John Smoltz: Starting and Closing
By The 700 Club
“If someone told my parents that their oldest child was going to be a major league pitcher, they wouldn’t have believed it,” shares John. He is a descendant of Italian immigrants and destined to be a professional accordion player. Then when he turned seven John announced his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. His parents supported John’s dream. In 1985, he signed a contract that made him a Detroit Tiger right out of high school. He was playing Double-A ball in 1987 for Glens Falls, New York Tigers, but since things were not going well he was soon traded to the Richmond Braves, the Triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. John made his major league debut on June 23, 1988. However it wasn’t until 1989 his stats improved and he made the All-Star team. John began what would be a twenty year career with the Atlanta Braves.
A LIFE CHANGING DECISION
The year 1995 was a huge year for John. It was the one and only year that the Altanta Braves won the World Series during their fourteen year reign as division champions. Yet he says winning the World Series actually paled in comparison to the day he truly became a Christian. He was having lunch with then-Braves chaplain Walt Wiley when some questions about his faith were raised. “I thought I was walking and living my life the way God wanted me to, but it really was the way I wanted to,” recalls John. He began to realize he had only been putting up a good Christian front. Growing up in Michigan, his parents laid a good foundation for his faith. They taught him right from wrong. He went to church and Bible studies yet he would later realize he was doing it for the wrong reasons. He wanted people to like him. He wanted to do the right thing in life, but he wasn’t living his life for God. During his lunch with Walt, John realized, “There’s more to being a Christian than just harboring good intentions in your heart. So, John asked Walt, “Why can’t I live my life the way I want and then at forty years old turn it over to God?” Walt simply explained that no one knows their expiration date. John finally understood the relationship that was possible with Jesus Christ. His life was completely different after that night. He gave God control of his life, surrendered to the power of God, and was finally able to experience the peace of God. His evolution in Christianity was a process that spanned from 1988, when he first entered the big leagues, to 1995.
The year 1996 would prove to be the best year of his career. He won twenty four games and the National League’s Cy Young Award. With his new faith he was a different man inside and out. “Becoming a Christian allowed me to find peace and become the pitcher I always knew I could be. I’d always had a strong arm; now I finally had a strong faith to match,” shares John. He began attending a men’s Bible study back in 1995 and it had a major impact on his faith. He still attends the weekly Bible study today with former NFL players, former baseball players and guys like Jeff Foxworthy. They help hold one another accountable in their faith.
In his personal life John has experienced his share of setbacks. His sixteen year marriage to his wife Dyan ended in 2007. “I found myself in a circumstance I deeply regretted,” shares John. He surrounded himself with eight close friends to keep him accountable. With God’s help he was able to get through the difficult process of divorce and move forward with his life. Eighteen months later God brought Kathryn Darden in his life. They married in 2009.
Professionally, John has suffered many setbacks in his career including countless injuries and five surgeries throughout the years. Though predominantly known as a starting pitcher, John was converted to a reliever in 2001, following his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He spent four years as the team’s closer before returning to a starting role in 2005. Then in June 2008 John elected to have shoulder surgery. After twenty years with the Braves John could have walked away peacefully from his career, but he wasn’t done yet. He worked hard in rehab for five and a half months to get his body physically ready to make a comeback in his career. Meanwhile, his contract with the Braves expired at the end of the season 2008. He became a free agent in October, but still hoped he would still have a chance to sign again with the Braves. In the end, the contract the Braves offered was not even close to the offer the Red Sox gave him. Still when it didn’t work out with the Braves he remembers it was a sad, sad day. “Parting ways with the Braves obviously didn’t pan out as peacefully as I had hoped,” shares John. In 2009, he signed a one-year contract with the Boston Red Sox; however things did not go well. “Pitching for the Boston Red Sox proved to be one of the few challenges in my career that I was unable to overcome,” shares John. The Red Sox released John from his contract in August 2009.
After carefully analyzing the mechanical and mental mistakes he made in Boston, John was ready to get back in the arena. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. “To a lot of people it looked like I was about to commit career suicide,” recalls John. His mind set was different from his time in Boston. He was confident, relaxed, and comfortable. Back in 1991 John experienced the worst slump of his entire career. His manager, Bobby Cox, suggested he go and see a sports psychologist to help him regain his confidence when pitching. John agreed. He credits Bobby with saving his career. Now playing for the Cardinals he tapped into the same mental toughness when he pitched. The Cardinals lost three games in a row and the season ended earlier than expected yet John felt a sense of accomplishment despite the scoreboard proving that he still had it.
John became a free agent after the World Series, but hoped the Cardinals would renew his contract. Meanwhile, the Turner Broadcasting System approached him with an offer to join their broadcasting team. All throughout the negotiations with TBS, John was still negotiating with the Cardinals. In the end, the Cardinals decided not to renew his contract. He says maybe there was a lot of concern about his shoulder and doubts as to whether it could hold up for yet another season. John walked off the mound for the last time in 2009. In the course of a week John ended his baseball career and went right into the phase of his life – broadcaster.
HALL OF FAME
The Atlanta Braves announced they will be retiring John’s No. 29 jersey when he is inducted into the Brave’s Hall of Fame on June 8, 2012 at Turner Field. John is the only pitcher in major league history to top both 200 wins and 160 saves, and 3,000 strikeouts. John will be the ninth Braves player to have his number retired by the team joining two other pitchers who helped Atlanta win a record 14 straight division titles in the 1900s and 2000s Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. John spent 20 years of his MLB career with the Atlanta Braves. “John has contributed so much to Atlanta Braves history,” said team president John Schuerholz, who was general manager during most of Smoltz’s career. “Inducting him into our Hall of Fame and making sure no one else will ever wear his No. 29, are the most meaningful and significant ways we can honor John.”
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