John Smoltz Interview - Part Two

The Atlanta Braves will have a familiar face in its starting rotation in 2005 as John Smoltz will be back where he made a name for himself in the 1990's. BravesCenter's Bill Shanks talked at length with Smoltz about the pending move back to the rotation and other topics. Here's part two of the interview.

SHANKS: Last year genuinely shocked you didn't it?

SMOLTZ: Oh no doubt. I don't know what's wrong when someone asks you a question and you say, "I just don't think we're good enough." People got on me and say, "Well how can he say that?" Well I didn't think we were good enough. Yet we overachieved and overcame a lot. What people don't want to hear is you rate us in the eight playoff teams last year and we're going to come up eighth every time position by position, and yet we were one game away from advancing. I don't think there was any way we could have beaten St. Louis but everybody felt that we let the city down again cause we lost game five at home and they locked it in with years past. Well you couldn't do it this time because this team had no chance. We gave ourselves a chance by the way we played. We ran out of gas. We had no more pitching. When your closer has as many innings as any starter going into game five what are you going to do? It was just an amazing year and it lends to believe that in any circumstance we can do it again and not give in to the naysayers about we still haven't really done anything. I mean think about it if the rules were made that you couldn't make many trades after the All-Star Break, which we hardly ever do, we're always left with predominantly the same team. And everybody else reconstructs late and makes their team that much better and basically can mortgage the future. We, with the exception of our trades, haven't made that many of them where we mortgage the future. I believe that we could have won another world championship easy, but we definitely wouldn't have been to all of those playoffs. I don't see how we could have. We should have won 96 so I already count that. We could have won in some of those other years where if we just could have picked up a player or two like the Chicago Cubs did when they changed their whole team and beat us and like the Florida Marlins did when they changed their whole team and beat us…you keep going.

SHANKS: It's kind of a tricky offseason with Francoeur and Marte almost ready.

SMOLTZ: See that's kind of the frustrating thing on my end and I don't begrudge what I did but I made a tremendous amount of concessions to stay here and at the time you were under the impression that the payroll was going to stay. Now all of a sudden it looks like Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, and Andruw Jones are the reasons why we can't go out and get anybody. Well that's unfair and that's not true. When the deals were signed, the payroll was at X amount and was looking like it was going to stay there. So now once it shrinks and you've got the three-headed monster out there, and now you've got Hampton getting closer to where we're going to have to take on more, now all of a sudden it looks…but I'm excited to be apart of this for the next three years. As I said two years ago, there's not going to be any white flag waiving on my part or anybody else who wears a uniform in my clubhouse. That's the way Bobby runs our ship and regardless of what lineup we have or what team we field, we believe that anything is possible.

SHANKS: What's going to be fun for your going back into the rotation?

SMOLTZ: I just can't wait to work on all areas of pitching, whether it be bunting, hitting, base running, and all the things I've missed for all this time. I'm a guy that thinks I will do it, not what if…and I'll find a way. Whether it's throwing everything I've ever learned, sidearm, you name it...I'm going to bring it out. I think the one thing that will be anticipated for me from the standpoint of being off so long is now I have to think in terms of winning a baseball game. I haven't had to think like that for a while. So that'll be fun again.

SHANKS: Can you be more of a leader as a starter than you were as a closer?

SMOLTZ: Without a doubt. I mean it's like night and day.

SHANKS: Was that part of your frustration too?

SMOLTZ: Yea. You're just limited. It's not that you're a second-rate citizen, but almost. A reliever is a totally different part of your club. It's totally different. As a starter, you have the ability to be there, rally guys, pick guys up, and do whatever. I mean you've got four stress free days so why not use it the best way you can. I did it as much as I could as a closer but you've got to go to your area. So I've learned a lot from that experience. I'm glad I did it, but I'm glad I'm going back. I could go 1-20 and that's not going to change and make me say, "Well I wish I wouldn't have move back." This is something that if people really knew how bad…it's kind of hard. You know I did myself in with the success I had as a closer. But where did it get us?

SHANKS: But it was more than just frustration. It was almost painful for you to not be in that role as a starter, wasn't it?

SMOLTZ: Very much so. I just know how important it is to have a guy that steps on the mound and your team goes, "Ok we're getting 100% effort here. We got a good chance to win. This is the guy that is going to stop the streak or continue it or whatever"…and especially for the playoffs. We may not get to the playoffs. It's a different team. But I just felt for the value and the assets that I had that you're going to get so much more out of me as a starter than you will as a closer. You can't do anything as a closer unless you're given the opportunity. We all saw in the first half with like nine saves how much value I really had. Then in the second half it really showed because I pitched almost every eighth and ninth inning. But some people have the philosophy that you use lesser players to get to your best players. I say use your best players to get to your lesser players if that's what it takes. That's like keeping the MVP on the bench and saying, "Well you've always got him to come off the bench." What if he's not a factor? The personality…everything meshes well with this role. I've worked hard. This is the other thing that bothers me a little bit. I've worked so hard at this it's like why can't I do what I really want to do.

SHANKS: Do you think it was more of just skepticism that your arm couldn't hold up?

SMOLTZ: I don't blame them. I showed that my arm was healthy the last month of the (2001) season when they fell in love with me doing that role. If you remember I saved ten out of eleven games. They took Karsay, who was the closer, and I moved ahead of him and saved the playoff games. I didn't pitch in any meaningful games against the Arizona Diamondbacks but my arm was healthy then. It wasn't healthy early on (in 2001) because as a starter things didn't work out. But my arm was healthy then (late in 2001). And it's either healthy or it's not. You don't pitch as a closer if it's not healthy, especially with the amount of times I got used. I can't imagine with no experience anybody ever pitching that many games ever. Then I got hurt. People don't realize that the second year (2002) I had 41 saves on July 31st. And I missed the next forty games and ended up with 45.

If I was selfish I all I cared about was that I was going to get paid the same amount regardless of what I did I would just sit around and pitch 60 or 70 games a year and it would be no big thing. But that's not what I'm about.

SHANKS: I interviewed Chipper a few weeks ago and he talked about how he was now back at home at third base. And I thought of you knowing that you had the passion to get back home to where you believed you wanted to do.

SMOLTZ: I haven't started a game in five years. But I still have the most postseason wins. So I just think people think I'm crazy…but I just think I'm going to win twenty games. I just believe that a good part of my career has been shadowed by a lot of injuries and nobody knows half the things that I've had to deal with. It's made me a better pitcher. I think it's going to make me a better pitcher. But age is perspective. You think anybody talks about Randy Johnson's age now? Roger Clemens? Now all of a sudden I became old because I had some surgeries and people were concerned about me being able to make it.

Bill Shanks can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com

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