By any measure, John Smoltz’s twenty-two-year professional career was remarkable. A Cy Young winner and eight-time All-Star, Smoltz is the most recent pitcher to join the 3,000 strikeout club and the only one ever to top both 200 wins and 150 saves. Yet on his way into the record books (and likely the Hall of Fame), his career nearly ended more than once.
After Tommy John surgery in 2000, Smoltz persuaded a skeptical Bobby Cox to send him to the minors for rehab as a reliever. He came back to Atlanta and spent four years as a closer, only to make an even more improbable return to the starting rotation. When his beloved Braves finally let him go in 2009, he had a short, disappointing run with the Boston Red Sox. Coming back to Atlanta that August, he writes, felt like “being sent home in a coffin with a toe tag.” Still, before the month was out, he would take the mound again, for the St. Louis Cardinals—throwing a debut five shutout innings against the Padres and pitching in the Cards’ postseason.
Smoltz shares these lessons of perseverance in his first book, "Starting and Closing." Not a complete autobiography, the book traces his career and touches on his childhood through the lens of his erratic final season, 2009. By his own admission, if the book had been about his ego, Smoltz would’ve chosen 1996—the year he went 24–8 and pitched in the World Series. Smoltz might be pitching still if Turner Broadcasting hadn’t tapped him to join its broadcast team in 2010.
Today Smoltz works with many nonprofits, including King’s Ridge Christian School, an Alpharetta college preparatory school that Smoltz helped found in 2001. A scratch golfer, he’s rumored to be mulling the Champions Tour when he turns fifty in 2017.
In this excerpt, Smoltz explains what it was like to face so much anguish in the postseason. —Betsy Riley