On a trip to Philadelphia with the San Diego Padres two weeks ago, Greg Maddux surveyed his career and said, "I've been on extra credit for five or six years now."
During the Atlanta Braves' visit to Citizens Bank Park last week, Tom Glavine said that while he'd like to pitch beyond this season, he was uncertain if his body would allow him to.
A few lockers away, John Smoltz was more direct when asked if this could be his last season.
"I think so," he said. "Every year for the last four years could have been my last. But I never felt anywhere near as close to it as I do now. I don't know how much more of this I can take."
He was talking about his achy right shoulder.
"I love pitching. I love the competition," Smoltz said. "I don't enjoy the pain any more."
Once upon a time, Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were the Braves' foundation as they dominated the National League East in the 1990s. The Braves went to five World Series during the decade and won it all in 1995.
Together, Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz have won seven Cy Young Awards. In the 1990s, they ranked first, second and fifth, respectively, in major-league pitching victories.
Now, they rank fourth, third and seventh, respectively, on the list of oldest players in the NL. Maddux and Glavine are 42. Smoltz turned 41 on Thursday.
"There's less of our careers ahead of us than behind us," Glavine said.
Earlier this season, Glavine suffered a hamstring injury and went on the disabled list for the first time in his 22-year career.
Smoltz is on the DL for the second time in as many seasons, not sure when the pain in his high-mileage shoulder will subside enough to let him pitch.
Maddux, in his second season with the Padres, recently won his 350th game. Like his two former teammates, he is unsigned beyond this season.
Given where they are in their careers, it is reasonable to wonder if this will be the final season for each pitcher.
Pondering that question leads to another: Could the great threesome that for so many years was synonymous with Braves baseball be inducted into the Hall of Fame on the same day?
"There's a chance," Glavine said.
If Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were to throw their final pitches this season, they would appear together on the Hall of Fame ballot in Dec. 2013. (There's also a chance that Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling could be first-timers on that ballot.) Maddux and Glavine, both winners of 300-plus games, will be slam-dunk first-ballot selections. Smoltz, who has been a dominant starter, a lights-out closer and the all-time leader in postseason wins and strikeouts, deserves to be a first-ballot pick, too.
So, what do they think about the possibility of going to Cooperstown together?
"If that happens, you won't hear any of us complain," Glavine said.
"I would love it," Smoltz said. "I'd love it because it would be fitting in that we helped change the organization. We were the laughingstock of baseball before the '90s. Along with our manager [Bobby Cox] and our front office, we helped turn the organization into something other teams emulated.
"From a story standpoint, baseball has been through a lot of negative stuff with steroids and all, so it might be a refreshing scenario. We've all taken different paths, but we've all done it the right way. Collectively, that's as important to us as the stats we're gauged on."
If Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were to be inducted into Hall of Fame on the same day, you can bet the streets of Cooperstown will be overrun with fans doing the tomahawk chop.
As interesting as this possibility is to ponder, it is no sure thing.
Smoltz is the only one of the three who is expressing strong doubts about pitching next season and even he says, "You never know what might happen if I get back and have a few good months."
Maddux is still quite effective and it's easy to imagine him wanting to pitch next season. He is 3-4 with a 3.91 ERA in nine starts this season. Given the state of pitching in the majors, you could do a lot worse.
Glavine is 1-1 with a 4.41 ERA in seven starts. He is averaging just five innings per outing.
"If I'm healthy and pitching good, there's a possibility I'll be back," Glavine said. "I can tell you now, the day the season ends, mentally and competitively I will want to play. Will I be able to do it physically? I don't know.
"All three of us love the competition. But so much depends on the physical side, and at our age that becomes more of an issue. We all have to make the decision individually of how much longer we're going to play."
While others bring up the possibility of ending their careers in the same year and going to Cooperstown together, the three pitchers have never spoken about it.
"We've never coordinated anything in our careers," Smoltz said. "Everything just happened and it's so much better that way. If it ends up we go into the Hall of Fame together, I guarantee it won't be orchestrated."