Year Inducted: 2015 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 455/549)
Pitching is one of the most unnatural motions ever devised by man. And, in this era when pitchers throw with max effort, it is even more unnatural. This is why it seems like Tommy John Surgery is on the rise across baseball. Tommy John usually requires at least one full year to physically recover from, and then time for the pitcher to regain consistency in his delivery and stamina in order to become an effective pitcher. Even as routine as it seems to have become, many pitchers still fail to return to full strength and the loss of at least one season makes it difficult for them to gain the career numbers needed for induction. He won’t be the only one, but the first pitcher to have Tommy John Surgery and gain induction was Atlanta’s ace John Smoltz.
Smoltz’s surgery resulted in an interesting career arc. Smoltz began his career as a top starting pitcher, became a reliever for three years and then a top starter yet again. Smoltz led the league in wins at the ages of 29 and 39 and led in saves at 35. In Smoltz’s 22-year career, he won 213 games (against 155 losses), tossed 3473 innings and had an ERA of 3.33. He saved 154 games while being a closer, making him the only pitcher to win 200 games and save 150 (Eckersley came just a few wins shy of 200 in his career). Despite the surgery, Smoltz still managed to strike out over 3000 batters and issued slightly more than 1000 walks in his career. Opposing hitters mustered only a .233 average against Smoltz, while hitting only 288 homers off of him.
Smoltz, of course, was part of the legendary staff of the Atlanta Braves in the 1990’s along with fellow Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. Smoltz was the first to arrive in Atlanta, being called up before Glavine was after being traded for from Detroit (his hometown team) while Maddux was still in the Cubs organization. Most fans and media considered Smoltz the number three of the staff, but his career numbers (except for wins) are all superior to Glavine, but slightly below those of Maddux.
Smoltz was one of the best pitchers of all-time. Had he been healthy throughout his entire career, it’s possible that he could have even surpassed his good friend Greg Maddux. As such, he is an excellent addition to the Hall of Fame and easily one of the top 100 players in Cooperstown.
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