As we count down the days to 2018’s opening day, we take a look at the greatest Braves to wear each jersey number that’s been worn.
The best Brave to wear #57 is Jorge Campillo. Ok, technically speaking, the best player to ever wear the # was John Smoltz, who wore it when he first reached the majors. However, Smoltz wasn’t any good until well into his #29 years, and Campillo actually found success as #57. Smoltz will get his moment in a month.
Atlanta signed Campillo as an amateur in 1996, but he was released in early 1997. He returned to his native Mexico, where he carved out a nice career in the Mexican League. 2003 was a banner year, as he went 12-5 with a 2.79 ERA for Angelopolis (now Tigres de Quintana Roo), one of the powerhouse organizations in the Mexican League. In March of 2005, the Mariners signed Campillo to a minor league deal, and after a solid season at Tacoma, Campillo made his major league debut. After his couple of MLB innings in 2005, he’d get a couple more in 2006, and add a baker’s dozen in 2007 before becoming a free agent. In the ensuing offseason, he signed with the organization that had given him his first taste of pro ball over a decade earlier.
Atlanta invited Campillo to spring training, but he didn’t make the opening day roster. After one scoreless AAA start, Atlanta called up Campillo to join the bullpen in early April. Over his first 13 relief appearances, Campillo was brilliant, allowing a .203/.250/.266 line and a 1.27 ERA. On May 20, in the 2nd game of a double-header, Campillo made his first start: 6 shutout innings against the Mets, walking none and striking out 7. On just 3 days rest, Campillo would start again on the 24th, posting 4 shutout innings against the Diamondbacks. He finally allowed a run in his 3rd start. Over those first 3 starts, he had a 0.60 ERA and a .176/.176/.255 slash line. Campillo came back to earth a bit after that, but he remained a reliable starter for most of the season before tiring down the stretch (his last 10 starts carried a 6.75 ERA and a .320/.368/.563 line). Campillo threw 158.2 innings for the 2008 Atlanta Braves, a number nearly no one saw coming at the time of his signing.
Campillo began 2009 in Atlanta, but after a spring spent pitching in the World Baseball Classic, struggled to stay on the mound. He made just 5 appearances for the big league club, concluding his Braves career.
He signed with Kansas City the following offseason, but again struggled with injuries, pitching only 11.1 innings for AAA Omaha. He returned to the Mexican League, back to Quintana Roo, where the player known in Mexico as “Popeye” finished out his professional career.
Honorable mention: Antonio Alfonseca, who was excellent in 2004, his only year in Atlanta.
Who is the best ever to wear #57?
Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez piled up 354 saves in #57, including a record 62 with the 2008 Angels. All 6 of his All-Star appearances were as #57, and he won 2 Rolaids Relief Awards in the jersey as well.
Darryl Kile wore #57 his entire MLB career, playing in 3 All-Star games before his tragic death from coronary disease at the age of 33. Kile had a 20-win season in 2000 and played in 4 postseasons.
John Smiley also wore #57 exclusively. Smiley won 20 games for the 1991 Pirates, played in 2 All-Star games, and pitched in 3 postseasons.
But MLB’s greatest #57 was Johan Santana. 2 Cy Young awards, 3 ERA crowns, 3 strikeout titles, the 2006 pitching triple crown, 4 All-Star games, and a Gold Glove. There was a time when Santana was undisputed as the best pitcher alive. He’s probably one of the 100 best starters in MLB history. And he was on 2.4% of HOF ballots this year. Even if he shouldn’t be inducted, which would be a fun and interesting debate, falling off the ballot with 2.4% of the vote is the latest in a long line of embarrassments for the BBWAA.