Smoltz excited to join Red Sox
Veteran right-hander could be ready by Opening Day if needed
BOSTON -- In a career in which John Smoltz has done virtually everything -- from winning a Cy Young Award and a World Series championship, to notching 3,000 strikeouts and having sustained dominance as both a starter and a reliever -- he finally did something new on Tuesday.
Smoltz got on a podium where he was unveiled as a prized acquisition of a new team. The last introductory news conference Smoltz could remember was when the Tigers drafted him out of high school at the age of 18.
There was clearly no pomp and circumstance back in the summer of 1987, when he was traded as a Minor Leaguer to the Atlanta Braves for Doyle Alexander.
As it turns out, Smoltz stayed in Atlanta for what seemed an eternity -- long enough to put together a resume that will likely have him in the Hall of Fame at some point.
Smoltz, 41, demonstrated boyish enthusiasm for baseball and the potential of winning again as he officially started over in a city that that matches his own intensity and passion for winning.
"What you're getting is a guy who loves to put on a uniform, loves to compete," said Smoltz. "I think the only thing that held it up was that I can't hit anymore. Obviously that's a joke. But I'm excited to be here, and certainly this city is surrounded with a ton of history and a ton of players and a ton of fans. As this week unfolded, as you well know, I've been in another city for 22 years and enjoyed every minute of it, and I certainly won't get into every detail that led me here. But what led me here is an exciting time in my career."
Sitting in virtually the same spot in a room at Fenway Park where Jim Rice was formally introduced as a Hall of Famer less than 24 hours earlier, Smoltz looked comfortable in that seat.
"Yesterday we had an announcement about a new Hall of Famer. Today, we have an exciting Red Sox announcement about a future Hall of Famer," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. "As you know, we're here to announce the signing of John Smoltz. It's a very significant day for the Red Sox to be able to add someone of his caliber and his accomplishments, and his talent, most importantly, as we look for him to make a huge impact on the organization."
Now that the signing is official -- Smoltz agreed to a one-year, $5.5 million pact that includes incentives that could bring the total to $10 million -- Epstein can be candid about the fact he was initially skeptical that this signing would occur.
For starters, Smoltz had that deeply loyal relationship with the Braves and was an institution in the city of Atlanta. There was also the fact he had extensive right labrum damage repaired on June 2, limiting Smoltz to just six games last year.
But after seeing the pitching video that Smoltz had produced and supplied to prospective suitors, the Red Sox went to Atlanta in early December to see Smoltz pitch and to get a close look at his rehabbing right shoulder.
That is when it became clear to both sides that there could be a fit.
"John threw a bullpen [session], for us the second week in December," said Epstein. "[Pitching coach] John Farrell came away from that bullpen saying that if that had been the bullpen John threw the first day of Spring Training, we would have been really pleased. That was six months after surgery. So I think that shows how far along he was and he passed our physical yesterday with flying colors."
Knowing full well that teams were scared off by his surgery, Smoltz was pleased at the initiative demonstrated by the Red Sox.
"To this organization's credit, they made everything possible from the standpoint of flying down to see me throw and putting their hands on me, and they saw what they were getting and they saw what I'm capable of doing," said Smoltz.
Though the Red Sox and Smoltz both feel he could be ready for Opening Day if it was vital, neither side wants to go in that direction.
|"They're going to have their hands on me and do everything that benefits them, and I'm going to appreciate that, especially at this time in my career."|
|-- John Smoltz|
"We're looking at the big picture here," Epstein said. "The reason we're acquiring John Smoltz is to put him in a position to get back to 100 percent and dominate at the most important times of year. For us, that works backwards from October and the stretch run and the second half of the season."
Though Smoltz admits it's going to be hard to slow down his pace, he realizes that it is best for everyone, particularly when the Red Sox already have a strong rotation in place, led by Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
"I have, over the last five surgeries, been, I guess you could say, a quick healer," Smoltz said. "I love their approach. Their approach is, 'We're going to slow you down and give us the best chance to win a championship. Whenever you're ready, you're ready.' That, to me, is the only hard part, but I can deal with that. I'm a guy that loves to compete. If I have to slow down for the benefit of this long run, then it's worth it."
When will Smoltz make his debut for the Red Sox?
"I think to try to discuss a timetable at this point, I'm going to leave it up to them," said Smoltz. "They're going to have their hands on me and do everything that benefits them, and I'm going to appreciate that, especially at this time in my career. They're surrounded by studs. For 14 straight years, I went to the playoffs. For the last three years, that was not part of my career. I'm sure it will be part of it again."
Smoltz was the National League's Cy Young Award winner in 1996, when he went 24-8. He is an eight-time All-Star.
He has a career record of 210-147 with a 3.26 ERA and 3,011 strikeouts, all of those numbers produced wearing the uniform of the Braves. Smoltz was converted to the closer role from 2001-04, and he was a dominating stopper, posting 154 saves.
How hard was it to leave Atlanta?
"It was extremely hard, but at the same time, [it was] pretty easy," Smoltz said. "I know that's an oxymoron. Everything Theo said was a lot different then where the Braves were. As I say, I'm not bitter and I'm not going to come into this situation where I feel like I'm owed anything. It's just that they were taking a different direction, and for the most part, left me with really no option."
As for the departure from the city of Atlanta, Smoltz looks at that more as a temporary separation. It is still his home, he said, mentioning how he has raised four children there.
But his new baseball home is Boston, and Smoltz is invigorated by that.
"I'm as determined and as focused as I've ever been," Smoltz said. "I certainly am welcoming this opportunity at this point in my career to play with an organization that speaks for itself, and I'm in awe of what they've done and how they've put this thing together and the opportunity that is before me."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.