Behind the photo: Smoltz in the early days

With John Smoltz going into the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend, we take a look at a photo of his early days in Atlanta. This shot comes from a game in 1989 when Smoltz was in his first full season with the Braves. Notice the baby face as Smoltz has just turned 21 and there is little or no facial hair.

Smoltz had come to the Braves in August 1987 in a trade with the Detroit Tigers and the next season was called up from the minors to Atlanta and pitched in 12 games.

But in ’89, Smoltz began to show why he might one day make Cooperstown. He made his first of eight All-Star appearances, going 12-11 in 29 starts with a 2.94 ERA on a team that lost 97 games. He would follow that up the next season, the Braves again losing 97 games, with a 14-11 record in 34 starts.

Smoltz once told me about his early years with Braves, “It was frustrating because the team was losing a lot. But a lot of us realized that the pitching was very young and we had arms like Tom Glavine and Steve Avery and Kent Mercker and others. We also knew the bats were coming. The key came in 1991 when everything came together in management and all the young players had not only matured but had already been given experience on the major league level.’’

Digging into Smoltz’s numbers it is interesting to look at a quick comparison of the other two pitchers that will go into the Hall with him. Both Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson were starters only while Smoltz also spent two-plus seasons as a closer.

Smoltz started in 481 games, going 213-155 with 3.33 ERA and 154 saves. Martinez started in 409 games, going 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA and three saves while Johnson started 603 games, went 303-166 with a 3.29 ERA and two saves.

Johnson received the highest HOF vote total of the three at 97.3 percent while Martinez finished at 91.1 and Smoltz at 82.9.

But Smoltz can always wave his postseason record in front of the other two, going 15-4 with 2.67 ERA and four saves in 41 games. Some baseball historians feel Smoltz is the best postseason pitcher in major league history.