STATELINE, Nev. -- They encouraged and needled one another just like they did more than a dozen years ago while arming the Atlanta Braves with not one, not two, but three aces.
Former Atlanta Braves pitchers John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux stirred memories of one of Major League Baseball’s most dominant and successful starting rotations when they were grouped together during the opening round of the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament on Friday. Fittingly, the three aces played their first round of golf collectively in 10 years in a gaming town near Lake Tahoe.
“It’s been a while because the last five years of my career, I didn’t play with Tommy and Greg,” Smoltz said. “I played with them individually, not collectively like we used to, so it’s quite longer than we would have imagined.
“We have a trip to Scotland planned next year to reunite what we always wanted to be as a fun moment in time together.”
The 18-hole round gave the retired pitchers the opportunity to reminisce and celebrate Smoltz’s impending Baseball Hall of Fame induction.
“It was fun,” Glavine said. “We were talking on the first hole, trying to remember the last time we all played together. Needless to say, we did a lot of golfing when we played, got to play some great golf courses and had a ton of fun over the years.
“I’m convinced for all of us that it helped our longevity because it gave us a release from the game of baseball, which can be a grind.”
The induction ceremonies take place July 25 in Cooperstown, New York. Smoltz follows Glavine and Maddux, who were voted into the Hall of Fame a year earlier.
“The reality still hasn’t sunk in,” Smoltz said. “I’m thrilled, I’m honored and I’m blown away, but until I get there, I don’t know how I can imagine what it is going to be like.”
Smoltz spent 20 of his 21 major league seasons in Atlanta, winning 213 games and recording 154 saves. He is the only pitcher to earn more than 200 victories and save more than 150 games. In the postseason, Smoltz was even more difficult to defeat. He won 15 of 19 decisions with a 2.67 ERA in 14 postseasons.
A “good” fastball, “excellent” slider, the skill to command those pitches and the desire to be good separated Smoltz from other pitchers, Maddux said.
“He had great stuff, and he pitched good, and when you combine that, that’s what you get,” Maddux said.
Smoltz’s best season came in 1996 when he posted a 24-6 record and 2.94 ERA to win the NL Cy Young Award.
“That was the healthiest I’ve been, and winning the Cy Young obviously got me to check in with the boys,” he said. “It was a year where you dream that you are going to have everything go your way. To win 24 games is mind-boggling when I never won 20.”
Switch-hitting Vince Coleman took his share of cuts against Smoltz as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in the late 1980s and with the New York Mets in the early 1990s.
“He was a great competitor and deserves being in the Hall of Fame,” Coleman said. “We knew when you went into Atlanta, you had a battle against your hands. We weren’t home run hitters, so we just put the ball in play and tried to get on base and steal bases.”
Glavine pitched for the Braves from 1987 through 2002, then continued his career with the New York Mets before returning to the Braves for one season. The five-time 20-game winner won two Cy Young Awards and is only one of six left-handers to win 300 games.
After launching his major league career with the Chicago Cubs, Maddux joined the Braves in 1993 and delighted Braves fans with his pinpoint control, gold glove and a landslide of victories. Maddux was the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award four years in a row and is the only pitcher to win at least 15 games for 17 straight seasons. He finished with a 355-227 career record.
Smoltz joined the Braves in 1988 when the Detroit Tigers dealt the Michigan native for pitcher Doyle Alexander.
“It was disappointing because I thought it was one of those things where I was not wanted and having a bad year, then I realized how incredible the opportunity would be to pitch at a young age in the big leagues,” Smoltz said. “Having gone through that trade and seeing what it did for me personally, it was unbelievable.”
Smoltz became a staple in the Braves’ starting rotation until 2000 when he needed Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. When Smoltz returned in 2001, the Braves moved him to the bullpen, where he thrived as a closer for the next four seasons.
He delivered 154 saves through 2004, then returned to the Braves’ starting rotation, winning 44 games from 2005-07.
“It was a mindset,” Smoltz said. “I knew with my body what I could and couldn’t do. I think you need to know when you can trust your body and believe in a mindset that will work out. I did it for 14 years prior, so I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t do it again.”
Between starts, Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux mesmerized one another with their performances on the mound.
“We enjoyed watching each other pitch,” Maddux said. “Everyone did it their own way, but we enjoyed watching the guys do it their way, and we all got along. We were really teammates and pulled for one another.”
So, which one of three could still pitch a few innings in the majors? Smoltz didn’t hesitate in nominating Maddux.
“Me and Glavine, our arms are shot,” Smoltz said.