John Smoltz is a Hall of Famer and World Series champion as a pitcher, and he long has seemed to be on a similar trajectory as a TV voice, working three league championship series for Turner in the early 2010s.
But as satisfying as that was, Smoltz did not get where he was as a player by settling. His goal was clear from the start of his television career: return to the World Series, this time as an analyst.
And so it shall be in October.
Late last year Fox announced that it would move Smoltz into its No. 1 booth alongside Joe Buck, where he will replace Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci, who filled the role for two seasons after the departure of Tim McCarver.
“I believe that in everything that you want to do, if you don’t shoot for the top you’re short-sighting yourself,” Smoltz said. “I remember telling my agent when I first starting doing work for TBS I wanted to do the World Series. So whoever got the World Series (rights), that’s what I wanted to do.
“It’s the pinnacle of our sport. It’s everything I’ve lived, breathed and done. I love seeing the best of whatever sports has to offer. I didn’t want to just do the job to do the job.”
Smoltz, 48, always has received generally positive reviews for his TV work, and many viewed him as an obvious choice to succeed McCarver. Instead he was part of Fox’s No. 2 crew, working playoff games the past two seasons.
He got further attention during Game 1 of the 2015 World Series when Fox lost its feed and had to switch to MLB International coverage featuring Smoltz and play-by-play partner Matt Vasgersian.
Smoltz declined to second-guess Fox’s decision to go in another direction for the top analyst job for 2014, praising Reynolds and Verducci as “two fine gentlemen I work with and love to death.”
“That was just the process, that Fox was going to a three-man booth,” he said. “I was happy for Harold and happy for Tom, and I work with them for the MLB Network . . . Again, timing is everything in life and it wasn’t my time then and now it is. Now it’s my time.”
There is little doubt in baseball or TV circles that he is ready for the spotlight, given his playing resume, personality and broadcast experience. But Smoltz said he still has much to learn.
“I don’t have this thing licked,” he said. “I work really hard and I have a complicated life. It’s very busy. It’s a lot more busy than I thought it would be, post-retirement. My simple rules apply in broadcasting, as they did in baseball. If I can’t learn from my mistakes, something is wrong. If I can’t laugh at myself, something is wrong.
“I try to not take myself too seriously. All that being said, I’m still trying to perform and refine my craft . . . It takes me five hours every game day to get ready for a game. So it is not just relying on my knowledge. It’s trying to do the work to be as equipped as I can.”
Smoltz said he is “not a social media guy” and thus does not have a clear sense of how he is received, positively or negatively. “Simplicity works for me,” he said.
He will work 15 regular-season games for Fox, 15 to 18 for MLB Network and 80 to 85 days in MLB Network’s New Jersey studios. The studio analysis requires him to know every team in the majors well.
“I get a little overkill in information and statistics,” he said. “My goal every year is to be less analytical and statistics driven, where people can look that up themselves. I want to give them the stuff in the game, the things I’m watching and they might not see, and be able to translate that into the language they would understand.”
Smoltz, who lives near Atlanta, still is a scratch golfer, but his TV schedule limits his ability to keep his game sharp.
“I’m very streaky,” he said. “If I get a day I try to play 36 to 45 holes in a day to make up for it. It’s something I have a passion for, but right now that’s going to have to take a back seat, because I really do want to be the very best broadcaster I can be and if I’m distracted that’s going to hurt those chances.”
Smoltz so far has navigated the treacherous path retired players working as television analysts must travel in offering honest criticism.
“I’m not going to be the guy that played the game and says it was easy; I’m never going to be that guy,” he said. “To me this is a very difficult game to play — unless somebody makes a mistake three consecutive times, then I have a different criticism for that person.
“But explaining to people at home who think they could show up and hit .220 in the big leagues, they are sadly mistaken. That was my No. 1 criterion when I got into this industry. A producer asked me, how are you going to criticize contemporaries? I said it will be a positive criticism, but it will be something that explains to fans that it isn’t that easy.”
Smoltz credited many of the play-by-play men with whom he has worked for getting him to this point, and said he believes Buck will lift him as well.
“It’s really going to be awesome,” Smoltz said. “I’ve known Joe from afar and of course I’ve known his dad (Jack) . . . He has such an easy style and an easy flow where my part is I easily can come in and not take away from the flow.”
The two will have a chance to get comfortable with one another between now and October, when Smoltz will realize his TV dream.
“I’ve had my share of postseason baseball through TBS, doing NLCS and ALCS championships,” Smoltz said. “The only thing that was missing for me was the opportunity to do to the World Series, and now I am afforded the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to it.”