Tales of just how much John Smoltz hated to lose

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 2007, John Smoltz won his 200th game.

John Smoltz ran the football pool every Sunday for the Braves. “He would hand them out and say, ‘You have no chance,”’ teammate Tom Glavine said. “He has to win every pool. I’d say, ‘John, why do we get involved when we know you’re going to win anyway?’ It’s a donation.”

Smoltz has to win at everything, no matter the game, the skill. That wildly competitive nature, plus a mid-90s fastball and a devastating slider, is how he made eight All-Star teams, won a Cy Young, had a 24-win season and three 40-save seasons. It is why he is in the Hall of Fame. It is why he is the only pitcher ever to win 200 games and save 150.

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Smoltz is an incredible athlete. He could have played basketball at Michigan State. He had a smaller-sized football field built at his house; he dominated flag football games with his friends and his teammates on the Braves. He had a sleep chamber installed in his house so he could sleep better than anyone. He once beat a friend in pingpong, then beat him playing left-handed, then beat him playing from his knees. In golf, Smoltz is better than scratch.

“Nothing is impossible for him on the course,” Glavine said. “If he has a terrible front nine, he’ll want to bet you that he goes 3 under on the back.”

At a Christmas party at Chipper Jones’ house, a game of HORSE broke out. Braves coach Ned Yost threw in a couple of lucky shots from the deck, and one from the street.

“I had him beat,” Yost said. “It would have been the greatest feat of my career … then I went into full panic mode, John made some shots, and beat me.”

Glavine said, “If Ned had beaten him, John would have stayed up all night until he won. He couldn’t go home on that note. John is always looking for an area where he can excel. Then he loves to tell you that he’s the best.”

To which, Smoltz said with a smile, “I only brag about things that I’m not good at. I never brag about pitching. All those games I play with myself, and others, raises my game.”

Which explains why 20 years ago, Smoltz accosted me in the Marlins clubhouse: “I need for you to find something for me. I know I’ve walked more than any active pitcher. Where can I find that? Can you find that?”

The Elias Sports Bureau confirmed that Smoltz had the most walks of any active pitcher.

“I knew it!” Smoltz said.

Glavine has since passed Smoltz in career walks (101-79). But that day was another victory for John Smoltz.

Other baseball notes for May 24

  • In 1946, Joe McCarthy resigned as manager of the Yankees due to health reasons. He managed the team for parts of 16 years, had a .627 winning percentage and won eight pennants and seven World Series. He is, by most measures, the best manager in baseball history.

  • In 1969, the Padres’ John Sipin hit two triples in his first major league game. It was the only season he played in the big leagues; he had 229 at-bats that season, and no more triples.

  • In 1965, Rob Ducey was born. On Sept. 14, 1987, he hit the ninth of what would be a record 10 home runs hit by the Blue Jays against the Orioles. Two weeks later, Orioles GM Hank Peters, disgusted, called me into his office, popped a tape in his tape player and said, “I want you to watch it. I call it ‘The Barrage.'” Peters had had an assistant make a tape of the 10 homers. “We are showing it to all of our pitchers on the proper way NOT to pitch,” Peters said.

  • In 1976, the A’s Bert Campaneris stole five bases in one game. Ten years earlier, at age 9, I approached a man who I thought was Bert Campaneris at The Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. I asked for his autograph. He politely signed, but said, “I am not a baseball player.” As it turned out, it was singer Harry Belafonte.