Leyland respects Smoltz, but "he's struggled"
Tigers manager Jim Leyland has been on the opposing side of John Smoltz more times than he cares to remember as a manager. He knows the rumor mill will percolate suggesting that the 42-year-old right-hander should close out his Major League career where it should’ve started in Detroit, where Smoltz was a top prospect more than 20 years old before going to Atlanta in the Doyle Alexander trade in 1987.
But sentimentality is not going to get the Tigers to make a move.
“I’m not getting into all that stuff,” Leyland said Saturday. “Evidently, at this particular time, in my opinion, possibly the best big-game pitcher of all-time and one of my all-time favorites is just struggling, and they decided to designate him. That’s all I know about it.”
Leyland went on to call Smoltz “the best postseason pitcher I’ve ever seen,” a compliment to the way the Lansing, Mich. native pitched against the Pirates in the 1991 and ’92 NLCS on his way to a 15-4 career playoff record.
“I don’t know John that well,” Leyland said, “but I have the utmost respect for him.”
He also doesn’t know the situation with Smoltz’s struggles this year in Boston, which has 10 days to make a move and either trade Smoltz, let him go somewhere on waivers, or simply release him. But he knows that before anyone can speculate on Smoltz pitching anywhere again, Smoltz has to make a decision himself.
“It’s sad, and I don’t know this, but sometimes it’s time to go. I don’t know if that’s the case with John or not. Obviously he’s struggled. You hate to see that. I don’t know him that well, but I know the competitive spirit that I saw for all those years. I would doubt very much that John Smoltz would want to hang around if he can’t compete. Now, maybe he still can. I’m not saying he can’t.”