John Smoltz had not held up a new jersey and slapped on a new cap for 23 years, since he was an 18-year old draft choice of his hometown Detroit Tigers. He spent 22 years with one team, the Atlanta Braves, re-upping each time free agency arrived. That changed today, when the Red Sox formally introduced Smoltz at Fenway Park.
Smoltz held up his new uniform — No. 29, yielded to him by hitting coach Dave Magadan — and pulled the ‘B’ cap over his head. It matched his red tie. As general manager Theo Epstein said, the Red Sox introdced a new Hall of Famer in Jim Rice yesterday, and today they introduced a future Hall of Famer.
“Words can’t describe — and I hope you don’t expect me to say all the right words, because this has been an incredible week — but I’m going to try to,” Smoltz said. “What you get is a guy who loves to put on the uniform and loves to compete. I’m excited to be here. This city is surrounded by a ton of history and a ton of players and a ton of fans. I’m as determined and I’m as focused as I have ever been. … To speak to how loyal I am, you must know, I am a Lions fan. So that speaks to my loyalty. I’m going to be pretty loyal to this uniform.”
“It’s a very significant day for the Red Sox,” Epstein said. “To be able to add someone of this caliber and his accomplishment, and his talent most importantly, we look for him to make a huge impact on the organization.”
A few quick hits from the news conference:
- The Red Sox envision Smoltz as a starter, but he will not pitch at the season’s outset. He is coming off major shoulder surgery, which the team vetted extensively in its pursuit of Smoltz. Epstein called Smoltz “a physical freak,” and said, surprisingly, that Smoltz would be capable of pitching by April, perhaps even Opening Day. But the Red Sox, foremost, signed Smoltz — who has a 2.65 ERA in 40 postseason games, 27 of which were starts — to pitch in October. They slowed his rehab down to ensure he will be 100 percent when he returns, the date of which has not been determined. That will not be when Smoltz is merely able, but when he is fully prepared.
- In November, Smoltz sent a video to teams he was interested in playing for, throwing in a bullpen and chucking a football. The Red Sox were impressed, so they sent front office representative Ben Cherington, trainer Mike Reinold, and pitching coach John Farrell to Atlanta to watch him pitch. “Even for a guy who’s been in the big leagues for 21 years,” Smoltz said, “That really impressed me.”
- Smoltz’s contract is for one year, but he sees himself pitching for several more years. He’ll turn 42 in May. “Age is just a number,” Smoltz said. Smoltz will earn $5.5 million guaranteed with $5 million in bonuses. According to the Associated Press, Smoltz’s bonuses are based on time on the active 25-man roster: $125,000 for his first day, $35,000 a day from June 1 through Oct. 3, and $500,000 for Oct. 4, the last scheduled day of the regulat season.
- Smoltz always loved pitching in Fenway Park during interleague games, and he never has allowed an earned run there. He was always intrigued by the idea of playing here.
- Smoltz attended the Celtics game last night, and in the third quarter, they flashed his face on the Jumbotron. “It blew me away,” Smoltz said.
- Smoltz said he has no bitterness toward the Braves, but he said they gave him “no options” based on the difference in interest shown him by Boston and Atlanta.
- The most difficult adjustment so far has been logistical — finding a place to live and so forth. “Tiger called me and said, ‘We still playin’ golf?’ ” Smoltz said. “I said, ‘Yeah, we’re still playing.’ ” That would be Tiger Woods, whom Smoltz plays with occasionally. Woods has called Smoltz the best golfer he’s played with outside the PGA Tour. “The team handicap went way down, by the way,” Smoltz said.