2007 NEWS

2007 News > 5/15/07


By Joel Sherman, NY Post
Original Article HERE.

TOM Glavine plunked the opening batter he faced in what would develop into his first major-league win two decades ago this summer. That skinny, speedy leadoff hitter for the Pirates was named Barry Bonds.

That Glavine weighed about the same as Bonds that day - Aug. 22, 1987 - shows how much has changed in the past two decades. That both are still playing speaks to a success in their evolution.

Of course, Bonds approaches a milestone, Hank Aaron’s all-time homer record, with that evolution under suspicion and derision, besieged by accusations that his late-career larger muscles, head and shoe size were enhanced illegally.

Beyond natural signs of aging, Glavine’s body type has not changed much as he nears his valedictory moment, 300 wins. “I don’t think you would watch a tape of that game and say, ‘God, who’s that,’ ” said Glavine, who took a no decision and stayed at 294 wins in the Mets’ 5-4 win over the Cubs last night.

But there have been many changes, and not just in wisdom and bank accounts. Glavine did not even possess his signature changeup yet when he beat the Pirates, 10-3, in his second career start. He relied on a fastball/curveball combo. It was not until spring training 1991 while shagging balls, that Glavine found the grip that would give him a grasp on the Hall of Fame.

“I remember telling him over and over as a kid, ‘lower and slower is better than higher and harder,’ ” his first Braves manager, Chuck Tanner, recalled on the phone yesterday.

Glavine’s mastery of the change was a feathery counteraction to an era defined by Bonds and other mashers when bigger and stronger were sweeping the game.

The next transformation for Glavine came after his glorious run as a Brave. He joined the Mets and Questec joined the majors to monitor the ball-strike accuracy of umpires. The pitch four inches off the outside corner that had elevated Glavine was no longer called a strike. For a while, Glavine frustratingly tried to shove his old style against the new technology. But then in a strange quirk of Six Degrees of Tom Glavine, he underwent a career changeup.

In 1984, then Pirates manager Chuck Tanner had hired a young deep thinker to his first major league job as a bullpen coach. That coach was Rick Peterson. Two decades later, as the Mets’ pitching coach, Peterson convinced Glavine of the need to adapt. Glavine resuscitated all varieties of breaking balls - cutters, curves, sliders - and began to throw inside more to reclaim effectiveness on the change away.

“You hear all the time about the young players who make adjustments to get to the majors,” Glavine said. “But there is plenty of subtle changes you make all along the way to prolong a career.”

Glavine has more than prolonged, he has prospered. Because he is such a pleasant chatty guy - the anti-Bonds - it is forgotten that Glavine has fortitude about him, that he was rugged enough to be drafted in the fourth round by the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. He brandished his tough-mindedness last night, when he shrugged off two innings of bad pitching and bad defense that led to a 4-0 deficit, permitting one hit and no runs over his final four frames to allow the Mets to work back into the game against Cubs starter Jason Marquis. Glavine did not win, but the Mets did, in part, because the veteran lefty did not surrender to a poor beginning.

Glavine brought this unflappable persona and also a nascent repertoire with him when he was promoted to the rotation in August 1987 to the spot vacated when the Braves traded veteran Doyle Alexander to the Tigers for a hard-throwing minor league righty named John Smoltz. That was quite a good week for the Braves GM at that time, Bobby Cox. Atlanta was rebuilding around young pitching and was willing to cope with a 21-year-old lefty trying to figure it all out.

“He didn’t throw 90, he didn’t have a curve that fell off the table, so the scouts didn’t love him,” Tanner said. “But I knew in my heart that Tom Glavine would be a big winner because you can’t teach competitiveness, and nothing has changed at all in that area over the last 20 years.”