The Big Three was a trio of Major League Baseball starting pitchers for the Atlanta Braves from 1993-2002 which consisted of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. The Big Three combined to win seven National League Cy Young Awards in the 1990s and helped lead the Atlanta Braves to a 1995 World Series win. Each member of the Big Three has had their jersey retired by the Atlanta Braves and has been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Tom Glavine made his Major League debut on August 17, 1987 while John Smoltz made his Major League debut on July 23, 1988. At that time, Greg Maddux was playing with the Chicago Cubs. Both Smoltz and Glavine quickly established themselves as viable starting pitchers for the Braves by 1990. Their dominance begun in 1991 as Tom Glavine had a NL-leading 20 wins, winning his first Cy Young Award. They helped lead the Atlanta Braves to a West Division title and a trip to the World Series that season, where the Braves fell to the Minnesota Twins in 7 games. Smoltz and Glavine's success continued into 1992, with Glavine finishing second in the Cy Young voting, and Smoltz being named to the National League All-Star team.
Prior to the 1993 MLB season, the Atlanta Braves signed 1992 NL Cy Young Award Winner Greg Maddux from the Chicago Cubs, marking the beginning of the Big Three era. The Big Three had a strong 1993 season as Greg Maddux posted a 20-10 record, winning his second straight NL Cy Young Award, Tom Glavine led the NL in wins for the third consecutive season as he posted a 22-6 record, and John Smoltz once again making the All Star team. The "Big Three" helped the Atlanta Braves win the NL West for the third consecutive season, despite trailing the San Francisco Giants for most of the season. The Braves eventually fell to the Phillies in the 1993 NLCS. Greg Maddux won his third consecutive NL Cy Young Award in the strike-shortened 1994 season as he posted a 16-6 record, had a NL-leading ERA of 1.56, and struck out 156 batters.
The 1995 season saw strong performances from the Big Three, as Greg Maddux won his fourth consecutive NL Cy Young Award with a league-leading 19-2 record and 1.63 ERA. In 1995 the Big Three won its first (and only) World Series over the Cleveland Indians, with Tom Glavine receiving the World Series MVP for his efforts. The Big Three had another strong season in 1996, with John Smoltz leading the league in wins and strikeouts on his way to winning the NL Cy Young Award. The Braves once again won the National League pennant, but in the world series fell to the New York Yankees in six games. Over the next two years the Big Three continued to perform well, with Greg Maddux finishing second in Cy Young voting in 1997 and Tom Glavine capturing his second Cy Young Award in 1998. Unfortunately the Braves failed to reach the World Series in both years.
Although their stats didn't look so bright the following year, the "Big Three" still led the Braves to a league-best 103-59 record. Greg Maddux pitched seven strong innings in Game 1, only surrendering two runs, but reliever Mike Remlinger surrendered four runs in the ninth inning and the Braves lost to the Astros 6-1. The Braves won Game 2 5-1 to even the series at 1-1 heading to Houston for Games 3 and 4. In Game 3, after giving up two runs in the first inning, Tom Glavine went five innings without surrendering another run as the Braves went on to beat the Astros 5-3 in 12 innings. In Game 4, John Smoltz went the first seven innings only giving up one run and the Braves held a 7-0 lead. Then in the 8th inning, he gave up a three-run homer to Ken Caminiti, which resulted in John Smoltz being pulled out of the Game as John Rocker halted the Astros rally with three outs. The Braves won the game 7-5 and advanced to the NLCS for the eighth consecutive season. Greg Maddux got off to a solid start in the NLCS against the New York Mets as he gave up only one run in seven innings to lead the Braves to a 4-2 win in Game 1. John Smoltz pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the 9th to seal a 4-3 win for the Braves in Game 2 and take a 2-0 series lead heading to New York. Tom Glavine pitched seven scoreless innings n Game 3 to lead the Braves to a 1-0 win over the New York Mets and put them one game away from advancing to the World Series. John Smoltz did his part on Game 4 as he only allowed two runs in 7.1 innings, but Mike Remlinger could not seal it for the Braves as he gave up another run which ultimately cost them the game, as they lost 3-2. After allowing two runs in the first inning of Game 5, Greg Maddux pitched six scoreless innings, but the game was tied 2-2 at that point and the Braves ultimately lost 4-3 in 15 innings. The Braves won Game 6 10-9 in 11 innings to capture the NL Pennant and advance to the 1999 World Series. Greg Maddux started the World Series strong as he pitched seven scoreless innings; however, he put four consecutive hitters on base to start the 8th inning and all four of them scored, which gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead and the Yankees ended up winning 4-1. After the Braves lost Game 2 7-2, Tom Glavine gave up five runs in seven innings as the Braves lost 6-5 in ten innings and faced a 3-0 hole. John Smoltz gave up three runs in seven innings in Game 4 and the Braves were swept in the World Series, losing Game 4 4-1.
