Atlanta Braves: Baseball Reference Is Wrong. John Smoltz Didn't Wear Number 57
One thing I love about Baseball Reference is its comprehensive uniform number database. The website has done its best to track every single number worn by every single player to ever wear a uniform number in the majors in the regular season. But sometimes, the site makes mistakes, and one of them is what numbers John Smoltz wore in the major leagues.
I discovered that the Hall-of-Fame pitcher never actually wore one of the numbers listed on the site, at least in the regular season. But the mistake isn't completely out of left field, because, at some point in 1988, John Smoltz did wear a jersey with the number 57 on it.
John Smoltz only wore number 29 with the Atlanta Braves in the regular season
In preparation for another uniform number-related article I'm working on, I found that John Smoltz is listed on Baseball Reference for having worn three uniform numbers.
The number he is most associated with, 29, is retired by the Braves. He also wore the number during his brief stint in Boston in 2009. When he moved over to St. Louis midseason, his 29 was taken by Chris Carpenter, so he wore 30 instead.
However, the first number Baseball Reference lists, if you look on Smoltz's Baseball Reference page, is number 57.
Players wear different numbers all the time when they first come up to the major leagues. Justin Verlander first wore 59 when he came up with the Tigers in 2005, before changing it to 35, which he has worn ever since.
I didn't question that Smoltz once wore a different number than the one he was known for, but I wanted to find either a picture or a video to show in the article. The first place I looked was for his first career start.
The video above contains a clip from John Smoltz's first start. As you can see, he's wearing his familiar 29. While this doesn't eliminate the possibility he wore 57 in his first start, it would certainly be weird if he came up in 1988, wore 29, switched to 57 after his first start in July, and then switched back in 1989.
Incredibly, this video exists. This is from July 28, 1988, which was John Smoltz's 2nd career start. As you can see, Smoltz is still wearing 29. If he didn't wear 57 in his first two starts, it seems highly unlikely Smoltzy ever actually wore 57 in his big league career.
I decided to check the 1988 Braves uniform number database on Baseball Reference to see if someone else possibly wore 29 that season. Turns out, someone did.
Terry Blocker first came up in 1985 with the Mets. He played 18 games, hit .067/.125/.067 and then didn't play in the major leagues again until 1988, when he made the opening day roster. He played six games before being optioned to Richmond in mid-April.
During that first six-game stint in 1988, Blocker did indeed wear 29. Here's some proof, just in case you need it.
However, after being optioned to the minors, Blocker wouldn't see major league action again until July 28, 1988, which happened to be Smoltz's second start. And what number is Blocker wearing? 19.
While I couldn't find any more videos of Smoltz down the stretch, I did find more of Blocker. Here's a game in late August, where he is still wearing the number 19. It looks like he didn't switch back, at least.
And here's another in mid-September where Blocker is still wearing 19.
Considering the number of players who have played in the majors, and considering how many times uniform numbers change hands, it's understandable that there are a few errors. I found one back in 2016 when I noticed they did not have Julio Teheran listed for wearing 27 in a start in 2012. This has now been corrected.
However, in the case of Teheran, it's Baseball Reference omitting a number. Why did the site believe that Smoltz wore number 57 in 1988? Because he did, just not in the regular season.
See, Baseball Reference only tracks uniform numbers that players wear in the regular season (and postseason, as you can see with Terrance Gore, who didn't play for the Braves in the regular season in 2021 but did appear in a postseason game). They don't, however, track spring training numbers.
That's why, if you look at Ronald Acuña Jr's Baseball Reference page, he isn't listed as wearing number 82 in 2018, even though he did in Spring Training.
At some point when Baseball Reference created the uniform number database, they must have found footage or an image of Smoltz wearing number 57 in Spring Training, mistakenly thought it was from the regular season, and tracked him as wearing said number.
So, while John Smoltz did wear 57 in a Braves uniform, he didn't wear it officially as a big leaguer, as Baseball Reference claims he did.
Hilariously, Baseball Almanac correctly listed Smoltz as only wearing number 29 until 2015, when they added the number 57 he did not wear.