When John Smoltz was inducted into the Hall of Fame this past weekend, it was the culmination of a couple different paths. Not only was Smoltz a top-notch starter for the Atlanta Braves, his team for 20 of his 22 years in the majors, he also had a stint as a closer and was pretty successful in that genre. Smoltz’s career equals that of another Hall of Famer, Dennis Eckersley, who began his career as a starter but then turned into one of the greatest closers of all time. In fact, Eckersley even pitched a no-hitter for the Chicago Cubs in 1977.
Meanwhile, Smoltz started his career in 1988 and was a starter for 12 years. He missed the entire 2000 season with an injury. When Smoltz reported to Spring Training in 2001, the Braves decided to turn him into a closer, a spot he held for five seasons. In fact, Smoltz saved 55 of 59 games in 2002; at the time, that was second all-time for a single season.
In 2005, the Braves turned Smoltz back into a starter where he won 47 more games before finally leaving the Braves for a brief, eight-game stint in the American League with the Boston Red Sox, in 2009. He wound up with the St. Louis Cardinals for a stretch run and finally retired at the end of the season.
Smoltz won his only World Series ring in 1995 and followed that up with a Cy Young award in 1996, winning 24 games (the only time he won at least 20 games in his career). Smoltz was an All Star eight times and was named MVP of the 1992 National League Championship series.
Every so often, someone will post a list of the most lopsided trades in major league baseball history. Since I am still a die-hard Detroit Tigers list, the trade of Smoltz to Atlanta in 1987 for veteran Doyle Alexander, tops my list of all-time trade blunders. Mind you, Alexander did go 9-0 in the 1987 stretch drive and get the Tigers into the LCS, Detroit was bounced out by the Minnesota Twins in five games and Alexander only went 20-29 in his final two years in the big leagues. Smoltz went on to have a Hall of Fame career.
For a pitcher who won 213 games and saved 154 more, John Smoltz is truly one of the best all-time starters…er, relievers…er, pitchers!