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Matt Moore can learn a great deal from John Smoltz

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It is great to see Matt Moore back on the mound for the Rays. This hard-throwing left-hander has the talent to be a star in Major League Baseball, but he has a big challenge to be the Matt Moore he was before Tommy John surgery. He certainly has not been that pitcher during his first outings this season.

No one can say for certain Moore had Hall of Fame stuff before his injury. It takes more than electric stuff to become a legendary pitcher. Former Atlanta Brave Greg Maddux is the perfect illustration of that reality.

Plenty before Moore have come back to have respectable careers. Only one has bounced back to have a Hall of Fame career.

This weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y., the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame class takes its place among the legends. Among the four is a former teammate of Maddux, John Smoltz, who cemented his place in Cooperstown after Tommy John surgery.

Smoltz fears he will be the only pitcher to ever earn a place in the hall after this serious elbow surgery. That should be a sobering thought for talented pitchers like Moore, the Miami Marlins’ ace, Jose Fernandez, or Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey, the author of two career no-hitters.

Major League Baseball statistics reveal that since Smoltz went under the knife in 2000, no fewer than 276 players have undergone this procedure, including 13 this year. In 2014, there were 31, which include 11 undergoing the same procedure for the second time in three years.

Why is Smoltz fearful for guys like Matt Moore and others like him? It is all about contemporary strategies on developing pitchers that centers on throwing hard. In short, Smoltz doesn’t like it.

“We’re not developing pitchers the right way,” Smoltz told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “We’re asking them to go as hard as you can, as short as you can, and that’s not good enough.”

Smoltz and the Braves did all the right things to make him an invaluable component of winning Braves teams after his surgery. Different teams have different needs, but what he accomplished with elbow scars is worth emulating.

From 1988-99 he won 157 games as a starter, including 24 games in 1996. That performance earned him a Cy Young Award. His surgery occurred in March, 2000.

Upon his return in 2001, the Braves turned him into a closer. All he did was save 154 games over the next four seasons, including an MLB-leading 55 in 2002 at the age of 35. He returned to a starter’s role in 2005 and won 50 more games before his retirement after the 2009 season.

Smoltz, the only pitcher to win at least 200 games and save 150 others, pledges to make his views known during his induction speech on Sunday. Expect him to express his gratitude for his new title of Hall of Famer and his suggestions for helping more pitchers join him.

I am not trained in orthopedics, nor did I play one second of professional baseball. Despite those limitations, I am qualified to offer some sage advice for Matt Moore and the other veterans of Tommy John surgery.

Set your recorders for Sunday so you can hear what John Smoltz has to say to his friends, his family and to you. Hopefully, others will one day record your speech at Cooperstown.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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