The 2000 season was a rough one for the Braves, as John Smoltz missed the entire season due to undergoing Tommy John surgery. However, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine still did what they had to do to lead the Braves to their ninth consecutive division title, and sixth consecutive NL East title as Greg Maddux had a 19-9 record, a 3.00 ERA, and 190 strikeouts and Tom Glavine had a NL-leading 21 wins, a 3.40 ERA, and 152 strikeouts. The postseason did not go well for them as Greg Maddux gave up seven runs in just four innings in Game 1 and Tom Glavine gave up seven runs in just 2.1 innings in Game 2 and the Braves were swept by the Cardinals in the 2000 NLDS and missed the NLCS for the first time since 1990.
The 2001 season saw some changes for the Braves as John Smoltz became the Braves closer after recovering from Tommy John Surgery and being unable to perform as a starter, filling in for the void left by John Rocker, who was traded to the Indians. This left Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine as the two left in the starting rotation in the "Big Three". The "Big There" were able to adapt well enough to these changes to lead them to their 10th consecutive division title, and seventh consecutive NL East title. After Greg Maddux gave up three runs in six innings in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Astros, John Smoltz pitched two strong innings of relief pitching as the Braves started off the NLDS with a 7-4 win over the Astros in Game 1. Ton Glavine pitched eight scoreless innings in Game 2 and John Smoltz capped it off with a scoreless 9th inning to lead the Braves to a 1-0 win over the Astros in Game 2 to take a 2-0 series lead heading home. The Braves went on to win Game 3 6-2 to advance to the NLCS. Greg Maddux pitched seven strong innings in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Arizona Diamondbacks, only surrendering two runs, but the Braves lost the game 2-0. Tom Glavine went seven innings in Game 2 and only give up one run while John Smoltz pitched a 1-2-3 9th inning to lead the Braves to an 8-1 win in Game 2 to even the series heading home. After the Braves lost Game 3 5-1, Greg Maddux surrendered six runs in just three innings as the Braves lost 11-4 and fell one win away from elimination. Tom Glavine did not have a strong Game 5 either, as he allowed three runs in five innings as the Braves lost Game 5 3-2 and were eliminated from the postseason.
In what would be their final season together, the "Big Three" led the Braves to a 101-59 record and their 11th consecutive division title, and their 8th consecutive NL East title. Tom Glavine did not pitch well in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Giants as he gave up eight runs in five innings as the Braves lost 8-5. After the Braves won Game 2 7-3, Greg Maddux went six innings while allowing two runs to lead the Braves to a 10-2 win over the Giants in Game 3 and put them one win away from a trip to the NLCS. However, Tom Glavine pitched poorly in Game 4 as he allowed seven runs in just 2.2 innings as the Braves lost 8-3. The Braves ended up losing Game 5 3-1 and were eliminated from the postseason in the NLDS.
