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Smoltz has high praise for Trammell in Fame speech

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
John Smoltz gives his Hall of Fame induction speech on Sunday.

Cooperstown, N.Y. -- Rather than head off to rookie ball, as was typical protocol, the Tigers invited their 22nd-round draft pick to spend 35 days in August and September 1985 hanging around the team he lived and died with growing up.

John Smoltz was in the home clubhouse at Tiger Stadium one August day that year feeling like a "fish out of water" when a veteran player strolled up and introduced himself.

"Alan Trammell came up to me and said, 'Hi, I'm Alan Trammell. Anything I can do for you, don't hesitate to ask. This house is your house,'" Smoltz said during his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday afternoon. "I will never forget. I thank you, Alan Trammell, for teaching me what a professional baseball player is all about.

"It was as if he introduced and gave me a baton and said, 'Now pay this forward any chance you can. I have done that to the best of my ability."

Smoltz, the Metro Detroit native and former star of Lansing, took his place in Cooperstown during a speech that checked in just under 30 minutes -- and it was a speech that clearly paid homage to the values he learned from Trammell, the long-time Tigers shortstop, current Tigers front-office adviser and "a Hall of Famer in my book," during that memorable, 15-second meet-and-greet 30 years ago next month.

Smoltz thanked countless folks, from his immediate family right down to the clubhouse kids.

Yes, the clubhouse kids.

"They never get enough time to be noticed," said Smoltz, "and sometimes get treated in a way that doesn't represent what the game is."

Trammell, it turns out, taught him well.

Changing his tune

Smoltz, who spent 22 seasons in the major leagues, 21 with the Braves after that legendary trade with the Tigers in 1987, was part of an epic, four-man Hall of Fame class that included two other legendary pitchers, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson. Martinez, at "5-foot-11," will go down as one of the shortest Hall of Famers ever, and Johnson, at 6-foot-10, as one of the biggest.

Smoltz checks in right around the middle of them.

"It shows why baseball is a game of all sizes and shapes," said Smoltz, "and why it is truly America's pasttime."

John Smoltz holds his plaque with Hall of Fame  president Jeff Idelson on Sunday.

The fourth member of the class was Craig Biggio, an Astros lifer who made his mark at catcher, then second base, then in the outfield, reaching the 3,000-hit mark along the way.

Each inductee was introduced with a pre-taped video, and Biggio's was narrated by his long-time teammate and best friend, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus.

Ausmus called Biggio a throwback ballplayer, always hustling and always dirty.

"He just looked," said Ausmus, "like he should've been filmed in black and white."

Smoltz, 48, was raised in Lansing by two parents who met in accordion circles -- and tried, Smoltz said, to make him the next Lawrence Welk.

Smoltz started lessons at age 4, but had to break the news to his parents at age 7. He had a different dream: to be a Major League Baseball player.

His parents, who didn't know anything about sports, were supportive, but suggested he have a back-up plan. He did: gas-station attendant.

"You not only allowed me to pursue this newfound passion of mine," Smoltz said before a crowd in the tens of thousands. "You went on a mission to get me opportunities."

Smoltz began forging his skills with a rubber ball and a brick wall, playing games by himself -- and, as he said, being the pitcher, the manager, the pitching coach, the general manager and the groundskeeper for every "game." He'd emulate the motions of his favorite Tigers, including his idol, Jack Morris. And, no surprise, Smoltz won all the big games -- a precursor to his major-league career, when he would be become one of the best big-game pitchers in a generation, as a starter, then a closer, and then as a starter again.

He thanked countless folks from Lansing, including two youth coaches and his high school baseball and basketball coach, for having an impact on a kid who was all set to go to Michigan State, until the Tigers drafted him in 1985.

That's when he signed, and headed to Tiger Stadium, where he got more valuable life lessons than any others. Two years later, he was in Double-A for Detroit -- and then he was gone, in one of the most infamous trades in Tigers history. Detroit got Doyle Alexander, who went 9-0 for the Tigers, a significant reason they won the American League East by a single game.

'Never took one day for granted'

Smoltz, under the close eyes of manager Bobby Cox and pitching coach Leo Mazzone, would go on to be a Hall of Famer, winning 213 games, saving 154. He's the only man with 200 wins and 150 saves, and Sunday, he became the lowest draft pick and the first Tommy John surgery patient to make the Hall of Fame.

No surprise, then, he thanked Tommy John, and then sent a message to parents of young kids -- many, at age 14 and 15, whom are having the surgery while being told they have to stick to one sport.

"Please take care of those great, future arms," Smoltz said, to hearty applause.

Smoltz starred at Lansing Waverly High School, and still returns to Michigan -- often to watch his beloved Spartans play football or basketball.

He said, "Growing up in Lansing was incredible."

But Smoltz calls Atlanta home these days, with his wife, four children and two stepchildren, whom he thanked for adjusting thier lives along the way so he could pursue his dreams.

The dream ride now has brought him all the way from Lansing to Cooperstown.

He's the fourth member of those great Braves teams -- won won 14 consecutive division titles in a row, in the 1990s and 2000s -- to make the Hall of Fame, joining 2014 inductees Cox, and rotation mates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

There'll likely never again be a starting-pitching trio that had such a big impact for so many years on one franchise as Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux. Glavine and Maddux poked some fun at Smoltz last year, but he opted against revenge this year. He usually gets that on the golf course, anyway.

"I never took one day for granted," said Smoltz, who only spent one year outside Atlanta -- his last year, 2009, which was split between the Reds Sox and Cardinals. "I played every game as if it were my last."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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