Bill Conlin | Smoltz gets hall of fame brushoff

Posted: May 29, 2007

I HAVEN'T checked the Phillies' Enemy List lately, but the top three probably consists of two WIP drive-time hosts and this humble servant - not necessarily in that order. It probably rotates around who said or wrote what about whom and when. Some days, when the Phils do something

really stupid and are flapping there as vulnerable as clipped-wing ducks in a Dick Cheney hunting preserve, it might be a three-way tie.

Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to welcome John Smoltz to the top of a chart normally reserved for the "Bleeping Media.'' Smoltz has nuked the Phillies' sudden movement of Opening Day starter (Smoltz was his opponent) Brett Myers to the bullpen, correctly anticipating a Tom Gordon breakdown.

In a long, meticulous and damning interview that appeared in Sunday's Inquirer, Smoltz torched just about every aspect of the decision and what he regards as the predictable

consequences. Brett suffered a shoulder-clutching "strain'' of his valuable right shoulder during a wild, tortured and, some say, unnecessary appearance. That he was thrown into a non-save situation in the ninth inning of a game that swiftly spiraled out of control and injured himself while over-throwing a curveball with the bizarre game tied is another story. Smoltz stuck to the difficulty and inadvisability of taking a young pitcher just settling into a top-of-the-rotation role and thrusting him into an endgame slot where the preparation, mind-set and just about everything else are diametrically opposed to the routine of a starter.

John stressed that when he successfully made the radical switch from starter to closer, he was an established star. And he wasn't thrown into the deep end of the pool.

"I had a chance to work into that role,'' Smoltz told the Inquirer. "And the next offseason, I trained for it . . . I don't buy the idea and never will buy the idea that pitching is pitching and it doesn't matter where you go . . . ''

Me neither. And I want to thank Smoltz for amplifying objections to this move that were predictably dismissed by the ballclub deep-thinkers with a buzz-off wave and the traditional, "What the hell does he know?'' My reply is, "Not a damned thing - except what most Phillies pitching coaches since 1965 have taught me.''

It is not the first time the Phillies have been marked lousy by the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame-bound righthander.

When you call a team's expensive and gorgeous new playpen a "joke'' due to its dimensions and the ease with which balls leave it, it's bound to get you on the blacklist. Smoltz did that in 2005, as did Curt Schilling and ex-closer Billy Wagner. But Smoltz ripped a little longer and harder. He took it to the newspapers and into ESPN and Fox interviews. And what really stung Monty and the Teflonics was an assertion that the Phils will still have trouble attracting free-agent pitchers - repeated even after the fence was altered a few feet back and up before the 2006 season.

And don't tell Montgomery that was outpatient minor surgery, either. This is a ballpark where all front-row seats are guaranteed to be filled forever. Let's say $40 x 200 seats x 81 home games = $648,000 x 20 years = $12.96 million. Hell, that's a Pat Burrell number. Of course, it doesn't figure inflation or future ticket increases. So, we're probably talking more like $20,736,000 figuring 3 percent annual inflation. Tack on a conservative price rise of 20 percent over that period and Smoltz's big mouth could help cost the Phillies a possible $23.38 million. And all that for an architectural change that will still turn many flower-scraping homers into doubles.

Hey, at least after a petunia-scraper Smoltz and the pitching fraternity didn't have to work from the stretch.

I figure this time, however, Smoltz probably has lost his visitor privileges at Pine Valley, where Bill Giles is a member of one of the world's most exclusive golf clubs. Thanks to Giles, whenever the Braves came to town, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Smoltz got to play a round on a layout Jack Nicklaus called the most difficult he ever played.

The ulterior Giles motive, of course, might have been a hope that if one was pitching that night he might tire himself out.

Yo, Smoltzie, the Bopper had me kicked off the Phillies' charter flights for a lot less and wrote about it in his memoir.

I wondered if the organization would ignore the Smoltz lecture on the care and feeding of the Phillies' best homegrown righthander since Larry Christenson. It didn't. Pat Gillick probably deemed himself above such a fight. Assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle, a former Braves scout, has an onrushing draft to worry about. That left the ubiquitous, always available, Ruben Amaro Jr. Ruben's terse comment printed in yesterday's Inquirer - the Daily News was not published either day - delivered this message: Walk your own side of the street, pal; we'll walk ours.

At the end of the day, however, Smoltz is speaking from the knowledge accrued during what is already a legendary career. Amaro was speaking for an organization that in the 41 years since GM John Quinn traded away Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins has not produced a homegrown starter or reliever who could carry Smoltz's golf bag.


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