Hall of Fame Ceremony: John Smoltz’s Speech Transcript

John Smoltz pitched from 1988 to 2009, all but the 2009 season with the Atlanta Braves. He made the All-Star team eight times, and won a World Series with the Braves in 1995. He is the only pitcher in major league history to have over 200 wins and 100 saves in a career. Below is his Hall of Fame introduction speech:

Wow. Hope you’re ready for a wild ride ’cause I’m going to warm you up for Pedro and Randy, and you never know what’s going to be coming.

This is truly a treat. I want to talk about four significant phone calls in my life.
The first was getting drafted by the Detroit Tigers, a dream that a hometown kid would have.
The second one was not the best of phone calls. It was getting traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Atlanta Braves, the worst team in all of baseball at the time.
The third was very significant, and I will touch on it later. It was a call from Tommy John, encouraging me to continue with my career at the age of 34.
The fourth call is not something I ever dreamed about. I don’t know, I can’t speak for the rest of Hall of Famers, but on January 6, when I got the call letting me know that I had been inducted into the Hall of Fame, words and emotions could not describe.

The phone rang. I was just thankful that Greg Maddux had not put up an ultimate prank in letting me know that this was not for real. Thankfully they told me quickly that I had made it.

I truly want to thank the Hall of Fame, Jane Forbes Clark, and Jeff Idelson, for what they’ve done and preserved the character of this great Hall. For Brad Horn, Whitney, all the people behind the scenes making this like the perfect wedding, orchestrating it to the fullest. And of course the Baseball Writers of America, your votes obviously got me to this point. I cannot thank you enough.

To Randy, Pedro and Craig, I will never forget this class. It is a class that I have had the utmost respect for each and every one of them.
Of course, Craig, I’ve competed the most against.
It’s hard to believe that I never competed against Randy Johnson. I can’t say that I’m sorry. But I don’t think we ever hooked up. I had a seat in the bullpen when he pitched his perfect game as I was the closer for the Braves. Actually half-heartedly started to warm up in the ninth, it was a 2-0 game, knowing full well I didn’t think I was going to get in that game. But at 6’10”, he was truly the freak that mastered the game in a way that no other could.

In a weird way with Pedro Martinez being on the opposite end the spectrum, me in the middle at 6’3″, it shows why baseball is a game of all sizes and shapes and why truly it is America’s pastime.

Craig is a teammate that you always wanted and a guy you never wanted to play against. And Pedro, you got me in a lot of trouble facing you in my career. You were the most dominant pitcher I’d ever seen. It was Bugs Bunny. In today’s world it was basically Nintendo or any kind of game you watch, that’s the kind of stuff you had.
I got fined $100 for check swinging, hurting my wrist against you. Thanks a lot.

Well, I’m going to try to do it backwards. I’m going to do the tough part first. I never thought I’d ever read a speech, but for the sake of time, I’m going to do.

I want you to know the best way to describe my career is unique. I can’t think of another word. It’s unique in every way. I have fingerprints all over my career by those who touched me and impacted me and helped me along the way. It’s a huge army that got me from Lansing, Michigan, to where I am today. I’m not going to touch on all of them. I’m going to do that in a personal way. There’s too many people to thank. I know I’ll forget somebody. But I will take care of you on the back end, I promise. But I will be talking about some who made it possible to reach this dream.

To my wife Kathryn, the hardest thing to do is when we met six years ago transition from a baseball career to retirement. As Craig mentioned, this life is a great life but a cruel life, a tough one. You made that transition so seamless, I can’t even thank you enough. You took a blended family and you made them seem like your own. You love my kids as if they were your own. You saw me at my worst, trying to make a comeback with the Boston Red Sox after major shoulder surgery. I truly could not have made it without you.

Everything you did for this event, it’s not possible. I’m letting you know right now there’s too many moving parts. I love you so much. You’re where my place of comfort and peace really is. I look forward to the future as a retired– well, broadcaster for the MLB Network as we transition our career.

To my kids, Andrew, Rachel, Carly and Kelly, I can’t tell you what it’s like for the journey of a major league player, you sacrificed so much. I love you very much. You adjusted and adapted to the challenges in our life. It wasn’t the perfect road. You knew it wouldn’t be. I always tried to give you the best of what I had. I can’t wait to see what God has for every one of you as you pursue your passions. Be unique, they are your own. I can’t wait to see the families that you are able to raise, as well.

