John Bradley Clontz was born on April 25, 1971, in Stuart, Virginia (population 1,400), five miles north of the state’s border with North Carolina. Outside of Clontz, Stuart’s best-known native son is Leonard Wood, who formed in 1950 with his four brothers what became a successful auto-racing empire, perhaps what southwestern Virginia is best known for from a sports perspective: Wood Brothers Racing.
Clontz attended Patrick County High School in Stuart, where he played on the varsity baseball team. Clontz’s mother, Carol Price Clontz, worked for Smithfield Foods, a meat-packing facility in Smithfield, Virginia. She retired in 2008 and died in 2018. His father, Robert Clontz, worked for about a decade as an engineer for Newport News Shipbuilding, then taught himself to paint and became a wildlife artist, permanently leaving his job as an engineer in 1980. He died in 1994.
Clontz attended Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, 58 miles north of his home in Stuart. He spent three seasons as a pitcher on the Hokie baseball team from 1990 to 1992. In his first season, he earned five saves and a 4-1 record in 32 innings as the team’s bullpen ace.1 Most impressively, he allowed earned runs in only three of his 21 appearances and did not give up a home run.2 In 1991 he moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation. He then spent the summer playing in the Cape Cod League and was named the league’s relief pitcher of the year.3 That year, while pitching for the Wareham Gatemen, he pitched in 24 games and recorded 11 saves and a microscopic 0.91 ERA.4
In 1992 Clontz, again in the Hokies’ starting rotation, earned second team All-Metro Conference honors.5 That season, his third and final in college, he set two school records for innings pitched (130) and wins (12) that still stood as of 2019. His 115 strikeouts that season rank second in the Tech history books.6
Clontz, whom Baseball America listed as the 38th-ranked college pitcher by the end of the 1992 season,7 was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 10th round of that year’s amateur draft in June. After signing, he pitched in 21 games split between rookie ball in Pulaski, Virginia, and A ball in Macon, Georgia. Appearing mainly as a reliever, he ended the year with three saves and a 3.45 ERA. The next season, 1993, while playing for the Durham Bulls (High-A Carolina League), Clontz pitched in 51 games, earned 10 saves, and recorded a 2.75 ERA. In 1994, splitting time between Greenville (Double-A Southern League) and Richmond (Triple-A International League), Clontz pitched in 63 games, recorded 38 saves, and turned in a 1.53 ERA in 70⅔ innings. Baseball America named him a first-team Minor League All-Star,8 and he was named the Southern League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher for his work with Greenville.9 Atlanta designated him the organization’s minor leaguer of the year.10
In spring training in 1995, Clontz impressed his future Atlanta teammates with his unconventional submarine delivery and his repertoire of sinkers, sliders, and breaking balls. Outfielder David Justice told sportswriters that Clontz might already be the best closer in the majors, despite the fact that he had yet to face a single batter.11 Pitching coach Leo Mazzone said Clontz was “going to be given the opportunity” to earn his spot on the team, while also adding that “there’s no way in hell I’m going to put pressure on the kid.”12 The Braves, who had a revolving door at the closer position throughout the early 1990s, were still looking for someone to permanently fill that role. Greg McMichael, the Braves’ primary closer in 1994, ended the year with a league-leading 10 blown saves.13 Clontz seemed to have as good a chance as anyone to earn a prominent spot in the bullpen once spring training ended. His hard work was rewarded, and he was added to the active roster. New teammate Greg Maddux, fresh off winning his third straight Cy Young Award, helped to make the rookie feel like part of the team by arranging to have a limousine pick up Clontz and fellow rookie pitcher Jason Schmidt and take them to his home in Georgia, where they stayed before getting their own housing situated. Clontz recounted that this was his first time in a limo.14
The strike-shortened 1995 season began for the Braves on April 26, one day after Clontz’s 24th birthday. He made his major-league debut in this Opening Day game against the San Francisco Giants, pitching a perfect ninth inning to secure a 12-5 win for the Braves. Clontz recorded his first major-league strikeout against the first batter he faced, Giants first baseman J.R. Phillips.
