Arguably one of the greatest pitchers of the modern era, John Smoltz epitomized poise and determination while starring alongside fellow starters Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux in Atlanta. His career spanned a mindboggling 22 seasons highlighted by eight All-Star appearances, a National League Cy Young Award, and a World Series championship.
But it was after that memorable title run in 1995 when Smoltz realized that his life was still lacking the fulfillment he had been seeking. That’s when he made commitment to follow Christ. Now, the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee uses his platform as a broadcaster with the MLB Network and Fox Sports to live out his faith.
In this CSJ conversation with managing editor Chad Bonham, Smoltz reminisces about the beginning of his baseball journey, what led to his life-changing spiritual decision, and what he thinks is the most effective way to reach others with the gospel:
Chad Bonham: What are your thoughts when you look back at the early part of your career?
John Smoltz: I got my brains beat in early. (My success) was never right out of the gate. I learned how to pitch through humiliation and error along with Tom Glavine. We took our lumps. Then we started to mature as players and we started to get better players and of course Greg Maddux came in. Next thing you know, we’re one of the formidable and one the best rotations in all of baseball. It became an exciting time, a competitive time. We pushed each other. We learned from each other. It became just a great, great 10 years.
Bonham: What did you enjoy most about the Braves’ successful run during the ’90s?
Smoltz: What stands out the most for me personally is playing with those two great pitchers and to play golf with them and to see the amount of Cy Young’s that they won. But what obviously will always stand out is the 1995 world championship—to win that which we had been seeking out for so many years will always stand out as one of the greatest accomplishments of my baseball career.
Bonham: When did you first experience a personal relationship with Christ?
Smoltz: It’s been an incredible journey. In 1995 I prayed to receive Christ. I was always a person that wanted to be good. I wanted to live a good life and do the good things. Just teach me how to do good. That’s what I wanted to be. I didn’t understand a personal relationship (with Christ). I didn’t understand what it meant until I was able to take that and was able to really experience Christ’s freedom and just a piece of living a joyous life that He paid everything for me. My life has changed drastically. From 1995 to this point I’ve just grown with the help of the Spirit, grown with the help of accountability partners. I just feel blessed and I know God has had a hand in it.
Bonham: What’s the most effective way that a Christian baseball player, coach or manager can share the gospel in the clubhouse?
Smoltz: Living out the faith is crucial. The words are going to be a product of living it out. I like the saying, “Preach the gospel. When necessary, use words.” I think it’s great when they see you go through tough times, when they see how you handle circumstances. That speaks volumes to them over anything you can hammer over their head. I think you’ve got to live it out. You’ve got to draw from the stance you make and the line you make and then (you’ve got to) be consistent.
(Photos: Arturo Pardavila III; Miss Chatter)