His best season was 1996, when he went 24-8 with a 2.94 ERA and won the NL Cy Young Award. But he is remembered more for his conversion from starter to closer in 2001, a move that was designed to relieve the stress on his elbow coming off major surgery. He wound up becoming one of the top relievers in the game, with a franchise-record 55 saves in his first full season handling the role.
Then, he moved back to the starting rotation, going 44-24 over three seasons before persistent injuries finally ended his career.
“I was not the strongest and I was not the fastest,” Smoltz said. “But I was the most determined and the most dedicated. I always thought of myself as the most competitive guy on the field.”
Smoltz finished a career record of 213-155, 154 saves and a 3.33 ERA, numbers that might be good enough to land him an even bigger honor — induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.
“John has contributed so much to Atlanta Braves history,” said team President John Schuerholz, who was general manager during most of Smoltz’s career. “Inducting him into our Hall of Fame and making sure no one else will ever wear his number 29, are the most meaningful and significant ways we can honor John.”