The next day, in another game against the Giants, Clontz earned his first major-league save in a 6-4 Atlanta victory, getting pinch-hitters Jeff Reed and Tom Lampkin to ground out before striking out Robby Thompson to end the game. He recorded three more saves in quick succession, getting his fourth in Atlanta’s 13th game of the season, a 3-2 win over the Mets. As the season wore on, however, Clontz saw his save opportunities dwindle as fifth-year veteran Mark Wohlers established himself as manager Bobby Cox’s go-to fireman. Clontz was used primarily in middle relief for the remainder of the regular season, appearing in 59 games and recording no more saves after the one against the Mets. He earned his first win as a major leaguer on June 28 against the Montreal Expos, pitching two perfect innings in the eighth and ninth. David Justice hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth off Mel Rojas to clinch the 4-3 win for Clontz and the Braves. He won seven more games in the regular season, finishing with an 8-1 record and a 3.65 ERA in 69 innings pitched.
The Braves won the NL East championship by 21 games over the Mets. Clontz’s work as a reliable setup man during the season earned him a spot on the 25-man playoff roster. In the Braves’ run through the 1995 playoffs, he put together the best postseason stretch of his career. Appearing in four games, including Games Three and Five of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians, Clontz recorded a 1.80 ERA, striking out four batters and allowing three hits in five innings pitched. The only run Clontz allowed in the postseason came against the next to last batter he faced, future Hall of Famer Jim Thome, who hit a solo home run off Clontz in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game Five of the World Series at Jacobs Field in Cleveland. The Braves lost three of the four postseason games Clontz pitched in, but defeated the Indians in six games in the World Series, winning the franchise’s first title since its move to Atlanta in 1966.
In 1996 Clontz saw a significant increase in his usage. He led the National League’s pitchers with 81 appearances and pitched 80⅔ innings. Seeing Clontz’s early success against right-handed hitters, who hit just .222 against him during his career, manager Cox began using Clontz frequently to face one or two dangerous right-handed bats in high-leverage situations. He recorded only one save as Wohlers’ stranglehold on the closer role continued. Clontz’s increased usage may have also led to an increase in his ERA, which ballooned to 5.69 in 1996 after the respectable 3.65 ERA in his rookie year.
The Braves made the postseason again in 1996 and Clontz again pitched in four playoff games, including three World Series contests against the New York Yankees. In 2⅓ innings, Clontz recorded a perfect 0.00 ERA and allowed only one hit, a single by the Yankees’ Luis Sojo in Game Three of the World Series. The Braves lost the Series in six games in what was becoming an all-too-common result for the “Team of the ’90s.”
Originally built to serve as a venue to house some of the events of the 1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta’s new Turner Field became the Braves’ home starting with the 1997 season.15 In their home opener, an April 4 contest against the Chicago Cubs, Clontz became the pitcher of record in the first Braves game in Turner Field. Coming on in the top of the seventh in relief of Terrell Wade, Clontz took on the heart of the Cubs order, pitching 1⅓ scoreless innings and allowing only a walk to Ryne Sandberg.16 The Braves won, 5-4, after Mike Mordecai scored in the bottom of the eighth on Chipper Jones’s single to left field.17
Off the field, Clontz became fast friends with third baseman Jones, the future Hall of Famer who, like Clontz, played his first full season with Atlanta in 1995. Both in their mid-20s during their time as teammates, the two were often seen together after games enjoying the bar scene, watching basketball games, and looking for female companionship at home and on the road.18 Jones, who was married at this time to his first wife, employed “Clontzy” as a middleman of sorts: “Girls knew if they wanted to get in touch with me, they called Brad, and Brad would get the word to me.”19 As Jones’s first marriage was ending due to his infidelity, Clontz’s position as conduit allowed him access to some surprising information. Clontz, in fact, relayed to Jones that one of the women he had been with had given birth to his child, who was eight months old at the time Jones received the news.20
Clontz had a rebound year in 1997. His usage diminished (48 innings in 51 appearances) but his ERA improved (3.75). As in 1996, he recorded only one save, finishing with a 5-1 record and 42 strikeouts. Throughout the decade of the 1990s and into the next, the Braves would win the National League East and clinch another opportunity for October baseball. After a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros in the 1997 NLDS, they fell to the eventual World Series champion Florida Marlins in a hard-fought six-game series. For the first time in his brief career, Clontz failed to pitch in a postseason contest. He never pitched in a playoff game again. With the emergence of Wohlers as a shutdown closer, and with a bullpen featuring a bevy of young arms as well as veteran Alan Embree and the recently signed Kerry Ligtenberg (whom the Braves acquired from a team in an independent league in exchange for a gross of baseballs and four dozen bats),21 Clontz’s role on the team was in jeopardy.
