August 19, 2009: Cardinals sign John Smoltz in their push for postseason glory

With a seven-game lead in the National League Central and six weeks remaining in the 2009 season, the Cardinals couldn’t pass the opportunity to add a future Hall of Famer to their rotation.

“It was too inviting not to take a chance on,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said.[1]

On August 19, 2009, the Cardinals signed John Smoltz with an eye toward the postseason. Just two days earlier, the Red Sox released the 42-year-old Smoltz after he went 2-5 with an 8.33 ERA in eight starts. Smoltz admitted that he had rushed back from shoulder surgery in an effort to help Boston reach the postseason.

With a comfortable division lead, the Cardinals planned to ease him into the starting rotation.

“If I had to come to a team and be perfect the very first or second time, then it wasn’t going to be a good fit,” Smoltz said. “If the luxury was there to show some patience and get some innings, I’m sure the benefits were going to pay, the upside was going to be worth it. If I went to a team right at the edge, having to win every single game, or pitch relief, then I’m sure I was going to be in a tough spot. Not that I couldn’t handle it, but the team was going to be in a tough spot.”[2]

Smoltz brought 212 career wins and 154 career saves with him to St. Louis, and his 15 postseason wins were more than any other pitcher in baseball history. In 1996, he won the National League Cy Young Award after going 24-8 with a 2.94 ERA. His 24 wins, 253 2/3 innings, and 276 strikeouts all led the majors.

After Tommy John surgery forced Smoltz to miss the 2000 season, he reinvented himself as one of the game’s elite closers. After saving 10 games in 2001, Smoltz led the majors with 55 saves in 2002 to earn his first all-star appearance since 1996 and place third in the Cy Young voting. In 2003 and 2004, he saved 45 and 44 games, respectively.

In 2005, Smoltz returned to the rotation. Over the course of three seasons, he won 44 games, but required shoulder surgery in 2008 and made just five starts.

In St. Louis, Smoltz joined a rotation that already included Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Joel Pineiro, and Kyle Lohse. With Smoltz’s experience as both a starter and reliever, the Cardinals planned to use Smoltz in the rotation, then move him to the bullpen for the playoffs.

“We’re not so concerned with trying to gear up for the next week,” Mozeliak said. “We’re trying to gear up for the stretch run. Allowing him to get more work as a starter made more sense at this time.”[3]

“If you look and see which need is more critical, it would be the reliever thing,” La Russa said.[4]

After Smoltz was released in Boston, Mark DeRosa, who played alongside Smoltz in Atlanta from 1998 until 2004, approached Mozeliak and La Russa and expressed how well Smoltz would fit in the Cardinals’ clubhouse. At the same time, he told Smoltz that the Cardinals would remind him of the environment he enjoyed in Atlanta.[5]

“He only knew Atlanta before going to Boston this year,” DeRosa said. “I just told him it’s a very comfortable situation to walk into here.”[6]

Carpenter, who had famously recovered from shoulder surgery of his own, also liked the move.

“Never mind his obvious ability, look at the kind of experience he brings here,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer.”[7]

Even as questions remained regarding Smoltz’s shoulder, there was no doubting his competitive fire.

“I think you’re going to get a nasty guy on the mound,” Smoltz said. “In whatever capacity, one hitter or 27 hitters, I still believe in everything I’m doing to get myself prepared for that battle.”[8]

Smoltz made seven regular-season starts for the Cardinals the rest of the way, going 1-3 with a 4.26 ERA over 38 innings. In the National League Division Series against the Dodgers, Smoltz pitched two innings of relief, striking out five consecutive hitters. He allowed one run on four hits.

“In my gut and my mind, I want to do it. I want to pitch again next year, but I have to make sure I’m in position to do it again,” Smoltz said. “It’s going to be an interesting offseason for me, one in which I’ll take a long, hard look and see if I still have the desire to work out. That’s what it’s going to come down to.”[9]

In March, Smoltz took a job as a TV analyst with Turner Broadcasting and the MLB Network.[10] Though he indicated that his new job didn’t mean his pitching career was over, his stint with the Cardinals marked his final professional innings.

Smoltz retired with a 213-155 record and a 3.33 ERA. Over his 21-year career, Smoltz made eight all-star appearances, a Cy Young, a Silver Slugger, and an NLCS MVP Award. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.


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[1] Joe Strauss, “Smoltz, Cardinals set to wing it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 20, 2009.

[2] Joe Strauss, “Smoltz: ‘I still want it,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 21, 2009.

[3] Joe Strauss, “Smoltz, Cardinals set to wing it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 20, 2009.

[4] Joe Strauss, “Smoltz, Cardinals set to wing it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 20, 2009.

[5] Joe Strauss, “Smoltz, Cardinals set to wing it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 20, 2009.

[6] Joe Strauss, “Smoltz, Cardinals set to wing it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 20, 2009.

[7] Joe Strauss, “Smoltz, Cardinals set to wing it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 20, 2009.

[8] Joe Strauss, “Smoltz: ‘I still want it,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 21, 2009.

[9] Dan O’Neill, “DeRosa makes a pitch to stay with Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 21, 2009.

[10] “Smoltz gets job as a TV analyst,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 17, 2010.

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