To Sara Kathryn and Ashley, my two stepdaughters, can’t imagine what you were thinking when your mom and I got married and you were starting a whole new journey. Your willingness to adapt with the twists and turns and your ability to just go with the flow, it seems like we’ve been meant to be together our whole lives. I can’t tell you how much I love you guys.

To my mom and dad, this is where the story gets interesting, you did so much for me to get me to this point. You didn’t know much about sports or baseball. You pretty much knew what you knew, and that was playing the accordion because that’s how you met. You were accordion teachers and I thank you for the opportunity to start me on my quest to be the next Lawrence Welk at the age of four. I played till the age of seven. Then I hit you with the ultimate whopper of all whoppers. At the age of seven I said, I know what I want to be in life, and I’m going to be a Major League baseball player.

He loved me enough to give me room to go after my dream. You didn’t discourage me from leaving the accordion for Major League Baseball. You just told me to have a backup dream, and I did that as well.
Even though it was a gas station attendant at the time, I thought that was pretty cool.

I cannot imagine the odds and what you felt when I told you I was going to play Major League Baseball. These things might have caused you to sway me in a different direction. You not only allowed me to pursue this newfound passion of mine, you went on a journey to find opportunities for me to play this great game of baseball. You served as a great example for me and all future parents, that when a kid has a dream, no matter how outrageous or outlandish it might be, giving them the chance to pursue that is the greatest thing in life. You put aside what you knew and what you thought would fall in the family line of tradition of great accordion players, I can’t thank you enough.

I’m proud of the way I grew up, the heritage in which we grew up. The polka music on the eight-track tapes, I enjoyed it all. You taught me so much to not be afraid of who I am, to learn, to laugh, to cry, you gave me the characteristics and morals by which I live by today. I’m so thankful. Dad, you taught me my competitiveness, your unwillingness to let me win at the age of four and five was relentless, but I thought it was great because I returned the favor when I got a chance to.

You taught me to honor God first, family second, school third, and sports fourth. You put the priorities where they needed to be, and you stood by them. I thank you for that.

To my brother and sister, I can’t thank you enough for sacrificing your summers. Thankfully we didn’t grow up in Florida or warm weather where you fall prey to playing every day or all year. Two months in Michigan is long enough. But you sacrificed enough for me. One year apart, close-knit family, following my 21-year career, you were there at every turn, when I needed you the most.

My extended family is my biggest army in the world and I can’t thank them enough because of everything we did. We were close-knit and we had a blast. Yes, it always involved playing the accordion and dancing. One thing I never did do was dance, but I played the accordion. I can’t thank you enough for the love you had and I can’t possibly repay you all.

To my extended family, to my in-laws for jumping on this ride, not knowing exactly what you’re going to get, this is a cool ending so far in the midst of my journey.

My baseball journey began outside our home in Lansing, Michigan. I have a unique story. I already told you about the accordion. I had a wild imagination. Before I go any further, Jeff Foxworthy, I’m not going to tell any corny jokes. Relax, I can see you tense up as we speak.

I started with a rubber ball and a brick wall. For those who know me, this won’t come as a surprise. The GM, the manager, the pitching coach, the grounds crew, the play-by-play, you name it, in my mind I did it. I would stand outside that wall in a generous strike zone and pitch the greatest games ever known to mankind. I’m a self-taught baseball player, Tiger fanatic growing up. I would watch someone and immediately emulate them outdoors. Thankfully didn’t have the technology that exists today that kind of distracts our attention to get outside and do that which we love.

I’m also happy to say that in all those big games that I pitched in my life, I won them all. I truly believe if the moment were to get there, I would be a little kid on the mound relishing in the fact that I get to do this ’cause I’ve already done it in my mind so many different times.

Growing up in Lansing was incredible. It’s where my baseball career kind of took off. My best friend Chuck Cascarilla, we did everything together. We thought of games, we went outside, we were constantly doing whatever it took. For a lot of you in the stands that might not know what it is, we played a lot of strike-out, pickup baseball, games that I’ll never forget.

Aside from my family and Chuck, a guy that I call my second dad, I owe great gratitude to, could not make it today, at home in Lansing, Michigan, hopefully watching, Carl Wagner, dedicated over 50 years of his baseball life teaching and honoring kids. Over 50 years he provided the opportunity for kids to go out and play the great game of baseball. He taught me to never be complacent, never think you arrived, because there’s always somebody working harder to take your job and be better than you are.

