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The Atlanta Braves Retire The Big Three - 31, 47 and finally 29 (Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz)

Updated on December 14, 2016
Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.


John Smoltz Number 29 finally retired - and now in the Hall of Fame

Usually no one likes coming in third, especially athletes who are hotwired to want to be first, to come in ahead of the competition, to be the one name mentioned. “When you’re number two you try harder.” How many times have we heard that saying? Well, what does it say about someone when they are always the third name in the series? For John Smoltz, it says a whole lot.

It will go down in the record books as probably the best rotation in baseball. Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. The three starting pitchers who dominated the game of baseball in the 1990s. The three pitchers who led their team, the Atlanta Braves, to more division titles (14) than any ball club in the majors – ever – the longest streak in any sport. Maddux was the brains, outsmarting batters. Glavine was the artist, painting the outside corner with the stroke of the old masters. Smoltz was the heat, with a mid-nineties fastball and slider that would have put his name first on any roster other than the Braves in that golden decade.

With that heat came a well-hidden temper few saw other than his manager, Bobby Cox.

“Not many people know John was the most stubborn pitcher I ever managed,” Cox told the Atlanta Journal on the occasion of retiring Number 29. “I’d head out to the mound late in the eighth inning and John would say, 'Bobby I’m pitching in the ninth. Tell Leo (pitching coach Mazzone) to stop counting the dang pitches.'"

Maybe it was the red-headed stepchild coming out in him after all.

Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz.

Maddux is the winningest pitcher in baseball history since Kid Nichols who last played in 1906. With 355 wins in the record books, he was the first in major league history to win the Cy Young Award four years in a row. The Braves retired his Number 31 in July 2009.

Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz.

Tom Glavine had the most wins in the National League ever, except for Maddux. He once said he would be the answer to the baseball trivia question: Who was the last pitcher to win the Cy Young before Greg Maddux started winning them? But it’s Tom who will forever be remembered as the winning pitcher in the Atlanta Braves’ only World Series Championship Game in 1995.

Then comes Smoltz, the only Braves player who played through the whole 14-year division title streak beginning in 1991. "For the guys who have been through it, when we're done playing, it will be one of the most incredible streaks in sports history," said Smoltz who pitched the complete game cinching the worst to first win for that first division title of the streak.

A Cy Young winner in 1996, John was the only one of the trinity to take the mound as both a starter and a reliever. He is the only pitcher in major league history with both 200 wins and 150 saves. In 2001, after Tommy John surgery, which some call medicine and some call miracle, Smoltz took on the role of closer. In 2002 he became only the second pitcher in history to have both a 20-win season and a 50-save season. In all, Smoltz spent four years making batters cringe when they stepped up to the plate in the late innings of any game against the Braves. Having to face a pitcher - already known as one of the games’ best starters - at the end of a tight game was a situation most players would say there ought to be a law against.

"Every time he went to the mound there was always a chance of a no-hitter," said Maddux, who for all his records, never threw one. "You never knew how he was going to do it, but you knew he was going to pitch good."

On July 15, 2005, Smoltz and Glavine faced each other for the first time on opposing teams, Smoltz still with the Braves and Glavine with the Mets.

"The first time I actually had to bat against him, I know I smiled," Glavine said. "How do you not? It's your friend. He's my best friend in the game. The second time, it was all business."

With so vast a list of records assembled by these three future hall of famers, only Smoltz holds the record for most postseason strikeouts, 199. The argument could be made if the other two had come close to that number the Braves might boast more than one World Series for all those division titles.

Baseball columnist Jeff Schultz wrote, “When Smoltz goes to Cooperstown one day, it won’t be merely talent that got him there – it will because of everything he overcame.”

-including always being the name that comes after Maddux and Glavine. .

Note: July 25, 2014 - Maddux, Glavine and Cox inducted into the Hall of Fame.

July 19, 2015 - Smoltz inducted into the Hall of Fame.

All four were voted in during their first year of eligibility.


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    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      November 25, 2014 --- Smoltz on the ballot!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      And the first two are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame -Maddux with the most votes in two generations - followed closely, as usual, by Glavine. (The one voter who held out against Maddux said he wasn't voting for any player in "the steroid era" even though Maddux and steroids was never spoken in the same article, much less sentence.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Grandchildren do that for you! This was the golden era of Braves Baseball - without a doubt. It was fun to watch and fun to write about. Would love to see all three back in Braves uniforms as coaches. We'll see. Thanks.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Not that much of a baseball fan -- although that will be changing now that I have a grandson playing baseball -- but this was a very interesting and well-written look at the end of an era for the Atlanta Braves. :)

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      John: Woner who you might be talking about! Thanks for commenting.

      teaches12345: Thanks. Always good to hear from another fan. The Reds have had some folks worth writing about too!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      This is perfect for this time of year. Baseball heroes are a great read. I used to go to see the Cincinnati Reds with my hubby quite often. Miss being able to see a good baseball game. Interesting hub!

    • profile image

      John Collins 5 years ago

      Good stuff Kathleen. You know almost as much about the Braves as a lady I know. Well written. Thanks

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      You are most welcome billybuc. Gonna have to follow the Bravers better these days if I'm going to generate many more baseball hubs. Thanks for the read and the comments.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      What a great, great pitching staff that was. Three warhorses who wouldn't give in an inch while on the mound. Thanks for a great look back.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      ruprect: I know. I hate to keep looking back, but there's nothing to compare to in today's baseball. Thanks for commenting.

    • ruprect profile image

      ruprect 5 years ago

      That sure was a great pitching staff.