2006 NEWS

2006 News > 2/18/06


By Marty Noble, MLB.com
Original Article HERE.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- A disturbing sense of irony dawned on Tom Glavine while he still was spitting blood and teeth one August afternoon in 2004. His dental wellness forever compromised by a motor vehicle accident, Glavine thought this silent lament: "My God, all that time playing hockey, and I lose my teeth like this?"

He would have preferred an injury suffered during an activity more challenging that riding in the back seat of a New York taxi. "I have the injury, but no compelling war story to go with it," he said a few days later. "If it had to happen, it should have happened in a hockey game."

Yes, but decades earlier Glavine had rejected a career path that virtually assured him of dental damage. Yet there he was, running his tongue across stitches and an unbecoming gap in his upper gums. He had become a temporary Bobby Clarke lookalike, a hockey player in appearance but without recent resume.

Hockey had been a passion for young Tom Glavine. He was as comfortable with his feet in skates as he was when his left foot was on a pitching rubber. Six of one (baseball), half dozen of the other (hockey). He was a New England-born hybrid, left-handed center/pitcher, eventually a Brave, potentially a Bruin. And his skills in each game almost were comparable.

He was, by his own evaluation, a more polished hockey player with more raw skills in the game he chose. No matter, Major League Baseball and the NHL beckoned. The Braves selected him in the second round of the draft in June 1984, and two weeks later, the Los Angeles Kings made their selection in the fourth round of the NHL Draft.

Each sport tugged at him, but the overlap of professional sports seasons wouldn't allow him to lead a double life as Dave DeBusschere, Gene Conley and Ron Reed had done with baseball and the NBA. Whoever heard of a professional with MLB and NHL in his DNA? A decision had to be made. And at age 18, Glavine determined a career in baseball would have more teeth. A career in hockey was put on ice.

"I figured I had a better chance of having a long career in baseball and staying healthier," Glavine said. "And being left-handed would be a big advantage in baseball. In hockey, it really doesn't have an effect."

The Kings chose another left-handed player five rounds -- 102 selections -- after Glavine. Luc Robitaille, with no discernible alternative, signed with them. He has forged a career of nearly unsurpassed offensive accomplishment. When and if he scores another 34 goals, he will add his likeness to the Mt. Rushmore of NHL goal scorers as the seventh player with at least 700 goals, joining Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717) and Mike Gartner (708).

It is Robitaille's grandeur and the juxtaposition of his place in the draft and Glavine's that prompt Glavine to wonder about the career path not taken. No regrets. But wonder.

"Oh, all the time," the Mets pitcher says. "I always wonder what would have happened.

"I'd like to believe I would have made it. There are guys I played against in high school who have played in the NHL, and we had comparable talent then. But there are no guarantees. ... I know I would have had to become bigger -- I was 6-foot-0, 180 [pounds] when I graduated from high school. Either that or find a way to play as Gretzky played. But I think I had a shot to make it."

Glavine's passion for the game -- at least the game at the professional level -- is diminished somewhat, but only because two of his sons are playing hockey now, and his time away from baseball is directed at their involvement, not an NHL telecast.

"I helped coach by older son's team," he said. "And when I'm there, seeing either Jonathan or Peyton play, I relive my steps. It's a great game."

But some degree of passion always will remain, enhanced occasionally by his sons' development, an NHL game he might attend on the road or a visit to his Alpharetta, Ga., home by what he considers the greatest in sports. The annual tour of the Stanley Cup once made a short sidetrip to the Glavine home. He has pictures.

He was a proud host. His heart took the shape of a puck that day. Only his 1995 World Series champions ring -- Glavine was the winning pitcher in the Braves' 1-0 victory in the deciding Game 6 -- and playing Augusta National rank higher than the Cup's visit on Glavine's list of "Cool Things in My Life."

Where a hockey career might have led Glavine is an imponderable. Seven-hundred goals? Far too presumptuous. Five hundred? Even 200 wouldn't have been a gimme. "I'm not sure you can count on anyone being prolific," he said.

That disclaimer applies in baseball as well. Prolific accomplishments happen; they aren't predicted. No one saw Kobe Bryant's 81 points on the NBA horizon, no matter how many points he had averaged in the weeks approaching it. Even milestones aren't guaranteed.

Sammy Sosa -- if he is done -- will finish 12 home runs short of 600. Dale Murphy hit 398 and Al Kaline 399. And what wouldn't Bert Blyleven do for 13 more victories?

Glavine, 38 days short of his 40th birthday, is willing to do whatever he can, within reason, to gain the 25 victories he needs to become the 23rd pitcher with 300 or more career victories. His effective, though not particularly productive work in the second half last season -- he won merely seven decisions despite a 2.22 ERA -- left him encouraged though "two pretty good years short" of what now clearly is his last remaining personal objective.

"Unless my arm falls off, I'm not planning on getting this close to 300 wins and shutting it down," he said. "Three-hundred is the benchmark for pitchers."

Three-hundred game winners are an endangered species now. Glavine is closest to 300 victories among active pitchers. Only Randy Johnson (263) has more than 227 (David Wells). "I hope they're not extinct," Glavine said.

Until Saturday morning, as he prepared for the Mets' first official Spring Training workout, Glavine never had gone through the mostly frivolous exercise of comparing his baseball achievements to hockey. But the notion did intrigue him.

"I don't know, but there are a whole more guys [22] who have won 300 than guys who have scored 700 times," he said. "Are they comparable? I don't know. As exclusive a group as it for pitchers ... six guys is ultra exclusive."

"I've got a chance to join one of the two. And I'd like to get it done. ... I've got a pretty good idea of how hard it is to get close to 300. And I don't have that same experience to use to judge how tough it would be to get to 700. When I played, I was pretty confident I could get a chance to score. But 700? That's a lot. If I get to 300 [victories], then I'll worry about getting 700 goals."