John Smoltz: It May Not Be Over

Walt TaylorContributor IAugust 8, 2009

NEW YORK - AUGUST 6:  Manager Terry Francona of the Boston Red Sox takes the ball from pitcher John Smoltz #29 as he takes him out of the game in the fourth inning against the New York Yankees on August 6, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Red Sox 13-6.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty images)
Smoltz was so distraught after his start against the Yankees "that he burst into the clubhouse, literally ripped his jersey off his back and proclaimed, 'I'm done.'" So reports Mark Bowman for But this incident did not take place in 2009, but rather back in 2001 as Smoltz came back from Tommy John surgery. Bowman goes on to say: "Two months later, he began a record-setting stint as the Braves' closer."

Smoltz had his elbow surgery in the spring of 2000 and sat out the entire season. The next year he started five games before going to the bullpen where he had 10 saves. For the year he pitched a total of 59 innings. For the next three years coming strictly out of the bullpen Smoltz threw, 80.1, 64.1 and 81.2 innings with save totals of 55, 45, 44 games. He then went back and had three good years as a starter before his shoulder failed him.

It is not unusual for an athlete to take more than a year to come back completely from major surgery. It is also not unusual for a player to want rush his comeback; he wants to get back to doing what he does best. The team needs to be the voice of reason, but the Red Sox are in a pennant race, they paid Smoltz a lot of money and they want a return on their investment. It was unreasonable to expect a 41-year-old man a year away from major shoulder surgery to go out and throw five or more innings each appearance.

If Smoltz wants to keep playing he needs to go back to the bullpen where he is throwing one or two innings each appearance. He may have to be a set-up man for a while until his shoulder gets back to 100 percent. The question is does Smoltz want to do that. After being a star for so long does he want to hang on now with the hope that the shoulder comes back before old age catches up to him. I don't know what he would decide, but I hope someone gives him the chance to make the choice.