I’ll start with saying that Smoltz is one of my top 3-5 all-time Braves players. For me personally, he is the personification of the Braves run from 1991 – 2005. And until this news hit, I had no doubts that he would retire having never played for any other team in his career.
When I first heard that he had reached an agreement with the Red Sox I thought it was a negotiating ploy to force Wren to get off his ass and offer a contract. Obviously I was off base.
Then after realizing it was true, my first thought was one of anger. Anger directed not at Smoltz, but at Frank Wren (the Braves GM) and the Braves organization for not matching the offer. And this seems to be the prevailing opinion on the blogs, message boards, etc… True there is a group that are upset with Smoltz, calling him a greedy traitor (and in some cases worse).
On one hand you have a player taking more money to leave the team he’s played with for 21 years. You have a man who’s made $130 million in contracts over this career leaving for an extra $3 million. An you have an organization that had been having issue getting players (specifically a few high profile pitching targets) and some glaringly obvious holes they need to fill, letting an icon of the team go, because of $3 million.
But the more I look at it the more I don’t think this is the case. I don’t think Smoltz left because of ego or because of money. Smoltz has turned down more money in the past to stay with Atlanta. Yes he has an ego, I think all top notch athletes not only have that ego, but need it to compete at the level they do. So it’s foolish to rule out ego being a factor, but is it the primary factor?
If Smoltz has shown one thing more than any other over his career with Atlanta, it has been his competitive nature. Smoltz has shown he is a person who will do whatever he can to help his team be best able to compete. When his arm could not take the grind of 200+ IP he moved to the bullpen and became a dominate closer. When the Braves continues to lose in the post-season because they were not making it to the 9th inning with a lead for him to protect he went back to being a starting pitcher to anchor the rotation. Last season he tried both, and while his body would not allow him to push forward, he was willing to try whatever it took to put his team in a position to win games.
And yet now he is leaving, err has left, this team which he has done so much for, and people want to know why. Forgive me, but DUH; it’s obvious.
Smoltz is leaving the Braves because he is a fiercely competitive man. He wants to win anything and everything he is involved with (baseball, golf, etc). We are talking about a guy who has played with pain that would make most men run to the hospital screaming. We are talking about a guy who has undergone numerous surgeries and come back each time, many times ahead of schedule, with the same drive and intensity as before (if not more intensity).
When one considers the issues the Braves have had this off-season attracting talent (Peavy, Burnett, Furcal, etc) and you look at the roster of the Red Sox vs that of the Braves, it’s not a stretch to say that Boston has a better shot of making the post-season than does Atlanta. For a competition junkie like Smoltz, who probably has a very limited window remaining to get a second World Series ring, wouldn’t you expect him to try to give himself as godo a shot as possible to do so?
So it’s not about the money.
It’s not about the ego.
It’s about winning, and as much as it pains me to say this, Smoltz made the best choice.