A Hall of Fame career conditioned John Smoltz to avoid the noise of praise and criticism from the outside world. But despite that stance, it’s quite clear Smoltz cares deeply about doing well in his work as an analyst for MLB Network on MLB Tonight and as an announcer for TBS and FOX, where he’ll be in the booth for the World Series.
When we met up with Smoltz at the MLB Network offices in late September, he explained his efforts to excel and his operating philosophy when it comes to announcing. But if you really want to see some intensity, talk to Smoltz about the analytical divide and the specialization of pitchers and how it’s damaging the game of baseball.
As a fan, what was your favorite World Series memory?
My favorite is going to be 1984. And I went to the clinching game at Tiger Stadium.
Were you in their system at that point?
I got drafted the next year. 1984 was something special. Started the year 35-5 and finished it off, which is pretty incredible. I had never seen anything like that before. And then, obviously, I knew I was close to possibly getting drafted. Then to get drafted by them, it was like a dream come true.
Any memories of announcers from back then?
You know, I remember the days of when the networks had it and they shared it. It was ABC, and then NBC, and CBS, and just being able to watch those games, whether it was Jack Buck or whether it was Al Michaels. Growing up, the Game of the Week was the biggest thing that you could do and watch. I think they had Monday Night Baseball back then, before Monday Night Football.
Today, there’s so much exposure and there’s so much opportunity to watch a game, that the game of the weeks maybe don’t have the flavor it once did, because there wasn’t so much access. Mel Allen and This Week in Baseball was something I always watched. There was a little bit more of a uniqueness to it, I guess.
How has the game changed since you retired and what’s the biggest shock that you realized after you stepped away?
Oh, gosh. That’s a great question because the game has drastically changed, it’s not even remotely close to a little bit of change. It’s a drastic change. It’s a drastic shift, that just, for the record, I don’t think can continue.
You’re talking about pitching, with the specialization?
Yeah. The injuries. The time of game. A lot of things that are taking away from the greatness of the game, that in a vacuum … individual games, it may work. But over 162 games, it may suck the life out of the fanbase … and/or the injury factor. You know, we don’t have as many superstars staying with teams. We don’t even have as many superstars in the pitching world because it is so diluted and fragmented to a specialized role.
The game from the youth level on up is almost out of control, because of how they are creating these robotic type players. We’ve never had greater athletes. We’ve never had greater bodies. But it’s not producing the results. And I don’t mean statistical results. They are not able to do what you are asking them to do. We’ve dumbed it down to such a level, that we’ve almost become fragile, yet we’re stronger, faster. We have more technology, more information. Like, it’s almost backward.
I can only imagine what the generation before me must have felt when they were watching the decline of innings. Although, not maybe as great of a decline, but the decline of innings has gone to a point where we’re going to have a hard time finding a guy to throw 200 innings in the near future.
And get 300 wins.
I’m trying to think of the equivalent if you took something away from the sport and all of a sudden NFL turned into arena football. What has always been consistent with the NFL has always been a great defense usually wins. It’s harder to outscore everybody. But if you turn the football component, like what baseball has done, you take the meat and the strength of starting pitching out of the game, you’re going to end up getting a different product.