On March 30, 1998, Clontz was released by the Braves. On April 9 he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Clontz pitched in 18 games for his new team, going 2-0 with no saves, a 5.66 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 20⅔ innings. His two wins for the Dodgers came four days apart, a 12-inning, 4-3 win on April 26 against the Cubs and a 14-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 30. On June 4 Clontz and Japanese superstar Hideo Nomo were traded to the New York Mets for Greg McMichael, Clontz’s former Braves teammate (whose closer role with the Braves he had claimed in 1995, if only briefly), and Dave Mlicki. The next day Clontz made his debut with the Mets, pitching a scoreless eighth inning against the Boston Red Sox. He pitched in only one more game for the Mets, recording a 9.00 ERA in three innings pitched. At the end of the 1998 season, Clontz was granted free agency and signed with the Boston Red Sox by year’s end.
After failing to make the Red Sox’ major-league roster during spring training in 1999, Clontz was released and, two days later, signed with the Pirates. In what became the last full season he spent in the major leagues, in 56 games (49⅓ innings, third most on the team), Clontz struck out 40, recorded a pair of saves, and finished with a 2.74 ERA. In December he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor-league relief pitcher Roberto Manzueta. Arizona released Clontz before the 2000 season began, and once again he was signed by the Pirates as a free agent. That season Clontz made his final appearance in the majors. On April 30, against Cincinnati, he struggled against the bottom of the Reds’ batting order, allowing a home run to Juan Castro and giving up a triple to Pokey Reese. He was pulled after facing Reese, and the Reds went on to win 6-2. Overall, Clontz appeared in only five games that season, pitching seven innings while recording a 5.14 ERA and eight strikeouts. Clontz ended his six-year, four-team major-league career with 272 appearances, 210 strikeouts, 277⅔ innings pitched, eight saves, and a 4.34 ERA.
After being released by the Pirates at the end of the 2000 season, Clontz spent the next six seasons pitching exclusively in the minor leagues for four different organizations. In 2001 he returned to pitch in the Braves’ farm system, pitching in nine games for the high-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans after initially appearing in 21 games for the Colorado Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs. After a season away from baseball in 2002, he returned to Colorado Springs in 2003. In 2004 he pitched for the Oklahoma City Redhawks, then the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate. Finally, in 2005 and 2006, Clontz pitched for the Florida Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque. In what was his final season of professional baseball, he appeared in 57 games for the Isotopes, compiling a 6-5 record, 23 saves, and an ERA of 3.57. Between his two seasons in Albuquerque, Clontz also appeared in 43 games for the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League, earning nine saves and posting an impressive 1.60 ERA. The Marlins granted him free agency at the end of the 2006 season.
