The John Smoltz Rule and Lars Launches At Last

I don’t have a vote, but in my opinion, John Smoltz is a no-doubt Hall of Famer.

 

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

He’s the only pitcher in big league history with at least 200 wins and 150 saves, as Smoltz finished his 21-year career with a 213-155 record, 154 saves, and a 3.33 ERA.  He ranks 18th all-time in strikeouts (3,084), won a Cy Young Award in 1996, earned eight All-Star selections, and was one of the most dominant post-season pitchers in history, going 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA. 

If that’s not enough, Smoltz also was personally responsible for a change in minor league policy while pitching for the Pawtucket Red Sox in his final professional season.

In 2009, the Boston Red Sox signed Smoltz hoping that he could rebound from shoulder surgery and give their rotation a boost in the second half of the season.  The former Atlanta Braves ace made his first minor league rehab start at Single-A Greenville in late May, and reached Pawtucket  on June 6th, where 12,299 fans turned out at McCoy Stadium to see what was left in his 42-year-old arm.

But there was serious behind-the-scenes drama before Smoltz made it to the mound that night against the Durham Bulls.

John arrived at McCoy Stadium carrying boxes of major league baseballs and notified the PawSox that he wanted to use them instead of the International League ball.  That led to a flurry of phone calls between the PawSox, Boston Red Sox, Durham Bulls, umpires, and International League President Randy Mobley who was not in favor of giving Smoltz preferential treatment.

“It’s my position that everyone playing the game should be using the same equipment,” Mobley said.  “If you’re using two different baseballs, even though they have the same specifications it simply goes against my grain and what I believe my responsibility is to uphold the integrity of the game.”

Consider the can of worms that would be opened if Smoltz were allowed to use major league baseballs.  Should pitchers from the other team be allowed to use them?  What if any of the hitters objected?  But after considering all opinions, Mobley reluctantly agreed to allow it.    

“Teams at the Triple-A level want to accommodate the major league rehabbing players as much as they possibly can,” Mobley said.  “I’m a little bit out there on my own on this issue, but for lack of a better term, ‘It is what it is.’”

Major league baseballs are more expensive than International League balls by $40 a dozen, but aside from the price, there does not appear to be much of a difference.

“In speaking with the Rawlings folks, they tell me that they’re made to the same specifications,” Mobley said.  “It’s also my understanding that in the winding process, one of the yarns might be a little bit different.  Some maintain that the seams on one ball are a little higher than the seams on the other ball.  They’re made in two different plants, but in essence they are the same.” 

 

(Photo courtesy of Tom Perreira)

That night, Smoltz threw 6 innings of 1-hit, 1-run baseball in a win over Durham, and in 3 rehab starts for Pawtucket, he went 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA.  Unfortunately, he was a disaster after being promoted to Boston, going 2-5 with an 8.33 ERA in 8 starts before being released.  John finished the 2009 season – and his career – with St. Louis, going 1-3 with a 4.26 ERA.

The poor finish didn’t tarnish a great career, but Mobley admits that his opinion of Smoltz was impacted by John’s insistence on using major league balls in a minor league game.

“I was disappointed that it was as important to him as it obviously was,” Mobley said.  “To me, it seems that when you take that position, you think that you’re a little bit different than somebody else.  If you take that another step, you think that you’re a little bit better than somebody else if you deserve special accommodations.  I don’t think there is any question that he is probably a Hall of Famer, but from the chair that I sit in, I certainly respect that but I’m not sure that I should treat him any differently on the field than anybody else.”

Following the 2009 season, minor league baseball and the MLB Commissioner’s Office came to an agreement on what should be called “The John Smoltz Rule.”  It stipulates that a pitcher can use the major league ball while on a rehab assignment in a minor league game.  Other pitchers in the same game are not permitted to use the MLB ball.

That leaves an obvious question:  What about rehabbing hitters?  Have any requested having the opportunity to hit the major league ball?

“No, I have not experienced that one yet,” Mobley said.  “But that was one of the scenarios that I laid out there when arguing that we should not go this route.  That might be what we see next, but fortunately to this point, we have not.”

* * * * *

After back-to-back rainouts, the PawSox were able to get in a doubleheader in Columbus on Wednesday night. Pawtucket won the first game 7-2, before the Clippers earned a split by beating the PawSox in the nightcap, 8-3.

The good news for the PawSox is that Lars Anderson’s home run drought ended after 127 at-bats as he belted a 3-run opposite field HR in the opener.

 

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

I’ve been saying for weeks that once Lars “got off the schneid” and hit his first HR, he would probably hit several in a short period of time.  After his home run in Wednesday’s opener, I tweeted the following:

“Lars Anderson leads the IL in walks and has a .403 OBP, but hasn’t hit for power yet this year. I bet he hits a few HR this week.”

 I don’t claim to be Nostradamus, but sure enough, Anderson drilled a towering HR to right field in his first at-bat of the nightcap. 

The timing was good since his close pal Ryan Kalish was in the dugout to greet him after both home runs.  Kalish left Columbus for Ft. Myers on Thursday morning to intensify rehab on his injured left shoulder.  Ryan told me that he still hopes to play this year.  It’s been 28 days since the injury.  His original goal was to return to action in one month.

The PawSox face Columbus again on Thursday night at 6:35.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:20 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

2 Comments

Could return to Pawtucket if he clears waivers (Wednesday at earliest). We’ll have to wait and see.

Damn! Seriously? I wish I’d known about this last year when I was putting the finishing touches on what is now my new book — “The Baseball.”

Very interesting. Thanks for telling this story.

-Zack

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