Q&A: John Smoltz on his 2nd career and the Hall of Fame
JUN 08, 2012 8:19a ET
Smoltz, who won the 1996 Cy Young Award and helped the Braves win the 1995 World Series, recently wrote a book called "Starting and Closing: Perseverance, Faith, and One More Year,'' and will have his jersey No. 29 retired by the Braves in a ceremony on Friday night, joining former teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
Q: How are things going? What’s keeping you busy these days?
A: It’s the time of year where I’m bouncing around trying to learn about the new players and talking about the old veterans that I know.
Q: Do you like broadcasting?
A: I’m one of those guys that if I wasn’t broadcasting, I probably wouldn’t be here too many times, just because it’s (the players’) gig, it’s their time. I’m not one to come to the stadium and hang. No disrespect to anything. I just want to respect what these guys are doing. And so as a broadcaster, it’s part of my job to come down and talk to the guys and see them. And for that, I’m grateful and I try not to cross any lines, from player to broadcaster. I think time has been long enough to where I’m kind of accepted in the role that I’m in.
Q: Was it a tough adjustment, at first?
A: The toughest adjustment was the part I just said. Going into the locker room and going, ‘I’m too fresh. I can’t talk to players yet.’ And then I started doing interviews and I started doing sit-downs with people and specials for MLB Network, and then it kind of became commonplace, where I could let my personality kind of hang out. I’ve had fun. I’ve had fun with it. I’ve made mistakes, but it’s one of those things where I’m not afraid of mistakes.
Q: You’re obviously a very competitive person. How has that translated into retirement?
A: I want to be the best broadcaster I can be. I don’t do it for that reason, but if I’m going to do, I’m going to try to be the best I can be. So anything I engage in, I want to give it the utmost respect and utmost energy and effort to be the best. I’m constantly learning different tricks of the trade and I’m comfortable with certain things now that maybe before, I don’t know if I enjoyed it as much.
Q: Was it tough stepping away from baseball in 2009?
A: That part was not. I think that’s the one thing that everybody thought would be a more difficult transition for me because they knew how competitive I was and how much I loved competing. But once you know -- I’d always prayed for the desire to know – that’s it. You know, part of it is job offers. I could’ve kept pitching, but that wasn’t me. It wasn’t me to be mediocre or not to be in the right place, where I felt I could have an impact. You know, I stepped away with no fanfare. I didn’t have a press conference or anything that would’ve drawn attention. I’m done. I kind of entered the game that way. I don’t have any reservations to anything I’ve done in regards to entering or exiting the game that I love and brought me so much pleasure.
Q: What do you think about the Braves’ starting staff?
A: They have had the daunting task of living up to some things that are very difficult, and they’ve done a great job doing it. They really have. They’re the youngest staff in baseball and they’re pitching well beyond their years. They didn’t have the luxury that we had in not being very good when we were brought up. We basically had our lunch handed to us. They’ve had to do it on the cusp of winning. Their learning curve is shorter.
Q: What do you see in some of the guys, like Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor? Do you see yourself and Tom Glavine from 20-plus years ago?
A: I can’t honestly say I do, because they’re a little bit more advanced than we were. Tommy, and the way he went about his business, was consistent from Day 1 until the end. He won 300-something games, but it wasn’t like we were all polished when we all got up here. And certainly, they benefit from playing with some pretty good teams, which maybe, didn’t equate with the records that we had. I’m not afraid to admit that I was nowhere near the pitcher that I became. These guys have just been tutored in the right way, mentored in the right way. Somebody has had an impact in making them who they are. They’re tough individually, and that in itself, has allowed them to pitch in the heat of the moment.
Q: What prompted you to write your book? Was that something that was on your heart?
A: It wasn’t. I was led to the opportunity and thought maybe (it would) make an impact on those who read it. If I wrote a book to bring attention to me, it would defy everything I just told you and how I exited the game. I did a book because (I thought) it would be a great way to leave a mark on at least one person, who could gain some insight or learn something that had not known unless they had read your book. Hopefully, it’s more than one person. For entertainment purposes, I hope it’s right up there with the likes of whatever people like to read, but I didn’t do the book for any reason like, ‘I’ve got a story to tell and I want everybody to know it, so they can appreciate what I did, or how I did it.’ That’s not the motive at all. So I said I’m never going to do it, but when the opportunity came, it worked.
Q: What do you think about the Braves retiring your jersey this summer?