After his baseball career ended, Clontz kept himself busy both in and out of baseball. In 2012 Steve Etheridge of ESPN.com wrote that Clontz had been recording dubstep music, a type of electronic dance music.22 His Soundcloud site features two hour-long mixes of dance beats that would fit in perfectly in a modern baseball clubhouse but seems odd coming from, as Etheridge put it, “a 41-year-old former disciple of Bobby Cox.”23 Beginning in 2015, he went to work as a player rep for Proformance Baseball, the Richmond-based sports agency that represented Clontz during his playing days.24 During this time, Clontz also managed a travel baseball team and hosted casino events in Las Vegas.25 From 2016 to 2018, Clontz also worked as a concierge and marketing executive for MGM Resorts. As of 2019 he was employed by Baha Mar resorts as a director of customer development.26
Clontz became a season-ticket holder for Virginia Tech football in 1998.27 At home games he could often be found outside Lane Stadium, tailgating at Hokie home games. He was known to put his DJ skills on display during his tailgates, entertaining friends and fellow fans all day (or night) long.28 Clontz also lent his marketing skills and outgoing personality to aid Virginia Tech’s baseball program in its fundraising efforts, including attending Baseball Night in Blacksburg, the team’s annual fundraiser, alongside fellow former Hokie Franklin Stubbs.29 In 2011 Clontz was inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.30
Clontz also became a fixture at gatherings honoring former Braves players, including the annual Alumni Weekends, hosted at the Braves’ SunTrust Park.31 Asked about the Braves’ magical 1995 season, when the rookie Clontz joined a team that won Atlanta’s first professional sports championship, Clontz said, “You just dream of those things but not coming so early in your career. … I get chills when people talk to me about it.” 32 He said he embraced every opportunity to wear his World Series ring at events like the Alumni Weekend and the All-Star Game, stating, “That ring always attracts people.”33
Last revised: February 15, 2021
1 “Six Named to Tech Hall of Fame,” hokiesports.com/news/2011/8/21/20110821aaa_4584.aspx.
2 “Six Named to Tech Hall of Fame.”
3 “Six Named to Tech Hall of Fame.”
4 “Six Named to Tech Hall of Fame.”
5 Virginia Tech Baseball Record Book. Conference History. www2.hokiesports.com/baseball/extras/recordbook.pdf.
6 Virginia Tech Baseball Record Book. Conference History. Clontz was coached at Virginia Tech by Chuck Hartman, who put together a 961-591-8 record in his 28 seasons (1979-2006) as Hokie skipper. Forty of his former players were drafted by major-league teams, including former Dodger Franklin Stubbs, who like Clontz went on to win a World Series during his professional career. Virginia Tech Baseball Record Book.
7 “Six Named to Tech Hall of Fame.”
10 Randall Mell, “Clontz Hopes to Submerge as Closer,” South Florida Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Florida), April 15, 1995 sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-1995-04-15-9504150015-story.html.
15 “Turner Field/Atlanta Braves.” ballparkdigest.com/201204184748/major-league-baseball/visits/turner-field-atlanta-braves.
16 “Turner Field/Atlanta Braves.”
17 “Turner Field/Atlanta Braves.”
18 Chipper Jones and Carroll Walton, Ballplayer (New York: Dutton, 2017), 197.
19 Jones and Walton, 203.
20 Jones and Walton, 214.
21 Joe Christensen, “Once Acquired for Bats and Balls, Ligtenberg Looks to Fit Like a Glove,” Baltimore Sun, March 13, 2003.
22 Steve Etheridge, “Ex-Brave Brad Clontz Does Dubstep Music,” ESPN Playbook, August 22, 2012. espn.com/blog/music/post/_/id/2710/ex-brave-brad-clontz-makes-dubstep.
25 I.J. Rosenberg, “Braves Recall: Brad Clontz,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 15, 2015.
27 Carroll Walton, “Former Braves Pitcher Aces VA Tech Tailgating,” Inside Tailgating, November 22, 2017. insidetailgating.com/blog/2017/11/22/former-braves-pitcher-aces-va-tech-tailgating/
29 Mike Barber, “Clontz, Stubbs Still Helping Tech Baseball,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 11, 2013.
30 “Six Named to Tech Hall of Fame.”
31 “Meet Popular Atlanta Braves Alumni This Weekend,” WSB-TV 2 Atlanta, August 20, 2019. wsbtv.com/entertainment/things-2-do/meet-popular-atlanta-braves-alumni-this-weekend/975612074