Smoltz latest to move from field to booth
Hurler to provide commentary for TBS and MLB Network
It's gone from a trickle to a trend.
Thanks to increased television opportunities and hard-fought competition on the field, the allure of the broadcast booth has intensified in recent years, drawing not only long-retired players but also stars of a more modern lineage. Former players seem more comfortable with switching gears, thanks to a rapidly changing media landscape that has accommodated them with a viable alternative.
Twice this winter, in fact, a player has announced his retirement and simultaneously launched a career in television. And now there's John Smoltz, who will move into a post-playing career without even calling it quits on the field. Smoltz, who announced on Tuesday that he will work for Turner Sports and MLB Network in a dual broadcasting role, left the door open for a return to game action.
And that, in and of itself, wouldn't be unprecedented. Former catcher Tim McCarver retired after the 1979 season to begin a broadcasting career and wound up playing again in September 1980. McCarver, of course, then went on to become one of the game's most celebrated analysts.
For Smoltz, who has no interest in coaching, it's more a matter of doing what feels right at the given moment.
"This has been one of the most interesting and rewarding offseasons of my life, one filled with speculation and with rumors," Smoltz said during a conference call on Tuesday. "The opportunity that has been presented to me has been overwhelming, and I look forward to it."
And with that opportunity comes a whole new dimension of perspective. Gone are the days of the wizened baseball sage, the iconic voices of such men as Phil Rizzuto and Ralph Kiner spinning tales of days gone by. In their place have come the newly retired and the still familiar, a collection of names left over from All-Star Games of recent vintage and with track records against the players on the field.
Smoltz, who had been vocal in his desire to continue his playing career, was surprised by the rabid interest in his services as a broadcaster. That interest, truth be told, is due to the success of some of his less-celebrated peers. MLB Network hired several former players last winter -- some seasoned broadcasters and some right off the field -- and Smoltz was intrigued by the product.
There will be days when Smoltz works as an analyst alongside broadcasting luminary Bob Costas, and he'll also get to provide some candid commentary during the network's studio show. Smoltz can follow the recent trail blazed by such broadcasting neophytes as Sean Casey, Barry Larkin and Tony Clark, just some of the prominent players who have signed on to work for MLB Network.
TBS, which will also employ Smoltz, has hired such popular ex-players as Ron Darling, David Wells and Dennis Eckersley in recent years. Now Smoltz -- the only player in big league history to top 200 wins and 150 saves -- will get to add his voice.
"This is just too good to be true," Smoltz said. "The things that I do, I like to have a lot of fun. And this is something that I'm going to have a lot of fun with. It's the opportunity to do both studio and games with the crew of people that have been assembled and the people that are there. I've watched it and I've seen it grow. I'm just looking forward to it. It's a great opportunity for me personally as well as professionally."
And he's hardly alone in that assessment. Aaron Boone, who retired earlier this offseason, had also entertained hopes of continuing his career but instead has signed on with ESPN's "Baseball Tonight," a decision he termed as a dream come true.
"This is a very exciting day for me," Boone said upon announcing his career change. "In a lot of ways, although I'm retiring from the game, I feel like it's just another step in the game. I went from being drafted to making the big leagues to being an everyday player to being a role player, a bench player. And now to be an analyst, although I'm taking my uniform off, in a lot of ways, it doesn't feel like I'm retiring."
ESPN has been at the forefront of the hiring trend, starting with Orestes Destrade and John Kruk more than five seasons ago. Orel Herhisher signed on soon after, and Eduardo Perez, Eric Young and Fernando Vina joined the network in 2007. Now ESPN has added Boone and former All-Star Nomar Garciaparra, who also announced his retirement and a job with ESPN on the same day this winter.
That rush of hirings has been intensified by the nascent rise of MLB Network, which launched last season. Such veteran broadcasters as Harold Reynolds, Joe Magrane and Al Leiter highlighted the network's first class, which also included Billy Ripken and Dan Plesac. That influx of professional insight enhanced the network's credibility, a process Smoltz hopes to continue with his own presence.
"What I do, and what I bring -- or what I think I bring -- is an energy of currentness, of being just removed from baseball," Smoltz said. "I like telling a story. I like talking about the game. I certainly like promoting the game in the way it should be promoted."
Smoltz also said that he won't shy away from being outspoken, a trait that could get him in trouble when he calls the games of his former team, the Atlanta Braves. Then again, he said, his former teammates and coaches wouldn't really expect him to be any other way. The right-hander said that he'll essentially just be talking baseball, a job he's developed a talent for over his lifetime in the game.
"I'm going to have fun with the current players and certainly have a ribbing coming both ways," said Smoltz of his on-air demeanor. "But I'll do it in a way that will give me access and give me direct connection and knowledge to what I talk about."
For Tony Petitti, the president and CEO of MLB Network, that kind of analysis is as good as it gets. Petitti has strived to put together a broadcasting team that appeals to the average fan, but also one that provides real insight. A player such as Smoltz -- who has won a Cy Young award and a World Series title and has saved 50 games -- is invaluable toward establishing that level of excellence.
"We're pleased to have assembled a terrific team that fans can relate to as the face of the network, especially when you're as new as we are," Petitti said on Tuesday afternoon. "To have people that are not only recognizable but are credible and have credentials ... We've built a great team. And now the opportunity to add John to that team is just tremendous for us, and great for baseball fans and viewers."
The trend is perhaps best epitomized by Boone, who grew up in one of baseball's most storied families. Both his grandfather Ray Boone and father, Bob Boone, were All-Stars, but he didn't necessarily see playing as the end-all and be-all. He can remember a childhood steeped in learning the game right way, but he adds that his education continued long after his scheduled bedtime.
"This is something I've always pictured myself doing," Boone said of broadcasting. "As a little kid, going to bed at night listening to Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn call Phillies games, it left a lasting impression on me. I can't wait to get going at it. I think the one thing I'll miss is my teammates and that camaraderie you get from them and from competing against the best, but this is something that's a different challenge."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.