I remember when the Fab Four pitching staff of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and John Smoltz ruled baseball in 1993. Spearheaded by a Cy Young season from Maddux, the four went a combined 75-33, making the Atlanta Braves the first team in the 20th Century with four 15-game winners and wrecking an otherwise stellar season for my Giants. San Francisco couldn’t have picked a worse year to go 103-59, which put them one game behind the first-place Braves in the NL West and thus kept them out of the postseason under the old format. In a sense, the Fab Four was partially responsible for the subsequent advent of the divisional playoffs.
Avery came down injured that year at 23, a victim perhaps of overuse his first few seasons, and he was never the same thereafter. However, Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz forged careers that will likely lead them all to the Hall of Fame, and for a time it seemed they might stay in the majors forever. The three continued to thrive into their forties, Maddux and Glavine reaching 300 wins and Smoltz possibly only being kept from that plateau by a career-threatening injury some years before that relegated him to the bullpen for a few seasons and cost him at least 60 wins. Age eventually caught up with each man, of course, and Maddux retired at the end of the 2008 season, while Glavine also last pitched that year before finally making his retirement official a month ago. Now, it looks like Smoltz, the final link to a bygone era in Atlanta could be calling it quits, too.
ESPN is reporting that while the 42-year-old Smoltz has yet to file retirement papers, he is joining TBS as an announcer for the upcoming baseball season. He sounded diffident about whether he wants to play again, telling the Associated Press today, “I know the question comes up: Does that mean you retired? Officially no. But in my life when I make a decision about something and I say something, my whole character is to live by it. At this point I’m not officially prepared to say I’m done. But that may not mean anything to the degree that makes me play either.”
That sounds like: I wanted a job, but no one would give it to me, and I don’t know if I really care all that much, all things considered.
Judging by Smoltz’s numbers with the St. Louis Cardinals the second half of last season, including 40 strikeouts in 38 innings, I think he could probably still come out of the bullpen for a contender, reprising that brief interlude in his career when he was a lights-out closer for the Braves. He wasn’t happy in the role and eventually returned to being a starter, before flaming out with the Boston Red Sox at the beginning of last season. I don’t know if he was insisting on another starting role for 2010 and this made teams skittish, but whatever the case may be, I’m interested to see if Smoltz is for sure done.
This hardly seems like a Fab end for him.