Two other significant people from Lansing, Javier Cavazos dedicates his life to teaching youth all over Lansing, and he has been a big influence on me putting me in situations. He may be one of the few people that as a coach will understand Pedro Martinez, because he told me in a game in Brooklyn, New York, where I gave up four two-run homers in an inning, I’m not afraid to fail and I learned from some of the greatest failure moments in my life.
In Brooklyn, New York, they were all yelling at me in Spanish. He came out. He said, You want to know what they said?

You might as well tell me as you’re taking me out.
He said, They were yelling to get Ben-Gay for your neck because every time you threw a pitch you’d turn around because it was over the fence.
Thank you, Javier, for your humility as well as your ability to teach kids.

For Phil Odlum, my high school basketball coach, I had the two greatest years of my life. I loved every minute of my life where I grew up, where it ends and where it’s going. You gave me the keys to lead a basketball or baseball team that I would take later and pursue that in my big league quest, to be the best baseball player, but the best teammate I possibly can be.

To start with the drafts, I have to thank the Tigers for drafting me in the 22nd round. I think I’m the latest round draft pick to be in the Hall of Fame. If it were not the scouts, the backbone of our game, for seeing what I had, the motor that was ticking inside the 6’3″, 180-pound skinny kid, this would all not be possible.

Drafted by my hometown team was a dream come true, as I said. I had a unique situation where I got drafted, the last day before you go to college. Imagine getting drafted and going to the team you idolized and staying with them for 35 days in the big leagues. Instead of going to rookie ball, I went to the big club, got a chance to see what the heroes were doing in their locker room, in their home.

I got to say this: As odd and as in awe as I was of these guys, I remember sitting in the locker room at Tiger Stadium, a fish out of water, scared to death a Hall of Famer in my mind, a guy I will never forget in making the first impression in my pro career, came up to me and said, Hi, I’m Alan Trammell. Anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate to ask. This house is your house.

I will never forget. I thank you, Alan Trammell, for teaching me what a professional baseball player is all about.
It was as if he introduced and gave me a baton and said, Now, pay this forward every chance you can because this game has a chance to impact a lot of people. And I have done that to the best of my ability thanks to Alan Trammell’s imprint in my life, just that five- to 20-second time of his day took to welcome a newcomer to the game.
I also want to thank a good friend of mine, Bruce Fields, taking me into an instructional league. Right after big leagues I went right into instructional league and I worked 6’3″, 185, went into a home of veterans. They helped and nurtured me for the big leagues, thanks to his wife Julie, they put 20 pounds on me, which I desperately needed.

Now the most infamous trade in Atlanta Braves history. I can’t spend enough time talking about this gentleman. I will hear about it later from the fellow Hall of Famers that I respect, but Bobby Cox is every single thing to me on why I stand up here today.

He was the general manager that took the chance and made the trade and got me over to Atlanta. And, yes, sir, they were the worst team in baseball at the time. It was the most devastating time of my life. But I realized I would have an opportunity to pitch in an organization that desperately needed pitching.

I used to only think of that trade as myself and what it did for me. Tom Glavine reminded me that that trade opened up a spot for him in the big leagues and he never looked back. I’m glad that two-for-one worked out.
Bobby became my manager. He’s the reason I stayed in the organization for 20 years. I would rather go nowhere else. As I said, time does not permit me to tell you what an incredible manager, the history I was able to watch. He empowered people, he gave you confidence when you didn’t have it. He was a tremendous leader. I owe a great amount of my career to this man.

Because of the faith that he had in me, it was the reason I was able to make the transition from starter to closer, then start back to starter. He believed in everything I did. He knew my personality. He allowed me to play golf, which always puts a smile on my face. It’s the reason that the three of us were able to play as long as we did.
The starting rotation will be talked about for the rest of time and maybe always compared to things. But to do something and make it come full circle, to talk about the two greatest teammates, the two greatest pitchers that got inducted, I was watching them actually rip me a new one, enjoying every second of it. I thought we would go back in time and just do this for a second.

Glav, Maddux, back when I had hair, we had the time of our lives. It’s the only time, Greg, you’re not going to be able to talk about my bald head. What I want to talk about is the time we had playing golf and pitching. What you don’t know about Greg and Tom is you know that all the statistics got him here and they got him here in the Hall of Fame. But they did things behind the scenes for me that I will never, ever forget. When I lost my change-up, they were there helping me to find it. When I lost my golf book, which was the prize of what I had, because I was the golf concierge, they looked tirelessly and helped me find it. Recently I lost 20 pounds, and they helped me find it. Thank you, guys.

