What We Know About John Smoltz, Polka King

DJ Bean
June 25, 2009 - 5:50 am

Remember that scene in Home Alone where Kevin's mother is frantically trying to find a way back to Chicago and finds herself S.O.L. at the airport? Remember how she ends up getting bailed out by a polka band led by John Candy, who declares himself the "polka king of the midwest?" Tonight when you're watching John Smoltz on the hill for the Red Sox, imagine John Candy out there. "What the...?" you wonder. Fair enough. Let me explain. According to Accordion USA, Smoltz has been known to tickle the ... accordion? Not completely sure how that expression translates to the accordion, but it's still a fascinating note. This isn't to say athletes aren't musicians -- you're bound to find an acoustic guitar in any clubhouse (you're also bound to find this on my iPod, not this) -- but the accordion is an interesting choice to say the least. Smoltz recently told WEEI.com's Alex Speier that he hasn't played the instrument since he was a kid (he learned at the age of four). Even so, his dalliance with that instrument -- and the comparisons between Smoltz and John Candy (?!) seemed a good place to start with a list of things we've learned about Smoltz in his nearly six months as a Red Sock: THERE IS SOME CURT SCHILLING IN WHAT SMOLTZ MUST NOW DO. BUT ONLY SOME. Many people have taken to comparing Smoltz this year to Curt Schilling in 2007, which may be a bit of a stretch, considering Schilling wasn't coming off a major injury like Smoltz is. Plus, Schilling tossed an impressive 204 innings the year before, compared to Smoltz' 28 last year. Even so, the issue of reinvention as a pitcher is relevant to Smoltz, just as it was to Schilling. What should people expect out of Smoltz? For starters, a completely different pitcher. While his fastball has been in the low 90's (he topped out at 91 in his last Pawtucket start), he has placed a bigger emphasis on his changeup than ever bef0re, as he said after the start. Gone are his days of being an overpowering hurler, an adjustment that has undoubtedly required tremendous patience, but he has been able to use his change to his advantage in the minors without any serious problems. '€œI had to work on that pitch awfully hard because that'€™s not a comfortable pitch," said Smoltz at the time. "That'€™s not my pitch that I would go to [in the past]." The pitch really got a lot of attention from Smoltz, who threw it more than any other pitch in the second inning in his final start against Charlotte. While he threw it more than regularly in the minors, don't expect him be like Keith Foulke out there. "Whatever pitch I think is best for the moment, I will throw it and look at tape later to determine if it was the right one or not," said Smoltz yesterday. ASIDE FROM AGE, THERE ARE NO SIMILARITIES BETWEEN 42-YEAR-OLDS SMOLTZ AND TIM WAKEFIELD Back in the late 90's, Smoltz experimented with a pitch that Sox fans have come to love. He began throwing the knuckleball to save his arm, but some were wondering last year whether he could permanently add it to his arsenal. In a word, no. IF SMOLTZ IS ON HIS GAME, RIGHT-HANDED HITTERS WILL DESPAIR I had planned on putting together some well-researched statistical masterpiece on Smoltz, but luckily for me, I awoke this morning to see that Gary Marbry had already done the perfect one in Nuggetpalooza. Genius. As Gary From Chapel Hill notes, right-handers have never hit better than .240 against Smoltz in a season. CHANGE IS NEW FOR JOHN SMOLTZ -- BUT NOT UNPRECEDENTED. Many folks probably assumed that Smoltz was going to be a lifer with the Braves, though even if he stayed in Atlanta, he still technically wouldn't be a one-organization man. Similar to what Jason Varitek has been to this point, Smoltz was traded as a Tigers prospect before spending 21 seasons in Atlanta. TIGER MUST WAIT Time will tell how big this signing will be for the Red Sox, but the fact of the matter remains that it was a low-risk move that could pay off come October. A man with his resume could have gone found work in other places for sure, but the move is one that is based around the playoffs for both parties. Plain and simple, Smoltz didn't come to Boston so he could go golfing in October, though he's tight with a guy who's pretty good at it. THERE ARE SOME THIRSTS THAT SMOLTZ CANNOT QUENCH Smoltz hopes to have a make a big impact on fans in Boston, just like he did on beer-drinkers in Augusta. Well, maybe not exactly like he did on the beer-drinkers in Augusta. For my money, if he can maintain an ERA around the low- to mid-fours while remaining strong down the stretch, he will be a fine third or fourth starter. And, of course, that would be put him in line for a start in October, where history suggests he is at his best, and where Smoltz is focused on being an impact pitcher again. "(The first start) is just one rung on the ladder to try to climb as far as I can to see how good I can be and really, at the end of the day, be in a position to pitch in the playoffs,'€ Smoltz said in Washington on Wednesday. "It will be a success. I came back with this mindset. It ain'€™t about stories, it ain'€™t about to say I can do it again. This is about pitching and getting hitters out. The end result is going to be that. And in three, four, five starts from now, I think you'€™ll see why I feel the way I do."