Smoltz, Jones tabbed as NL All-Stars
Right-hander's seventh selection, center fielder's fourth
PHILADELPHIA -- As the Braves prepared to complete a three-game series against the Pirates during the first weekend of June, John Smoltz was asked if he was still holding out hopes of going to his native Michigan to participate in this year's All-Star Game.
Shaking his head and wearing a half-smile, he answered, "They don't take guys with stats like mine."
At the time, Smoltz's belief was true for himself and Andruw Jones. But since then, they have been two of the hottest players in baseball, and on Sunday, their efforts were rewarded with the announcement that both would be representing the Braves at this year's Midsummer Classic.
"It's always fitting for those guys to be on an All-Star team," said Braves manager Bobby Cox who has seen those two veterans enable his injury-plagued team to stay in the hunt in the tightly contested National League East race.
The All-Star Game, to be held at Detroit's Comerica Park on Tuesday, July 12 at 8 p.m. ET, will be televised nationally by FOX Sports and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage, and MLB Radio will provide exclusive play-by-play coverage of the game on the Internet.
This is the seventh All-Star selection for Smoltz, who has proven more than capable of making the successful conversion from closer back to a starting role. As for Jones, who leads the Majors in home runs with 26 and is seemingly finally realizing his full offensive potential, he'll be participating in his fourth All-Star Game.
"It's always an honor to represent the Atlanta Braves and the National League in an All-Star Game," Jones said.
Jones received a flood of votes fans over the past week and finished sixth among National League outfielders. But in balloting among NL coaches and players, he finished third and thus was selected as a reserve.
When told that he was selected by his peers, Jones was appreciative and indicated that he believed as long as the game determined home-field advantage for the World Series, then coaches and players should have more authority on who gets the majority of playing time.
"If they're making a big deal about the home field advantage then I think they should let the coaches and players should make the decision [of] who's going to start," said Jones, adding that fans should be allowed to choose the reserves.
A month ago, the injury-riddled Braves seemed headed for disaster. But that was before Smoltz and Jones took it upon themselves to put their teammates on their shoulders and carry the load. Consequently, they proved to be two of the game's best players in June.
"I thought it was pretty cut and dry," Cox said, indicating he wasn't surprised to hear that either of his veterans had been selected.
When Smoltz was asked the All-Star question back in Pittsburgh, he was 4-4 with a 3.12 ERA. Since then, the veteran hurler has gone 5-1 with a 2.00 ERA, tossed a shutout and produced three complete games. It's a stretch he believes is better than any he experienced during his 1996 Cy Young campaign.
It's also a stretch one might not have expected him to encounter when he lasted just 1 2/3 innings on Opening Day and was 0-3 after his first three starts. Since then, his offense has backed him more consistently and he's proudly surprised those who doubted his move back to the rotation.
At the same time, Smoltz wasn't predicting All-Star selection when this season began. He hadn't been in a rotation for an entire season since 1999.
"It was the furthest thing from my mind," Smoltz said. "You can't leave Spring Training thinking about this, if you're in my position."
This All-Star selection will be a special one for Smoltz, who was raised a loyal Tigers fan in Lansing, Mich. While working at old Tiger Stadium, his grandfather would often tell his co-workers how his grandson would one day be pitching there.
His grandfather is ill in Detroit and may not even know that his grandson will be coming home for a showcase of the world's greatest players. But his son, the second of the three men named John Smoltz, and his wife will be there to see their son make a very special homecoming.
"It probably means more to my dad and family than me," Smoltz said. "Not to make it seem any less important to me. I just can't imagine my dad's position."
When Smoltz was selected to his fourth All-Star Game in 1996, he didn't realize it would another nine seasons before he'd get selected as a starting pitcher again. His selections in 2002 and 2003 came when he was dominating the National League as a closer.
As for Jones, he didn't even begin his Major League career until August 1996. But since then, he's won seven Gold Gloves and established himself as one of the game's best players. But until this past month, his game has lacked consistency.
"I feel happier for him than I do for myself, just from the standpoint of what he's been under for a long time," Smoltz said.
Jones was hitting just .243 with 12 home runs and 31 RBIs on June 8. In the 22 games that followed, he batted .378 with 14 homers and 28 RBIs.
Heading into Sunday night's game, June was hitting .280 with 26 homers and 59 RBIs. Much of his consistency can be attributed to the wider stance he's stuck with throughout this season. He utilized it during his successful Minor League days and felt it was time to return to it this year.
In addition, he showed Smoltz during offseason workouts that he was committed to doing something special. Now the two of them are able to celebrate the award of their labor together.
"It speaks volumes for his year," Smoltz said. "He did it in a solid month. It's a tribute to him."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.