I cannot say enough about them. As time permits, obviously you know how much we have been together. Tommy for 15 years, Greg for 10. To Chipper Jones, soon to be inducted in the Hall of Fame, another one of the Atlanta Braves. I’m not going to say anything about him because he’ll have the mic last. Would somebody please steal his Twitter account.

Thanks to all the trainers that worked so hard. I’m a medical miracle that stands before you today. I spent more time in the training room. I can’t thank them for their patience. I know I drove them crazy. Dave Pursley, Jeff Porter, and Jim Lovell, everybody else that had a hand in my career. I can’t thank you all enough. Like I said, I hope one day to be able to give you something special.

To Chris Verna and Peter Hughes, you were invaluable in my career and crucial for the day-to-day what it took to get to the mound.

To all the doctors in Atlanta, I spent a lot of time counseling with you and seeing how it was going to be possible to throw another pitch. One doctor I spent the most time with and the most passionate doctor, as Tommy said and even Greg, Dr. Joe Chandler, there’s no possible way I could have done this without you. I can’t thank you enough. You are everything I could ask for in your profession.

You watched the medical miracle keep existing. We had many times at your house, in your office, and I can’t thank you enough for the time you spent with me. It’s invaluable.

To all the pitching coaches I had, roving pitching coaches in Detroit, John Hiller and Ralph Treuel, bearing with the wild stallion. Thank you to Bruce Dal Canton, my first pitching coach. Then Roger McDowell, of course.
My first encounter of Leo Mazzone is when I came over from the Detroit Tigers in a trade. He helped simplify my mechanics and my ability to pitch. With the throwing program we were able to use over the last 15 years of my career is the reason we stayed healthy. Thank you, Leo, for your patience and your diligence in seeing something through and making it work.

To my good friend Greg Olson who is here today. We hit it off right away on the field and off. His upbeat attitude helped me get through so many of my tough games. I’ll never forget him jumping in my arms against the Astros, the first time we were able to get to the playoffs. He jumped in my arms, I never anticipated after nine innings, he was pretty heavy, but at that time he felt pretty light.

We got a chance to do it again after Game 7 after an unbelievable game of Steve Avery 1-0 in Pittsburgh. Jumped into my arms again, and we were on to the World Series. This all happening after a 2-11 first start, and then Bobby’s patience and faith and a 12-2 second half allowed this all to be possible.

We never planned it, but however we were working on a Trifecta in Game 7 against Jack Morris. We were one run away from that happening. It didn’t happen. My idol growing up Jack Morris ruined that incredible opportunity to have three times you jumping in my arms.

Thank you, Ollie, for all we did and all we did in our friendship, all the catchers I had. I was not an easy person to catch. I can’t thank them enough for their willingness to get me through a game.
To Brian McCann, now with the New York Yankees, it truly was a privilege to teach him what I learned from a lot of the other catchers in our game.

To all my teammates, I can’t name you all, I thank you for what we had, an incredible run. My goal in life was to be the best teammate that I possibly could be. That meant caring for you on and off the field, being there doing my best to be prepared, laughing, joking, golfing, whatever it took. I cared about each and every one of them. That was our family away from our family and we spent a lot of time and good times together.

A special thanks to the great centerfielder I’ve ever seen in Andruw Jones. Andruw Jones caught more fly balls that I threw than probably anybody else. He was truly a pleasure to be playing behind.

To the Atlanta Braves organization, to wear this great uniform and represent the great state of Georgia, I never took one day for granted. Wearing this uniform, I played every game as if it was my last. The Braves uniform became such a platform for not only your foundation, but my later foundation I formed and the charities we were able to touch. I can’t wait to represent these organizations in the future as now representing the greatest team behind me in the Hall of Fame.

A special thank you to the Boston Red Sox for taking a chance on a broken-down guy recovering from a shoulder surgery. I can’t thank you enough for this experience, giving me an opportunity. Although I did not do very well, I am so sorry for that. But giving me that opportunity, you showed me what another organization’s view is like and the rich history you had.

To the St.Louis Cardinals, I will never thank you for giving me that chance after being released by the Boston Red Sox, and deservedly so by the way, for giving me an opportunity to end my career in what was an improbable and unbelievable playoff season. For Tony La Russa, I can’t thank you enough for making me feel like one of your own, trusting me with the ball in some of the big moments.

