John Smoltz Done For The Year, Maybe Forever

John Smoltz, who started the season on the DL and managed all of five starts in 2008, will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery.

John Smoltz Atlanta Braves

The 41-year-old pitcher, the last great player from that Atlanta Braves dynasty of the 1990s, insists that he’ll try to come back for 2009. But most of us know better.

YAHOO! SPORTS mentions that arm problems are nothing new for Smoltz:

[H]e’s been plagued by injuries throughout his 21-year career. Smoltz had his first elbow operation after a strike ended the 1994 season, another arthroscopic procedure that limited him to 26 starts in 1998 and ligament replacement surgery that cost him an entire season two years later.

Coming back from that procedure, Smoltz switched to the bullpen, hoping it would relieve the stress on his elbow. He had 154 saves during his three-plus seasons as the closer, including an NL-record 55 in 2002.

So why attempt to come back? There’s the obvious, aging-athlete-can’t-let-go-of-the-game angle. But there’s also the benefit of conducting rehab in a major-league facility, as opposed to the HMO clinic down the street. And there’s the notion that Smoltz would rather do what he does best, even if he’s not at his best:

While on the disabled list, Smoltz changed his pitching motion, going to a three-quarters motion to ease the pain in his shoulder. He came on in the ninth inning of Monday night’s game against Florida with a 4-3 lead but gave up three hits and two runs, blowing his first save chance since 2004.

Smoltz has 210 wins with 150 saves (the only pitcher in history to do that), along with over 3,000 strikeouts. So let the debate begin: Is he a Hall-Of-Famer?