLB.com: Was there ever a point when coming back from any of the four elbow surgeries that you had, that you had to battle the "it's not worth all of this" mentality?
JS: After I came back from Tommy John surgery in 2001 and had to go back on the disabled list, yeah, I was ready to hang it up. I was thinking, "I don't know how much of this I want to go through with."
MLB.com: There are still some who wonder if you are a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate. What are your thoughts when you hear this?
JS: I love to hear people argue over that because it's amusing to me. I love to hear their pros and cons. I don't have any say over that. Nor is that what drives me to do what I do. I've lost a million one-run games that I've pitched well. What does it mean? It's just part of the game. Sometimes it works out your way and sometimes it doesn't.
I'll be judged by the [Braves] organization that has kept me here for so long, and that's all I care about.
MLB.com: Why have you been able to continue being a successful power pitcher?
JS: Genetics. You can't make yourself a power pitcher. It would be different if I was throwing 84 [mph] most of my career and then all the sudden jumped up to 92 [mph] because I figured out some great workout or some great secret. It's all about genetics and then maintaining my body through good flexibility and good workouts. I'm always listening and adhering to things related to my body.
MLB.com: While you were growing up in Michigan, you idolized Jack Morris. What were your thoughts when at the age of 24, you nearly matched his mastery during that 1-0 loss to the Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series?
JS: I think back to that day and think, "How did I survive with just two pitches?" But it happened. I was wild. I threw hard. I had a real good slider.
MLB.com: From a confidence standpoint, was that the most important start of your career?
JS: It was for me. I always dreamed of pitching in Game 7 of the World Series. No matter how many times I did it in my dreams or how many times I did it in my mind, you've still got to prove it to yourself that you can do that.
MLB.com: You've won more postseason games than anybody in history. Is there one playoff start that you believe was undoubtedly your best?
JS: I've had a lot of great games that have gone unnoticed because of the game number, or at which point of the postseason that it was played. I remember opening up in Los Angeles (in 1996) and pitching Game 1 of that Division Series and going nine innings in a 1-1 game and seeing us win, 2-1, in 10 innings. To me, it set the tone for the entire series.
I've had a lot of individual games that were, per se, greater than Game 7 of the (1991) World Series. But none of them greater than the moment of Game 7.
MLB.com: Why do you think you have formed such a strong friendship with Tiger Woods?
JS: I don't know the answer to that, other than we have compatible personalities. I really respect what he does and I think it's vice-versa with him. I'm no way or nowhere near the category that he's in. But I think we both have the ability to respect what perseverance means.
Friendships don't usually attract opposites. Your interests usually coincide. Both of us have a strong desire to be the best at what we do.
MLB.com: Do you still believe that you will be capable of competing on the PGA's Senior Tour?
JS: Yes. Unless my body makes it that I can't chase my ambitions. There's no doubt in my mind that I can make it. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to make it. I also had no doubt as a little kid that I was going to make it in the big leagues.
MLB.com: You have said the game of golf has helped improve your mental approach as a pitcher. Is there any aspect of baseball that could benefit you if you do play on the Senior Tour?
JS: I'm not going to be as talented as the guys who are there. But because of all the years in baseball, I'll have as much mental toughness as the guys who are there. Plus, I don't need it for financial security. I'm doing it just to see if I can do it.
MLB.com: Will the game ever see another starting rotation as formidable as the ones that included yourself, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine?
JS: There probably will be and have been some rotations equal to what we went through, but not for this long, and not ones in which each guy just keeps getting better. Maddux just kept getting better. I've got a ceiling and I've gotten pretty close to that ceiling.
Where the ceiling gets eliminated is when you give me one game to win or the postseason. Then I've got a chance to raise my level. But short of that, I would never be able to sustain that during the regular season.
MLB.com: Did each of you become better pitchers based simply on the fact that you were together for so long?
JS: I know I did, and I would have liked it to have continued because I think I would be even better than I am today.
MLB.com: Why didn't jealousy ever get in the way of the strong friendships that you continue to share with Maddux and Glavine?
JS: I was never going to let jealousy be a part of it. I'm very secure in who I am. For them to answer it, they'd have to answer it themselves. Of the three of us, it would have been the hardest for me because they were head and shoulders above me.
I was the guy in the back seat and those guys took turns driving, and it was fine for me. I may have some blind spots to some aspects to my life. But for the most part, I think I'm pretty objective. I understand my place in the game. I have humility and I just love to have a good time.
With them, how could you not have a good time?
MLB.com: Do you regret that you had to spend three and a half seasons as a closer? Or do you truly believe it was the best role for your arm coming off of Tommy John surgery?
JS: I don't know if that was what was best for me. I don't regret it. If it was best for the team for those three and a half years, then great. But I don't regret it.
MLB.com: How should history remember the streak of 14 consecutive division titles that the Braves captured?
JS: It will never happen again. I hate the fact that people will try to find negatives in there. Winning just one World Series shouldn't take away from what was done, because it will never happen again.
MLB.com: Some of your closest friends include Woods, Maddux and Glavine. You were part of a run of 14 consecutive division titles and now you have a chance to pitch past your 40th birthday. Do you ever consider yourself to be one of the most fortunate people in the world?
JS: I'm very blessed. I'm very lucky. That's why I try to show it.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.