After the 2002 season, Tom Glavine signed with the New York Mets, ending the Big Three's time together in Atlanta. The duo of Greg Maddux and John Smoltz was still good enough to lead the Braves to a 101-61 record and their 12th straight division title, also their 9th consecutive NL East title. After the Braves lost Game 1 of the NLDS 4-2 to the Chicago Cubs and with the Braves leading 3-2 after the 7th inning of Game 2, John Smoltz came into Game 2 and pitch two innings of only allowing one run, including pitching a perfect 9th inning, to lead the Braves to a 5-3 win in Game 2. After allowing two runs in the first inning of Game 3, Greg Maddux pitched five scoreless innings, but that was not enough for the Braves as they fell to the Cubs 3-1 in Game 3. John Smoltz took relief duties in Game 4 and after allowing two doubles to begin the bottom of the 9th inning, he got the next three batters out to seal a 6-4 win for the Braves in Game 4 and force a Game 5 back in Atlanta. The Braves lost Game 5 5-1 and were eliminated from the postseason.
Following the 2003 season, Greg Maddux returned to the Chicago Cubs leaving John Smoltz as the only player of the "Big Three" left with the Braves for the 2004 season. John Smoltz recorded 44 saves in the 2004 season to lead the Braves to their 13th consecutive division title, also their 10th consecutive NL East title. After the Braves lost Game 1 of the NLDS to the Astros 9-3, John Smoltz pitched three scoreless innings in relief in Game 2 to help the Braves beat the Astros 4-2. After the Braves lost Game 3 8-5, John Smoltz pitched two scoreless innings in relief to lead the Braves to a 6-5 win over the Astros and force a Game 5 in Atlanta. The Braves lost Game 5 12-3 and were then eliminated in the NLDS for the third consecutive year.
John Smoltz returned to the starting rotation for the 2005 season and ended up with a 14-7 record, a 3.06 ERA and 169 strikeouts to help the Braves win their 14th consecutive Division Title and 11th consecutive NL East title. John Smoltz's start in the NLDS went well as he lasted seven innings and only gave up one run to lead the Braves to a 7-1 win in Game 2. The other games did not go well for the Braves as they lost the NLDS to the Astros in four games.
John Smoltz had another successful season the following year with a NL-leading 16 wins, a 3.49 ERA, and 211 strikeouts, but that was not enough for the Braves as they finished 3rd in the NL East; they ended up missing the playoffs and not winning their division for the first time since 1990. He had another successful year in 2007 with a 14-8 record, a 3.11 ERA, and 197 strikeouts, but again that wasn't enough for the Braves as they finished 3rd in their division yet again and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Tom Glavine returned to the Braves for the 2008 season, but the two of them could not get the Braves back into the playoffs as they finished fourth in their division that season. That season was the last for Tom Glavine as he underwent rehab the following season, and was released from the Braves on June 3, 2009 and he officially retired from baseball on February 11, 2010.
The 2008 season was also John Smoltz's last season with the Braves as he signed with the Boston Red Sox for the 2009 season. He spent half of that season with the Red Sox, and the other half of that season with the Cardinals, after which he retired from baseball.
Greg Maddux spent three more seasons with the Chicago Cubs and then he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the middle of the 2006 season. Greg Maddux then spent his final two seasons with the San Diego Padres and was traded again to the Dodgers in the middle of the 2008 season, after which he retired from baseball.
The "Big Three" was considered by many to be the greatest pitching-trio of all-time.
|John Smoltz's number 29 was retired by the Atlanta Braves in 2012.|
|Tom Glavine's number 47 was retired by the Atlanta Braves in 2010.|
|Greg Maddux's number 31 was retired by the Atlanta Braves in 2009.|
All three pitchers would have their numbers retired by the Braves as Greg Maddux would have his number retired on July 31, 2009, Tom Glavine would see his number retired on August 6, 2010, and John Smoltz would have his number retired on July 8, 2012.
All three pitchers would be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine would both be inducted in 2014 receiving 97.2% and 91.9% of the possible votes respectively, and John Smoltz would be inducted the following year receiving 82.9% of the possible votes.