Braves Big Three: from Atlanta to Cooperstown

But before they got together this week, the three had time to chat and hit the links last week when they were reunited at Lake Tahoe, where Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux played in a celebrity pro-am golf tournament.

Smoltz (left) joins Maddux (center) and Glavine (right) in the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, as the Braves' Big Three are reunited in Cooperstown. (AJC file photo)

“Getting together in Tahoe and playing together for the first time in 10 years, that was fun,” Smoltz said Saturday morning, when he, Maddux and Glavine played in the annual Hall of Famers’ tourney at Leatherstocking Golf Course, next to the Otesaga resort that serves as private weekend housing for the HOF’ers.

That the reunions last week and Saturday morning would involve golf seemed entirely appropriate in the case of these three guys. “Because we played so much golf together (as Braves teammates),” Smoltz said.

Their regular golf outings on road trips – Smoltz made all the arrrangements at some of North America’s finest courses – were a staple for the three pitchers, and manager Bobby Cox didn’t just give them permission, he encouraged it.

Many teams don’t allow their players, even starting pitchers who aren’t working that day, to spend much of a morning or afternoon on a golf course on game day. Cox did for the entire time that Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux were Braves. And all of them were avid and accomplished golfers, with Smoltz the best of them.

“I think it got us away from baseball, really,” Maddux said of the golf they played, every spring training and throughout the season. “I think it allowed us to (relax). It wasn’t 100 percent baseball all the time. And when we got to the park, we were ready to go. We kind of had our game plan when we left the field, and then we went and played golf and enjoyed the day and enjoyed whatever city we were in, and then when it was time, when we got between the lines, we were mentally fresh and ready to go.”

There was no question their being ready to go. The fact that all three have been elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in the past two years says all that needs to be said for how good they were at the pitching thing.

“I think the mutual respect was off the charts for what each person could do,” Smoltz said. “And the fact that you had to eat a little humble pie along the way was good for us and pushed us in a way that you’re probably not ever going to see again, in a rotation where guys stick together for 10 years. I don’t know what it would have been like if I didn’t have those guys as teammates. I learned a lot.”

Maddux said of Smoltz’s induction this weekend, “We spent half our careers together, being teammates, and it’s nice to have him join me and Glav, and maybe Chipper (Jones) down the road, as well. So, pretty special day.”

Retired Braves third baseman Chipper Jones is eligible for the Hall of Fame in the Class of 2018, and the general consensus is that he, too, will be a first-ballot selection.

“We were trying to figure out what other team could possibly have four (Hall of Famers), or five including Bobby,” Smoltz said. “I don’t know. I’m not a historian. But it’s pretty incredible.”

Cox was in the Class of 2014 along with Maddux and Glavine, Cox having been elected unanimously by the Veterans Committee. At the golf course Saturday, Cox and his Big Three pitchers were all there.

“For me and Greg to go in last year was a lot of fun,” Glavine said. “To come back and watch Smoltzy go in this year is a lot of fun as well. I’m certainly thrilled for him. As far as what he was as a pitcher, look, if you needed to win a big game, there was nobody better to put out there. He was phenomenal in those types of settings. For him to be as good as he was at two different roles, starter and closer, is pretty unique, and I think it says a lot about his ability and his mentality, that he was able do both so well.”

Though Glavine and Maddux each won more than 300 games and multiple Cy Young Awards, and Smoltz is the only pitcher in history with at least 200 wins and 150 saves – no other has even 200 wins and 100 saves – Glavine insisted he wasn’t sure they would each be elected in their first year on the ballot.

“I knew Greg would be a first ballot, that’s about it,” Glavine said. “You don’t really know how it’s all going to play out. But for all of us to be here and all of us to be first-ballot Hall of Famers is pretty cool. I know it’s something that we’re all proud of.”

Though he didn’t get the overwhelming vote totals that Maddux, who was named on 97.2 percent of ballots last year, or Glavine  (91.9 percent), Smoltz easily made it over the 75-percent requirement with 82.9 percent.

What made Smoltz so effective? The “cerebral guy” Maddux was asked about the “stuff guy” Smoltz.

“Excellent command with his fastball; he could throw a fastball down and away as good as anybody,” Maddux said. “And obviously he had one of the best, if not the best, sliders for as long as he pitched. He wasn’t afraid to compete. Awesome in the postseason. There wasn’t a pitch invented that he couldn’t throw. I mean, I’ve seen him throw a circle change, splits, knuckleballs, curves … I mean, he threw every pitch in the book, and he learned it quickly and threw it well.”

•Line of the day Saturday came from Royals legend George Brett, when asked about his thoughts on the famous Pine Tar Game, the anniversary of which was Friday.

“It brings back a lot of good memories," he said. "It really does. I mean, it wasn’t like a ground ball went through my legs and I’m remembered for that. Prior to that, I was known as the guy with the hemorrhoids in the’80 World Series. Every ondeck circle I went to, from 1980 to July 24, 1983, on the road, I heard every hemorrhoid joke you can imagine. After July 25, I was the pine tar guy. So what would rather be remembered for?”

Here's one from The Felice Brothers about Cooperstown, or at least a little bit about Cooperstown.

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About the Author

David O'Brien
David O'Brien
David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.