The introduction of John Smoltz as a member of the 2009 Boston Red Sox certainly seemed to warm the hearts of many true blue Sox fans in the midst of a cold and blustery New England winter. The management seemed flushed with its own success. After all , January 2009 will also be remembered as the month Theo Epstein cornered the market on Rocco Baldelli to come play outfield in Fenway. Oh and don’t forget this was the same month in which, the deserving but perpetually overlooked Jim Rice, finally got credit for the extraordinary baseball career he had in Boston with an invitation to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Being able to introduce John Smoltz holding jersey #29, wearing a Red Sox cap and smiling broadly just really put the frosting on the cake. Or did it?
While all seemed mellow in what the locals like to call “Red Sox Nation”, the pesky little doubts began to pop up here there and everywhere. After all for some Boston fans, despite the recent story of Red Sox success, memories of the long dark years without playoff appearances or wins and the prolonged dry spell without a World Series banner coming to town.
Red Sox fans have earned the right to be suspicious of all new pitching acquisitions. To Even the casual observer it appears that the Sox do seem to have a penchant for picking up and sticking with recently rehabbed pitchers. Most recently Curt Schilling, who won the hearts of the fans with his gutsy World Series appearances capped by the famous “blood sock” event, has demonstrated aptly that when pitchers are injured and they are in their twilight years, it is a real gamble to hitch your playoff hopes to their full and healthy return to the pitching rotation. Most fans also recall the unfulfilled promise of the signing of Bret Saberhagen, who had great stats in his past but in Boston was a constant visitor to the DL.
Fewer clouds hang over young stars, like Sox hurler Josh Beckett who while still in this 20’s has shown evidence of blister problems on his pitching hand and recurring back spasms. While he cost the Sox by having several stints on the DL he is young and much more likely to achieve full healing from ailments as they occur.
Unfortuantely John Smoltz is more likely to find himself in the Schilling/Saberhagen than in the Beckett category of pitcher. John Smoltz is decidedly not in his twenties. Instead he has put more than twenty years in on the hill, which also translates to 20 years of wear and tear on his pitching equipment – his body. As great a pitching past as John Smoltz can honestly claim, which is considerable, he must also own up to 42 years of age come May and major shoulder surgery last year. In simple baseball terms that’s two strikes. Should the Red Sox really place their playoff hopes literally on the shoulder of a comeback try by John Smoltz? The more folks read about the surgery and the age factors the more nay sayers are likely to surface in Boston.
Of course there will be a healthy positive response among Red Sox fans who have also watched the magic of John Smoltz over the last 20 years while he has bedazzled Atlanta Braves fans. Smoltz has been a maestro on the mound there is no doubt about that. He is after all a Cy Young Award winner and a sure thing for the Hall of Fame.
Supporters will gleefully point to scads of statistics about appearances, strikeouts and the rather unusual combination of successful starting and relieving performances chaulked up by John Smoltz. This is a man who seems capable of filling whatever gap may appear in the Sox pitching squad with skill, finesse and experience. John Smoltz is no ordinary performer and those who see him as a possible star come October have confidence that John Smoltz is the man to fill the spot.
The Sox are excited about their acquisition and they are taking all the right steps in insure that John Smoltz will be ready to go during late and post season competition. They have slowed down his rehab and fully intended to give him all the time he needs to get ready to come back at 100%. Don’t expect to see John Smoltz on opening day or even in the month of April. But if all goes well maybe Smoltz will appear fully rehabbed and ready to dominate batters especially during the second season in October. .
In the meantime Red Sox owners and fans alike can torture themselves with anticipation about whether or not the John Smoltz acquisition will turn out to be another Theo Epstein master stroke or simply an infatuation with an unhappy ending. Betting men and women all over Boston are going with the master stroke concept.