Tom Glavine and John Smoltz (Getty Images photo)
By John Strege
Another baseball season is here, and it might surprise some to learn that the favorite sport of many Major League Baseball players is...not baseball.
Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton once said that former Braves pitcher John Smoltz, an inveterate golfer, "is the only guy I know who tried not to let his job get in the way of his passion."
So it is again time to revisit that age-old question, whether golf is an impediment to baseball performance.
An age-old question indeed. "What kind of golfer is the big league baseball player, and how does the royal and ancient game affect his baseball?" the New York Times asked.
It is from a story that appeared in the July 9, 1916, edition of the Times.
Many managers over the years, concerned that golf was a distraction and possibly an energy drain, would not permit players to bring golf clubs on the road. Among them was the late Gene Mauch, an accomplished golfer in his own right, who when asked his impression of Nick Faldo having parred all 18 holes in winning the British Open in 1987, replied, "I did that once."
Mauch was as astute a baseball man as the game has ever seen. Yet his teams never got to a World Series, suggesting that he did not have all the answers.
The Times story from 1916, meanwhile, went on to attempt to provide an answer. It noted a baseball swing differs from a golf swing and that "'pop-ups' and long flies are said to be the results of too much golfing by a baseball star."
It further noted that Grover Cleveland Alexander, who won 373 games in his career, played golf frequently during the baseball season. "After playing thirty-six holes of golf on July 3 last year," the Times wrote, "one of the hottest days of the summer, he shut out the Giants next day with a single hit, a lucky one by Merkle, another golfer, late in the game."
It might have been the first word on the issue, but clearly it wasn't the last.