Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Into the Sunset, Pt. 26: John Smoltz
Maybe it's just me, but it seems like every recently retired ballplayer is becoming a broadcaster these days.
I have to rub my eyes to make sure I'm seeing things right when guys like Pedro Martinez and Paul O'Neill pop up on TV. If you would've bet me either of those two would be in the booth one day, well, let's just say I would've lost. Big time.
Ballplayers-turned-broadcasters are a grab bag. My opinion of some once-successful ballplayers have lessened due to their awful announcing in the booth. (See: Hawk Harrelson, Joe Morgan.)
On the other hand, a few guys who might've never registered a blip on my radar have won places in my baseball world because of their knowledge of the game and enjoyable personalities as broadcasters. (See: Dan Plesac, Jim DeShaies.)
John Smoltz, I'm happy to report, belongs to the latter group. It's not that I wouldn't know who he was if he didn't become a broadcaster. It's just that I'm a little young to remember the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz tandem of the '90s. He probably means more to a lot of other fans than he ever did to me.
However, through his tenure on the MLB Network over the past couple years, I've gotten to know Smoltz as a very intelligent baseball man with a dry sense of humor that I find hilarious.
That alone has inspired me to dig for more cards of his lately.
That said, I've always known his "sunset" cards well.
Smoltz's time in the bigs had perhaps the strangest ending I've ever seen. He spent the first twenty years of his career with one team. The Braves.
Shockingly, he played for two teams in 2009, his final season in the bigs. Smoltz signed with the Red Sox at the beginning of the year, but was released in August after going 2-5 with a bloated 8.33 ERA in eight starts for them.
The Cardinals picked him up for the stretch run, where he went 1-3 with a 4.26 ERA in seven games. He received a no-decision in the lone postseason start he'd make for St. Louis that year against the Dodgers.
As you might remember, Upper Deck produced what was supposed to be an unlicensed set in 2010. For some reason, they left Smoltz out of the base checklist but gave him a spot in their "Season Biography" insert series that year. You can clearly see the Cardinals logos in that shot.
Since I don't consider inserts to be official "sunset" pieces, we have to go back to 2009 for Smoltz's Upper Deck finales.
As I mentioned in my last "sunset" post, 2009 was a dim time for Upper Deck.
Their base design that year wasn't anything special. And, to make matters worse, they went with a boring studio shot of Smoltz in his then-new Red Sox duds.
They could've at least gone with something a little more creative.
UD used another bland photo from that same session for their SP Authentic checklist.
I sure don't remember this set ever being on the shelves.
Then again, does anybody?
One photo session.
And we say Topps is lazy.
To be fair, I'm a big fan of 2009 Upper Deck OPC. It's lightyears beyond anything else UD produced that year.
And, while they may be boring, each of these three cards earn points for rare photos of Smoltz with the Red Sox.
Still, they're not true "sunset" cards.
Topps took care of that the following year.
Smoltz was shown in full Cardinals gear in 2010 Heritage. While they're impossible to read, the back of this one also features full career stats.
Would it be his best "sunset" effort?
That honor goes to Topps's standard 2010 Flagship release. What we have here is a perfectly nice shot of the soon-to-be Hall of Famer in action.
Although I doubt seeing Smoltz as a Cardinal will ever look right to me.
Even better, the back features complete and more digestible career stats as well.
Look at all those red italics. Smoltz was a perennial League Leader in about every category imaginable. Strikeouts, saves, innings pitched, you name it.
He could do it all.
I seriously hope Smoltz enjoys a long and fruitful career as a broadcaster. Lots of former ballplayers are basically talking heads in the booth, but he sure isn't.
You can learn a lot about baseball from someone like John Smoltz.