By Dan Schlossberg
When John Smoltz wasn’t pitching, he was either playing golf or concocting some form of prank to pull on his favorite targets: long-time Atlanta rotation cohorts Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
He said as much before, during and after his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame this past July.
Enshrined along with fellow pitchers Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, plus versatile position player Craig Biggio, Smoltz brought his zany sense of humor to the party.
A spectator last summer, when he covered the induction of Maddux and Glavine for MLB Network, Smoltz promised to get even with his golfing buddies for their public comments about his hair – or lack of it.
He revealed before arriving in Cooperstown that his comments about his two famous teammates were the easiest part of his speech. Then he surprised the huge throng at the Clark Sports Center by pulling out a black wig and placing it on top of his bald pate.
A day later, during the Legends Roundtable at Doubleday Field, Smoltz said he once irritated Glavine by using masking tape to make arrows leading from his locker to the dugout seat he invariably occupied. “He didn’t talk to me for a week,” Smoltz laughed.
On the other hand, Smoltz said, the two star pitchers once helped him locate his missing black book – a book important to Smoltz not because it contained information on admiring female fans but information on golf courses, caddies and fees.
He referred to himself as “the golf concierge of the Atlanta Braves,” the person who arranged the dates and tee times.
On the four occasions that Smoltz talked contracts as a free agent, he told suitors that he wouldn’t even listen to their offers unless they included free rein to play golf. “If you weren’t going to let me play golf on my day off, I wasn’t going to play for your team,” he said.
In his book Starting and Closing, Smoltz recounted hysterical tales from the links, including one that involved Steve Avery and a flock of cranes in Florida.
Describing his sense of humor, Smoltz called it “a cross between Forest Gump and Dumb and Dumber.”
The day before his induction, he said he had a trick up his sleeve for Maddux but said he would not antagonize Chipper Jones, another long-time teammate who is ticketed for the Cooperstown Class of 2018. “He’s going to have the mic last,” Smoltz explained to a group of writers.
The man who won 24 games one season had 55 saves in another admitted that he admired Dale Murphy, who won consecutive MVP awards without winning a spot in the Hall of Fame gallery. “He exceeded what I thought he was going to be like,” Smoltz said. “Being half of that person was what I had hoped to be.”
The only man with at least 200 wins and 150 saves, Smoltz won a World Series ring and Cy Young Award in consecutive seasons (1995-96). Yet he started his career near his Lansing, Mich., home.
Needing veteran pitching for a pennant race, the Tigers swapped the little-known Smoltz for Doyle Alexander. For one year, Detroit held the advantage. But then Smoltz took over.
The only player with the Braves for their entire 14-year streak of division titles, Smoltz always kept things loose – at home or on the road.
When the team arrived in the middle of the night at a new hotel, he called a teammate, put on a decent British accent, and asked whether he could call him a cab. When the player said yes, Smoltz said, “OK, you’re a cab.”
On the podium with nearly 50 incumbent Hall of Famers, Smoltz tried to keep his wit under control. “I wanted to spare (comedian) Jeff Foxworthy and not tell any of my corny jokes,” said Smoltz, the son of accordion players who supported his quest to play baseball for a living.
He did manage to thank his family, coaches and teammates – including Andruw Jones, who won 10 straight Gold Gloves for his work as Atlanta’s center fielder. Smoltz also thanked Tommy John, whose phone call of encouragement convinced the Braves pitcher to proceed with the elbow operation.
“I was going to retire,” he said. “I didn’t think anybody would wait for me. I was hoping to keep pitching by throwing all knuckleballs, but knew I was done when I couldn’t lift a fork.”
Smoltz said the call from John, who pitched 11 seasons after his own surgery, was one of three significant phone messages he received in his career. The others, he said, were the calls from the Tigers, telling him he had been drafted, and from the baseball writers, telling him he had been elected to the Hall of Fame.
“If I hadn’t had those guys as teammates,” he said of Maddux and Glavine, “I don’t think I would have played as long. I learned a lot from them over the years. We played as if we were always going to be together.”
Now they are. In Cooperstown’s gallery of immortals.
SCD columnist Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is an author, speaker, and former AP sportswriter. His e-mail address is email@example.com.