John Smoltz is a man who plainly, unambiguously hates watching baseball. He may insist otherwise—he may be adamant that in fact he has “a passion for the game that I love”—but no one has ever heard Smoltz communicate anything other than misery and contempt throughout his post-playing career as a baseball broadcaster. Perhaps this is Smoltz’s understanding of the nature of love, that it is in fact indistinguishable from the experience of looking down at your ticket in an un-air-conditioned DMV and seeing the number 1,024 and then looking up at the blinking digital Now Serving board and seeing the number 17. Heartbreaking to think that this man’s way of expressing love for his wife and children might be to shake his head and pull a sour face and say That’s not gonna get it done. This is no way to live.
And so baseball fans and humanitarians alike rejoiced Tuesday evening when the New York Post reported that Smoltz and fellow MLB Network analyst Al Leiter will no longer appear in studio after refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Post says MLB Network made it mandatory for all employees to be vaccinated effective Sept. 1; it would surprise no one to learn that Smoltz, whose powers of reasoning and logic are known to glass over and darken the eyes of even the most enthusiastic and open-minded of baseball viewers, has decided that a sound and smart move is to reject vaccination for a deadly globe-conquering virus. The other possibility is that Smoltz has decided he would rather die of a perfectly preventable illness than continue for one more day in his current job as a baseball analyst and commentator. Certainly no one who has heard him call a baseball game would be surprised by this development.
Smoltz, who moved into broadcasting soon after retiring back in 2009, is the lead analyst for Fox’s baseball coverage, and has been an in-studio analyst with MLB Network since 2010. Whereas Leiter was a fine if forgettable color guy during his time covering Yankees games for the YES Network, Smoltz gained attention for his curmudgeonly disdain for the modern game virtually from the moment his playing career ended. It’s not just ball trajectories and shifts and analytics with Smoltz; game length, strikeouts, expanded rosters, relief pitchers, trades, free agency, small ball, non-small ball—the man will waste no opportunity to remind viewers how much he dislikes baseball. A google search for “John Smoltz complaining” is validating for anyone who thought they were alone in worrying about this poor old man’s plight—fans have been reading his signals loud and clear for quite some time.
Smoltz, aware of his reputation as the most prominent baseball hater to draw an income from talking about baseball on television, has insisted in the past that when he gets in the booth he has “zero agenda,” but hating what you are watching is no more an agenda for a baseball broadcaster than it is for a person stuck in a theater watching a terrible movie. Unlike the unfortunate moviegoer, Smoltz has been unable to escape that booth for more than a full decade now. It’s cruel and inhumane, is what it is, especially because Smoltz is actually engaging and broadly fine when he can break away from talking about people playing baseball and focus on the mechanics of baseball:
Sadly for everyone involved, this banishment from MLB Network studios does not mean a full escape from the horrors of having to watch baseball and talk about it for a living. According to the Post, Smoltz and Leiter will still appear remotely after the network “made a compromise to keep them on-the-air, but not in the Secaucus studios.” Smoltz is also expected to “call a Division Series game on-site” next month, presumably in his capacity as Joe Buck’s color guy with Fox. Just when Smoltz thought he was out, they pulled him back in.
Nevertheless we must express relief and joy that this poor man is now one step closer to a life free of baseball. A complete escape may yet be possible! Tiger Woods once praised Smoltz, an avid and serious golfer, as the best player he’d ever seen outside of the PGA Tour; Deion Sanders once noted that Smoltz, an avid fisherman, had a well-stocked pond in his very own backyard. A full and fulfilling life of simple pleasures awaits, so long as Smoltz can continue on this trajectory and escape the personal hell of having to pay attention to Major League Baseball, which he hates. Rob Manfred should be so lucky.