COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — While soaking in an historic weekend for the Atlanta Braves organization, a collection of fans staged a impromptu demonstration behind the MLB Network set following the Hall of Fame induction speeches of Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine on Sunday afternoon. Staged on a Cooperstown lawn cluttered with chairs and tents and tomahawks, the set obscured the view of the stage, but from behind the fenced-off area the group made its intentions known. A small chant broke out, and its intended target was within earshot.
"Smoltz in ’15!" they chanted.
The third member of the famed Braves pitching staff’s Big Three, John Smoltz, was sitting on the set, fulfilling his role as TV analyst while taking in the sights and jokes aimed at his hairline and golf game from his Hall of Fame teammates on the stage about 50 yards away. He may find himself sitting much, much closer to the podium in the near future. When the jokes were out of the way, Maddux, Glavine and Cox each mentioned in their respective speeches that their former Braves colleague should be sitting on stage as a part of the induction class in 2015, Smoltz’s first year eligibility.
"I had so many great teammates, some who will be on this stage, as (Maddux) mentioned; our good friend Smoltzie better be here next year," Glavine said in his speech. "And there will be more to come."
It’s the overarching organizational theme coming out of the weekend: the third leg of a group that won 648 games in a Braves uniform should be enshrined in Cooperstown, along with the other main pieces from the Team of the ’90s.
"I can honestly say I would not be standing here today if it weren’t for you guys," Cox said of his three top pitchers. "Together, these guys earned six Cy Young awards by wearing a Braves uniform."
With such an overwhelming presence in the small town in upstate New York over the past few days, why not get a little greedy and ask for more?
It all starts with Smoltz. He does not boast the runaway Hall of Fame career numbers, but he should be in serious consideration in what should be a star-studded class of pitchers.
Thanks in part to the Tommy John surgery that caused Smoltz to miss the 2000 season entirely and move to the bullpen, at the request of the team, for the better part of the four-year period from 2001 to 2004, the numbers as a starting pitcher are not as easy to rattle off. Unlike Glavine and Maddux, he’s not a 300-game winner. He won 213 games with a 3.33 ERA, including the 1996 Cy Young Award after a 24-win campaign.
However, also due to his injury, his 21-year career included a rare accomplishment: He became one of the top relievers in baseball, saving 154 games at one of the best rates in MLB history. He became the first player in baseball history with at least 200 wins and 150 saves, which accompanied his 3,082 strikeouts (16th-most all-time). In terms of advanced numbers, Smoltz’s 78.7 career wins above replacement falls right in line with other Hall of Fame résumés, or just a shade behind them. (According to JAWS, a metric developed by Jay Jaffe that tracks players’ Hall of Fame candidacies, Smoltz’s career WAR and seven-year peak fall just below current Hall of Fame standards.)
There’s also the question of just how many pitchers the baseball writers are willing to vote in for one year.
Smoltz enters the voting fray with Cy Young mainstays and all-time greats Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, both of whom boast better career numbers and are poised to follow Maddux, Glavine and Frank Thomas as surefire first-ballot Hall of Fame inductees. That the ’15 candidates also will include Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Mike Piazza, Gary Sheffield, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens and Craig Biggio, who missed joining the 2014 inductees by two votes, makes things all the more difficult to project — even though some presumably will miss the cut due to ties with performance-enhancing drugs.
There are two other members of the Braves organization who are going to be tossed around in the coming years as well.
Third baseman Chipper Jones retired following the 2012 season, so he is not eligible for candidacy until the 2018 class, but he’s considered a first-ballot name in his own right. One of the greatest switch hitters in history, Jones had batting numbers of .303/.409/.521 and 428 homers that should be more than enough to get him in right away. The other and perhaps more interesting candidate is John Schuerholz, the former GM and current president of the Braves who helped construct one of the best collections of talent over the past few decades. Cox requested Schuerholz’s induction in his speech. Adding in Smoltz, that’s three Atlanta names to be tossed around starting next year.
Before this weekend, the previous Braves star to be inducted was Phil Niekro in the 1997 class. Fifteen years prior to that, Hank Aaron settled into his rightful place in Cooperstown. The organization is used to playing the waiting game when it comes to the Hall of Fame. It won’t have to this time around. If not in the next couple years with Smoltz, the longest Glavine, Maddux and Cox will have to wait for Team of the ’90s company will be four years from now.
That might be a good thing, because judging by the scene on the lawn behind Smoltz, there’s already at least one group getting antsy.