It’s that time again, when the BBWAA announces its annual inductions into baseball’s hallowed Hall of Fame. This year’s ballot is packed with talented players, with more than a little controversy surrounding many of its potential inductees. But there is one name that won’t be on my ballot. And, yes, it’s for the reason everyone won’t stop talking about but no one wants to hear.
My conscience won’t allow me to support John Smoltz when it is possible that he murdered a drifter at an Applebees on February 3, 1997.
Yes, I know that Smoltz was never convicted–or even charged–with the brutal killing of a teenage hitchhiker in the bathroom of a Georgia casual dining establishment. But here’s the thing: Because Major League Baseball did such a terrible job of policing the behavior of its players during Smoltz’s career, we are left with questions that can never be answered. We are left to speculate whether the hard-throwing right-hander attacked an innocent young man in the bathroom of the Smyrna Applebees Bar & Grill just to know what it felt like to end a life.
What are we supposed to think? Just take a look at pictures of Smoltz before and after the 1997 offseason. You can see a confidence in his posture that could only come from using his bare hands to snuff out the existence of another human being, as well as a weariness in his eyes that looks, perhaps not without cause, like the weathered gaze of a young Charles Manson. His supporters are already rolling their eyes, and muttering to themselves that a thousand-yard stare means nothing. Maybe he just wasn’t getting enough sleep. But in the context of the era, when illegal activity was running rampant, signs like these can’t be ignored.
Maybe his supporters are right. Maybe Smoltz was doing something on February 3, 1997 other than brutally choking another human being to death mere yards from oblivious diners enjoying a generous serving of mozzarella sticks. Maybe, as over 18,000 murders occurred in the United States in 1997, Smoltz merely looked the other way and relieved his curiosity about the fragility of the human condition in other ways. But where was he, one of the most prominent pitchers in baseball, in protesting these thousands of killings. Smoltz never did a thing to stop a single murder in 1997, even if we suspend credulity and agree that he may not have been involved in one?
To date, Smoltz has not even addressed the accusations that he carefully placed an “Out of Order” sign on the mens restroom at the Smyrna Applebees so that he would not be interrupted as he strangled a complete stranger until he could no longer breathe. Like most of the other murderers of the era, he has chosen to stay silent on the matter. Where is the accountability from a professional athlete who says that these suspicions are “baseless” and “silly?”
I don’t care how many times you tell me that no one saw John Smoltz at the Smyrna Applebees on February 3, 1997, or that fibers from the floor of the bathroom matched clothing found in the home of an area serial killer. This isn’t a court of law, this is a Hall of Fame ballot, and my standard of evidence is a bit lighter than the burden of the state to convict.
Sure, Smoltz has a good case if you just look at the stats. But voters have a right–no, a responsibility–to consider the possibility that he used his greater size and physical ability to commit the most brutal of crimes.
Did John Smoltz murder a drifter in the bathroom of an Applebees on Feburary 3, 1997? I don’t know. But can I ignore the suspicion? Can I fail to weigh it against his MLB career? No, that would be a disservice to the Hall of Fame and I will have no part in that.