John Smoltz: A Hall of Famer, Inside and Out

When former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame yesterday, I thought to myself: It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy. I was lucky enough to work with Smoltzie throughout his professional career and count him as a friend. Along the way, he showed us all what it means to strive for greatness and live your life to the fullest.

Growth happens outside your comfort zone.

John was never afraid to reinvent himself. He transitioned from a starter to a closer role in 2001, which is analogous to going from marathon runner to sprinter. It’s an incredible shift to make, both mentally and physically. Yet like everything John did, he wasn’t satisfied just doing it. He dominated, and then seamlessly moved back into the starter role when the team needed that. John finished his career as the only pitcher to record at least 200 wins and 150 saves.  Lesson #1: If you want to sustain success, you have to be willing to embrace change and evolve before it’s demanded of you.  

Passion suffocates fear.

Once as a kid, John lost in a national tournament and gave up three home runs in an inning. When he came home, he carefully measured and taped up a makeshift strike zone on the brick wall of his family’s home. John would spend hours hurling a baseball against the wall, envisioning himself on the mound at the World Series– baseball’s biggest stage. John’s passion sustained him throughout his career. Where others saw roadblocks, John saw stepping stones. Even at the highest level of his success, he was still that same kid with big dreams. Lesson #2: Use every setback as motivation to get better.

Don’t lose your joy.

John was the most competitive athlete I’ve ever been around, but he never let baseball define him. It was always what he did, not who he is. Smoltzie was one of the team’s greatest pranksters. There was the time he offered Jeff Francouer $100 if he could grab the beak of a duck on the pond while they were out golfing. Or the time he invited his friend Jeff Foxworthy to play pickup basketball and John showed up squeezed into his teeny tiny high school basketball jersey. Or maybe my favorite—the time he took over the bellhop desk at the team hotel and proceeded to turn the heat up in teammate Tom Glavine’s room to 100 degrees, short sheet the bed, take all the towels, rub Vaseline on the toilet seat and hold Tom’s bag hostage. When Tom called down to the desk to retrieve his missing luggage, he was told repeatedly that no one would be available to bring it to his room. When he finally came down, irritated, he was greeted by a gleeful John the Bellhop. Lesson #3: Enjoy the ride.

Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter.