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