Friday, December 24, 2021

2021 Card-vent Calendar: December 24

December 24, 2021:
1996 Topps #189 John Smoltz
What runs through the mind of a pitcher crouching in the on-deck circle in the year 1995?
In Smoltzie's case, he's counting the hours until Tuesday night.  See, John was all-in on the upstart United Paramount Network, or UPN.  Tuesdays were "Johnnie Time."  A blanket, a glass of wine, and one of those tins that holds three types of popcorn was on the agenda one night a week.  Smoltz was notorious for needing to buy a newspaper when on the road so he could find out what channel was the local UPN affiliate.

Smoltz's infatuation with the challenger to the Big Three networks began with the ubiquitous "powdered wig" promo that was being run by eventual carrier stations in most large markets.  John would reportedly sidle up to fellow members of the Braves pitching staff and, in an approximation of a rich baritone, bellow, "Do you haaaaaaaave anything neeeeeeeeeeeew?" to much bewilderment.
When the network launched in January of that year, he was initially lured in by the Richard Grieco vehicle Marker.  The plan was to hunker down during the 8:00 (7 Central) time slot, then hit the sheets early so he could be fresh on Wednesday.  What Smoltz didn't account for was The Watcher.  Sir Mix-a-Lot in a surveillance bunker peeping in on the nefarious doings of Las Vegas residents and guests?  Yeah, that bedtime got pushed back an hour.

Here's some real "inside baseball" stuff.  Most historians attribute Smoltz's move to the bullpen in the late 1990s to nagging injuries and his eventual Tommy John surgery.  What most bios fail to consider is the cancellation of the two above shows, not to mention that of Richard Jeni's Platypus Man.  Smoltz was described as "despondent" following these programming changes, and often failed to make it to the ballpark on time for the pregame stretch and throw.  Cox just couldn't start him any longer, so to relief he went.

These were dark days.
But one thing raised his spirits and got him back in the starting rotation.  He made another UPN discovery a few years after the series debuted.  Some would call it a lifesaver.

That television show?

But that's another story for another time.

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