A: It just came up this year. I’m not one of those guys who expects, ‘OK, it’s now my turn.’ That’s never been my motive. That’s something that you can’t predict or plan. That’s why I kind of laugh when people say, ‘Oh, you’re going to be in the Hall of Fame’ or ‘You must be thinking about getting into the Hall of Fame.’ I’ve never thought once about it. I never planned to do anything but play the game to the fullest. Everything else is out of my hands. It really is. It’s a subjective, at best, elite group of players that’s in, whether it’s the Braves Hall of Fame, or the big Hall of Fame. I’m just honored. The moment will hit me, and I’ll be like, ‘Wow!’ I’ll probably think back to when I was 4 years old, when I remember playing the accordion, and I’ll go, ‘This has all happened in a span of 40-something years.’
Q: Are you still a little dumbfounded?
A: This isn’t a (good) comparison, but when I know there’s a baby on the way, and my son or daughter is going to be born, I don’t get carried away or enamored with anything until the moment happens. There’s nothing I can do. I really don’t sweat anything that I can’t do anything about, until the moment happens. That’s how I’m approaching this. I don’t know what it’s going to feel like, whether I’ll be in check with my emotions when the moment happens.
Q: Were you that way when you pitched?
A: Oh, I’m looking forward to it. It’s a difference in looking forward to it and being consumed with it. Pitching was the same way. I no more thought about pitching Game 7 … I probably thought less about pitching than everybody else in the history of the game, but I wanted the moment. I thrived in the moment. And I wanted to be clutch. I was never like, ‘Oh, I’m two days away from pitching.’ Now, on the flip side, I can’t do that with a golf tournament, yet. I get too excited. I get too geeked to do something that I haven’t measured anything against yet. I’ve got to learn that.
Q: Has there been any talk about the Senior PGA Tour?
A: That’s been a goal of mine since I can remember. Since about my middle-20s. For some reason, that popped in my head after I learned to play the game. Why not? That’s sort of my theory in life. Why not? There are days when I know I’m not going to do it, but there are days when I’m like, ‘You know what. If I put the right effort in, and I stay healthy, why not?’
Q: Would your body allow you to do something like that?
A: Right now, my body is beat up. I’m feeling the effects of a lot of things. I had my left shoulder operated on four months ago. I hopefully have only one knee surgery that I have to do. And that’s it. I don’t hold back from the fact that I ran my body. I wasn’t a football player, but I went hard. I ran hard. I played hard. I threw hard. Those combinations can add up.
Q: When you think about the past two decades, can you believe that it went by so fast?
A: When I think about it, I can’t believe I had 20 years with the Atlanta Braves. It seems like yesterday when I started in West Palm Beach with Pete Smith, Tom Glavine, Zane Smith and all the guys I broke in with. The evolution of it was just so real. Words can’t describe. You could never have anticipated what we were about to do. No way. In 1989, I made the All-Star game in my first full year, and then, blam, just plummeted. I had a really good year in 1990, and then in 91, blam, plummeted. It was too much (roller-coaster) going on. And then it turned around for me and progressed from 1996 on.
Q: You said you don’t talk about the Hall of Fame, but do you feel like you had a career, with the starting and relieving, that’s worthy of the Hall of Fame?
A: I didn’t set out to do that. I sacrificed a lot for the team to do what I did. To think about the Hall of Fame, I would have done things totally different. I would have, if I had made the transition (from starting to relieving), never gone back. That’s just facing death. When you’re having success at a high rate in the closer’s role, everybody assumes that’s your ticket. Well, it was difficult for me to hear that. Fourteen years of starting was pretty good, too. I was able to amass over (3,084) strikeouts and (213) wins and (154) saves. That’s the subjectivity that I don’t get carried away with. What’s my measuring stick? There really isn’t one. Does that alone make the Hall of Fame? But regardless of what happens, nobody can take away the playoff wins, nobody can take away the transitions that I made. Can’t take that away. It may not be worthy of the Hall of Fame, but it might. So for me, that’s never been the issue. It’s not a motivating factor. If I did, I would have done different things. It’s like all the years I stayed here and took less money. I did it because I wanted to stay here. If I wanted the most money, I could have got it. When people ask me if I think I’m a Hall of Famer, I don’t think so highly of myself to even (answer it). If I did, I would have had a press conference. I would have done things that feed me. And honestly, I’m not into that.
Q: You’re supposed to be retired, but it sounds like you’re very busy. Do you ever relax?
A: My life has been pretty busy. I have a lot going on. I guess, in a way, it’s how I like it. There are times when you just want to get on a hammock and kick back and not have the phone ring. My version of resting and relaxation is not what anyone else would think. I would just soon get on a lawn mower and cut grass for four hours. I am content with that I’ve done and how I’ve done it.