I will never forget these two organizations because I would retire after wearing the Cardinals uniform in 2009.
Last but not least, I want to steal a little bit of what Craig Biggio said in my speech, I want to thank the clubhouse guys. They are the heart and soul of our team. They are the heart and soul of every junk we bring to them. I watch these kids grow up from kids to adults to now having families. It started with Casey Stevenson, Chris Van Zant, Ben Acree to name a few.

Bill, for all the things you did away from the game. The game consumes you and you need things to be in the proper order, in the right way. I can’t thank you enough. John Schuerholz, Terry McGuirk, the whole Braves organization, you treated me as the family I now have in Atlanta and will forever live there, Lord willing.
John Holland and Fred Stone in spring training, I had so much fun with the guys behind the scenes because they never get enough time to be noticed or even know that they’re there. Sometimes get treated in a way that doesn’t represent what the game is.

Before I hand it over to the next inductee, I’d be remiss if I did not talk about Tommy John. I’ve been given an opportunity as one of the only players, the only one right now to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, with Tommy John surgery. It’s an epidemic, something affecting our game. It’s something I thought would cost me my career. Thanks to Dr. James Andrews and all those before him, performing the surgery with such precision has caused it to be almost a false read like a Band-Aid you put on your arm.

I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there to understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old. You have a time. Baseball is not a year-round sport. You have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports.

Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses that this is the way. We have such great dynamic arms in our game that it’s a shame that we’re having one, two, three Tommy John recipients. I want to encourage you if nothing else, know that your children’s desire and passion to play baseball is something they can do without a competitive pitch. Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don’t go outside, they don’t throw enough. They’re competing and maxing out too hard too early. That’s why we’re having these problems. Please, take care of those great future arms.

To Tommy John, I can’t thank you enough for the phone call, whether you were coerced or not. The phone call at the age of 34 years old meant the world to me. Emotionally I’d given up. I thought that no one would wait for a pitcher of my age on the last year of my contract. Thank you for encouraging me. That was a pivotal part of my career to push through what I thought might be a career-ending.

At 34, and 14 post-season years and 200 post-season innings is one of the reasons that I thought Tommy John, besides genetics, had happened to me. Because of Dr. Andrews and the team that had been before him, I had confidence that the surgery would work and the rest would write its story.

Last but not least, or close to last but not least, I want to thank Mike Nixon, Scott Runyun for taking our family up here in a plane. That was an absolute gift. As you can see, my family is huge. It takes an army. Thank you for your generosity.

Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is one of the greatest honors that I could have here on earth. However, I know there’s another one coming. The ultimate Hall of Fame. I want to thank God for the talent He has given me and the support system that I have.

I would not be the man I am today if it were not for a couple people who sowed seeds into my life, telling me about Christ and telling me to take a deeper look into my faith. Jose Alvarez, Marty Clary, Sid Bream, Terry Pendleton, the list could go on. They took the time, not to care so much about my talent, but the heart and the man I would become.

Jackie and Ken Kendall, Mike and Kellie McCoy, Walt and Patty Wiley, and last Tim Cash and Barb, these are the people through the toughest times of my life, the intimacy of knowing what life has challenged you with, they’ve been in my every corner. They’ve allowed me to know that I have more to live for than just the uniform I was wearing. They gave me the greatest gift, to find my salvation in Christ. I can’t thank you enough for caring enough to invest your time and heart in me.

I have a unique group of men that meet every Thursday in JR’s. Jeff Foxworthy and the likes of so many men who have, through those days, taught me the impact I can make just beyond wearing a uniform.

I’m so humbled to be a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I’m honored by so many of my family members. To be here in Cooperstown is not something I ever dreamt. I know along the way I forgot some people, but in my baseball career, I’ve been around two men that I would entrust my children with, I would leave my children with, who have represented me in baseball with the first class and degree in it that I always wanted my parents to be proud of.

Myles Shoda and Lonnie Cooper, I cannot thank you enough for taking care of my needs away from the game and my intentions, yours. It’s so vital.

To the guys who introduced me in transition to broadcasting. Thank you for taking the time for taking a simple-minded, no vocabulary, accordion-playing player into transition to baseball. Thank you to the MLB Network. It started with TBS. I can’t think of another home I’d rather be and take the abuse when I get back from a great organization like the MLB Network. Think I covered it all.

I am thankful, honored and blessed. Thank you very, very much.