(Reuters) - John Smoltz booked a permanent place for the Atlanta Braves’ golden pitching trio with his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday that reunited him with former teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
The Hall of Fame trio formed a remarkable partnership during one of Major League Baseball’s greatest runs -- 14 successive division titles won by Atlanta from 1991.
“I was given an opportunity to go (to the playoffs) for 14 straight years,” Smoltz, who went 15-4 in the postseason with four saves, told reporters on a conference call. “I don’t think anyone else will ever be able to do that.”
Yet that stretch of unmatched dominance was tempered by a frustrating inability to pile up championships as those Braves teams reached the World Series five times but only won the Fall Classic in 1995.
“We had our opportunities and just didn’t get it done,” said Smoltz, a first-ballot Hall of Famer whose former manager Bobby Cox was enshrined in Cooperstown last year along with Maddux and Glavine.
”Yeah, there’s a little part of you that sits there and goes ‘My gosh, we could’ve won a few more and how didn’t we get it done?’
“But when I look back ... it was the greatest run in sports.”
Smoltz began his career as a starting pitcher and formed a Big Three in the rotation with Maddux and Glavine before volunteering for the bullpen and becoming a top-notch closer after undergoing elbow surgery and missing the 2000 season.
“I‘m probably not in anyone’s class because of the strangeness of my career, the uniqueness of what I did,” said Smoltz, the only major leaguer to win more than 200 games and notch over 150 saves. “It kind of sets me apart a little bit.”
Asked about seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens and home run king Barry Bonds languishing under 40 percent of the voting due to suspected use of performance enhancers, Smoltz said MLB had made great strides in dealing with offenders.
An outspoken advocate for harsh doping penalties before testing was initiated in 2004, Smoltz said: ”I didn’t think we were going to get to this point.
“(Baseball) has back it’s integrity and the legitimacy that it needs so fans do not sit there and wonder if what they’re watching is legitimate or not.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue