Smoltz had been acquired from the Detroit Tigers 11 months earlier, in August 1987, in exchange for 36-year-old pitcher Doyle Alexander. This was an instant-gratification buy for Detroit, which rode Alexander to the division title that fall but lost in the playoffs and was left with...what? The Braves, meanwhile, had a future Cy Young favorite. "A lot of people are predicting me for it," Smoltz acknowledges today. "And I don't plan to lead the league in predictions."
In the middle of that hideous, glorious summer of 1988, the Braves made All-Hemisphere high schooler Steve Avery the No. 3 pick in the nation. This was a no-brainer: Avery chugged a cup of decaf in the minors and joined the rotation in 1990.
Let all of these ingredients simmer for two seasons, then fold in some defense. When Schuerholz was hired, he signed third baseman Terry Pendleton and first baseman Sid Bream to solidify the corners. He added Deion Sanders and Otis Nixon to an outfield that already included Ron Gant and David Justice. "The reason this team wins is defense and pitching," says Maddux, an impartial observer until this season. "These outfielders catch everything. Doubles and triples are outs. I noticed the same thing in Chicago last year. Everybody talked about how the pitching staff there got better, but the defense had improved dramatically behind us."
Ah, yes: Maddux. Last winter Schuerholz offered Maddux $6 million less than the New York Yankees offered him. Naturally Maddux accepted the Atlanta bid. The major reason: "This team's ability to win," he says.
"The public speculation was that we would sign [outfielder Barry] Bonds," says Schuerholz. "But actually a starting pitcher is what we wanted. Because while we feel we now have a prospect at every position at [Triple A] Richmond, our pitching is no longer deep there."
At every position at Triple A, the Braves have a prospect. Is that a frightening prospect?
Smoltz is 25 (5 x 5). Fifth starter Smith wears number 25 (5 x 5). Avery wears 33, which, when multiplied by five, gives the sum of all five pitchers' uniform numbers (165). Avery and Glavine, of course, have the Roman numeral V in their surnames: Add the two V's together, and you get the last letter in the last name Maddux. Coincidence? Perhaps.
Smoltz can blow smoke like Smoltz can throw smoke. That may be the real reason the Brave rotation can play any golf course it wants as a fivesome. "Smoltzie," says Avery, "is the ultimate smoozer. Schmoozer? Whatever. Smoltzie could talk his way into an all-women's club."
Now that the season is upon them, however, these Braves will no longer golf as a fivesome. Whichever pitcher is making the next start will not be allowed to play golf. Other restrictions apply. "We're all married except for Pete Smith," Avery noted during spring training. "So we play when our wives let us."