ATLANTA (AP) — John Smoltz exhaled heavily and shook his head minutes after his No. 29 was retired by the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.
“I’m glad that’s over,” Smoltz said. “That’s a doubleheader I just pitched.”
Smoltz said he wasn’t prepared for the emotions he felt when the Braves made his number the ninth to be retired by the franchise.
“Honestly, I thought I was going to lose it when I started talking about playing for the jersey,” Smoltz said. “That’s something I hope more people can take pride in, wearing a jersey. For some people it’s just a jersey. For me it was my life.”
Former manager Bobby Cox called Smoltz “the biggest of the big-game pitchers.” As general manager, Cox acquired Smoltz from the Detroit Tigers in 1987 for Doyle Alexander.
Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were the leaders of a terrific pitching staff that helped the Braves win 14 straight division titles from 1991-2005 and the 1995 World Series. Smoltz was the only player to be a part of each division championship.
“For 20 years John Smoltz brought so much excitement to old Fulton County Stadium and here at Turner Field,” Cox said. “He’s given you fans everything he had, sometimes on guts alone.”
Smoltz was inducted into the Braves’ Hall of Fame earlier in the day. His number was retired before Friday night’s game against Toronto.
“He led the way, he set the tone, he fought the fight and he had the will of a winner,” said Braves president John Schuerholz, who predicted Smoltz, Maddux, Glavine and Cox are bound for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Smoltz’s credentials include a 213-155 record with 154 saves and a 3.33 ERA.
After the ceremony, Smoltz threw out the first pitch — a four-seam fastball — to catcher Brian McCann.
“As Maddux would say, it had hair on it,” Smoltz said.
Smoltz is the fourth Braves player to have his number retired in the last four years, following Cox (6) last season, Glavine (47) in 2010 and Maddux (31) in 2009. Maddux attended Friday night’s ceremony with two other players whose numbers are retired, Dale Murphy (3) and Phil Niekro (35).
Smoltz, an eight-time All-Star, won the National League Cy Young Award in 1996. He is the only pitcher in major league history with at least 200 wins and 150 saves.
He called the 20 years he spent with the Braves from 1988-2008 “the greatest ride of my life, and I thank you.”
“There was no place I’d rather be than on that mound for 20 years,” he said.
The only other Braves players to have their numbers retired are Hank Aaron (44), Eddie Mathews (41) and Warren Spahn (21). Chipper Jones is retiring after this season, and his No. 10 could be next in line.
Smoltz holds Atlanta records with 3,011 strikeouts, 154 saves and 708 games. He set Braves franchise records with 276 strikeouts in 1996 and 55 saves in 2002.
Smoltz pitched for Boston and St. Louis in 2009, his final season. He now works as a broadcaster for MLB Network and TBS.
The right-hander was at his best in the postseason, when he was 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA and four saves in 41 games. His 199 postseason strikeouts set a record. His 15 postseason wins rank second to Andy Pettitte’s 19.