Most of us had no idea that one of Atlanta’s most thoughtful and prolific AJC sports columnists wasn’t on speaking terms with one of Atlanta’s most dynamic athletes. Yet it seems that for most of his career as an Atlanta Brave, John Smoltz refused to speak with Mark Bradley (and Bradley reciprocated). Why? Because Bradley wrote a column critical of him in 1997. From Bradley’s AJC blog:
I… simply stopped going near him. And you know who found it all hilarious? [Tom] Glavine, who dubbed me, “Smoltzie’s favorite journalist.” (Have I mentioned that Glavine is my all-time favorite Brave?)
Never mind that I’d written 10 gushing Smoltz columns over the previous decade. Those were eradicated by my one egregious sin. Since he didn’t want to talk with me, I mostly stopped writing about him. When he did something great, I’d say he did something great — fair’s fair — but I kept my distance.
We wouldn’t even say hello when we passed in the hall.
The post is an eye-opening look into the world of sportswriting, which isn’t nearly as cushy a gig as it seems. The relationships are complicated. Sports isn’t rocket science. Yet the athletes are often rock-stars with high school educations, covered by journalists who have to maintain balance in order to keep their jobs.
Frequently, TV stations will sic their news staffs on athletes when athletes find themselves unfavorably in the news. This allows the sports folk to play “good cop” and preserve their relationships with athletes while the news guy swoops in to play “bad cop.”
Bradley’s column also sheds light on the personality of Smoltz, a revered athlete who has an irrationally prickly side. It takes a special breed to hold a twelve-year grudge against a guy who, ultimately, feeds into the hero-worship of professional athletes. Smoltz disingenuously griped that the Braves forced him to sign with Boston. In fact, the Braves offered Smoltz a contract contingent on his ability to actually pitch in a baseball game with his surgically-repaired shoulder. Smoltz will make his first start for the Red Sox tonight.
Not that John Smoltz is a bad guy. He’s been a great pitcher. But it sounds like Bradley knew Smoltz much better than the city that still wants to worship him.
Update: Smoltz had a rough debut, losing to the Nationals. He got hit hardest in the first inning, but struck out the final three batters he faced. Here’s his line:
============IP H R ER BB K HR HBP SEASON ERA
Smoltz(L, 0-1) 5.0 7 5 5 1 5 0 1 9.00