From the Windup: Will Trevor Hoffman or John Smoltz Look More Out of Place in '09?
From the Windup is FanHouse's extended look at a particular portion of America's pastime.
John Smoltz and Trevor Hoffman both changed teams this week, for the first time in 36 combined seasons -- if we can politely ignore those 28 games Hoffman threw for the Marlins in 1993 as a bushy-tailed rookie. They have combined for 1,610 appearances in their respective uniforms over that time, and are each a large chunk of their franchise's history. Both are headed to the Hall of Fame, being bronzed in a cap they won't sport in 2009.
If you can even find a way to picture Trevor Hoffman wearing a Brewers uniform, or John Smoltz wearing Red Sox gear, you still have to believe they look a bit odd. The question is, which one is going to look more like the proverbial sore thumb this season?
He went to eight All-Star games as a Brave. He won 210 games and saved another 154. He finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting five times, and won the award once. He compiled 3,011 strikeouts, while only having a below-average ERA one time -- his rookie year, in which he only made 12 appearances.
Smoltz became a nationwide sports icon as part of the Braves' famed three-headed starting pitching monster, along with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. Between the three of them, they dominated the National League throughout the 1990s, as the three combined to take home all but one Cy Young between 1991 and 1998 (Pedro Martinez won in '97). They were the foundation of the Braves during their run of 14 straight division titles. Smoltz himself appeared in 24 different postseason series.
In those playoff games, Smoltz put together an absolutely stellar resume of success. He went 15-4 with a 2.65 ERA and four saves in 40 appearances. He was the youngster who valiantly fought against the feared veteran, Jack Morris, when nine innings weren't enough for either team to score a run in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. He was the grizzled veteran who willed the Braves to victory over the Astros in Game 4 of the 2004 NLDS.
If you go to the Braves' franchise records, which date all way back into the 1870s, you'll find Smoltz's name peppered throughout the pitching boards. He's fifth in wins, even though he spent a few years as one of the most dominant closers in baseball. He's fifth in innings pitched, fifth in K:BB ratio, sixth in adjusted ERA, and seventh in WHIP. He leaves the Braves with the most career strikeouts and saves in franchise history.
Through it all, the things that looked most familiar on Smoltz were his beard and a Braves uniform.
As a Padre -- which is hilarious because that literally means "as a father" -- Hoffman compiled an absolutely insane resume. He has saved a major league record 554 games in his career, and he's done it rather quickly, considering he's really only been a full-time closer for 13 full seasons. He's donned San Diego colors in six different All-Star games, and finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting four times.
You could always count on Hoffman to screw hitters into the ground with an absolutely devastating changeup. I can tell you from personal experience that a really great changeup is the most difficult pitch to hit with regular success. It won't miss bats nearly as often as a split-finger fastball, a blazing fastball, or a hard slider, but there is no pitch more frustrating. You feel like you're timing the swing perfectly, and -- next thing you know -- you are watching an infield popup or weak ground ball. Hoffman is a master of setting it up and finishing people off with this pitch, and the hitters have never been able to figure him out. Due to his perfecting of this pitch, he's only allowed 762 hits in 988 innings. His command has also been impeccable, helping to build a career WHIP of 1.05.
Hoffman played in the postseason four times for the Padres, and helped lead them to the World Series in easily his best season -- 1998, when he saved 53 games and sported a 1.48 ERA. It was during this World Series run when the nation as a whole caught an extended glimpse of what Padres fans already loved. When the Padres have a lead going into the ninth, you would brace yourself for the bells. That's right, you waited in anticipation to hear the "BONG ... BONG ... BONG," followed by AC/DC's "Hell's Bells," filling the October air. It wasn't quite Wild Thing, but it was still really exciting. Personally, I always hoped the bells were the intro to "For Whom the Bell Tolls," but I'm a Metallica fan.
Through it all, the things that looked most familiar on Hoffman were the obscenely high leg kick and the Padres uniform, with "Hell's Bells" blaring in the background.
Smoltz is going to look far more out of place, especially since he's switching leagues and joining the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. He's been a prominent part of so many more postseason games and big moments. Sure, he doesn't have the signature entrance music like Hoffman, but he's a bit more recognized nationally.
I firmly believe the transition will be easier on us baseball fans if Smoltz would shave. It's a clean slate, so it's also time to go cleanshaven.
For Hoffman, please don't take the Bells to Milwaukee. If you do, use Metallica instead.