Book Review: Starting and Closing
- Updated: May 15, 2012
Not many players in the history of baseball had as unpredictable a career as John Smoltz. Usually a
starting pitcher stays such throughout his career, or if a player becomes a dominant closer one year, it is
impossible to change them from that role. Smoltz would be the ultimate exception to this rule. In short,
Smoltz was a pitcher, not to be defined by silly words like starter, reliever or closer. He pitched where
the team dictated they needed him most, and that is what makes his story special.
In his new book, written with Don Yaeger, Starting and Closing: Perseverance, Faith, and One More Year,
Smoltz tells the story of how he became the person that pitched so well for so many years. Very early on
in the book, Smoltz establishes a few facts. One of these facts is that he always believed that he could
win at whatever he did. The second fact is that he didn’t really care how he became the best
or how he won; just that it happened. Essentially, he didn’t care what records he held, or how the game
ended up on his side, as long as when it was over, he was victorious.
One of the main points of Smoltz’s book is to explain why he decided to come back for one final season
after having to miss an entire season due to undergoing Tommy John surgery. He points out that to this day,
the question he is asked most by people, whether it be in the line at a movie theater or on the set of
a television baseball show, is why after he had already had a career so many people would be pleased
with, he put himself through an extremely difficult rehabilitation program to come back for one more
The short answer that Smoltz provides to this question is simple. He tells them, “Why not?” An answer
that is in some ways both easy and hard to argue with. On one hand, one could argue that Smoltz had
enough money in the bank to last him for a life time and had already had a lengthy and successful
career, so there was no reason for him to push himself to get back out there. On the other hand,
someone could look at this and wonder why anyone would want to stop doing what they love to do
when they still have something left in the tank.
Smoltz explains the different layers that made his decision to come back for that last season easy. He
blatantly states that there was no thought in his end that if he played another year and had another
significant boost to his numbers that he could perhaps bolster his argument to get into the Hall of Fame.
Many times, hearing that the love of the game is the reason for playing is hard to take from players who
are making millions of dollars to play catch on a diamond. While this isn’t to say that the feeling would
not apply at all to Smoltz, he certainly attempts to make a compelling case for his love of the game being
the main driver for him to continue on.
The book is a rather quick read and the story of Smoltz’s career unfolds itself in a very informal
memoir type of a fashion. This would be an interesting read for anyone who followed Smoltz through
his career or has a significant interest specifically in the mindset of pitchers. Smoltz is the only player in
modern history who was dominant both as a starter and as a closer, and this uniqueness is illustrated
throughout the book. Not only do readers learn the story about him on the mound, but they learn
about the passions he has off of it as well such as golf and faith.
The 304 page book retails for $26 and will be out in hardcover this month. The book is published by
William Morrow, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.
Overall Rating: 2.75/5