2007 NEWS

2007 News > 6/5/07


By Stan McNeal, The Sporting News
Original Article HERE.

Forget about you-know-who and 756 for now (based on his recent pace, nothing is imminent, anyway). Turn your attention to Tom Glavine, another lefthander of some renown. He is closing in on history, too. Entering this week, the master craftsman needed five victories to become only the 23rd -- and, possibly, last -- pitcher to record 300 wins.

In typical Glavine manner, his has been a quiet quest. Controversy is not part of this story. No steroids speculation. No disparaging remarks from opponents. No whining about the media.

Just a classy approach by one of baseball's classiest guys. The anti-Bonds. When asked to talk to Sporting News about his remarkable 21-year career, Glavine did not phony up and say he's not talking about himself. He generously obliged. For the better part of an hour earlier this season, he sat in a corner of the visitors' clubhouse in St. Louis and talked about a career that has him bound for Cooperstown. So insightful was Glavine that we figured who better to tell his story than the man himself.

His Brave world

"That's the reason we're even talking about me winning 300 games."

Playing for a perennial contender is not a prerequisite for winning 300. Ask Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan or Gaylord Perry. Heck, Greg Maddux pitched for the Cubs for nearly 10 years overall and managed to reach 300 three years ago. Glavine, however, is proud to point out how fortunate he was to pitch in Atlanta for 16 years, including 14 with John Smoltz and 10 with Maddux.

"You take a lot of pride in being part of a group like that. We knew how much starting pitching was a part of the equation, and in order for the team to do the things we wanted, the starting pitchers had to hold up their part of the bargain. You didn't want to be the guy who wasn't doing that. I was extremely fortunate to be around talented guys to feed off in that regard."

Here's to longevity

"Hard work, good mechanics and good genes."

In two decades, Glavine has spent as much time on the disabled list as any of his four kids: nary a day. He doesn't look the part of chiseled pro athlete, with his slight paunch and graying hair. But this is the same guy who has started at least 30 games for 11 consecutive seasons. It should be pointed out that Glavine, 41, was quick to knock on wood before explaining the keys to his good fortune.

"I don't think I have a regimen that no one else knows about that helps keep me healthy. I am pretty anal about the stuff I do. I don't take for granted what I'm doing when I'm going well, and I don't change my routine when I'm struggling. I'm not going to say I'm the hardest-working guy in the game. I have a routine that's worked for me. In the end, certainly my mechanics and my style of pitching are big helps."

Learning from Leo

"Over time, I started feeling better, stronger, and my recoveries were better."

Glavine also benefited from the ways of Leo Mazzone, who was the Braves' pitching coach for most of Glavine's tenure with the club. Mazzone likes his starters to throw two bullpen sessions between starts, instead of the normal one.

"When Leo first talked about throwing twice, I thought he was nuts. But he convinced me it was going to be good for me physically and in terms of becoming a sharper pitcher and understanding my mechanics more. All that has happened. In a sense, I've been able to become my own pitching coach, to know what I'm doing wrong, what I'm doing right. I can feel it from one pitch to the next, whether it's a bullpen session or during a game. Now that's not to say I won't have games when I try to make adjustments and can't."

Never too old to change

"I'm not going to kid you. It wasn't easy."

After leaving the Braves for the Mets before the 2003 season, Glavine and his new team struggled. The Mets lost more than 90 games in each of Glavine's first two seasons and he went 20-28. Part of his problem was the increasing use of QuesTec, a computerized video system placed in selected ballparks to determine how umpires call balls and strikes. He also was getting knocked around on a more frequent basis. After back-to-back shellackings early in the '05 season, Glavine, at 39, decided a change was needed soon if he wanted to reach 300 wins.

"There's always adjustments to make. Some you make because the hitters are making adjustments. Others you make because the game is changing. QuesTec was one of those where the game was changing. Everybody said Greg and I had this strike zone that was 20 inches wide. We didn't. We'd get pitches off the outside, but we lost pitches on the inside. You've got 17 inches somewhere. Well, they changed it to where they were going to call it by the rulebook strike zone. Fine. It took some adjusting. I'm not saying that was the total reason I had to adjust, though. Hitters tell you a lot of times you need to make adjustments, and when I was getting my brains beat out in the first part of '05, that was a pretty good indication I needed to make some changes.

"Rick (Peterson, the Mets' pitching coach) was very good about coaxing me into the idea. He's been very helpful and instrumental. His point was we have this scouting report on you that existed between 1988 and 2004. We have to erase that and write another one."

The new Glavine

"The hitter doesn't have any idea what I'm going to try to do."

The guy with the underwhelming fastball decided to begin serving his lukewarm heater on the inside part of the plate more often. Instead of living low and away, Glavine expanded his repertoire. He started throwing more curves and varying the location of all his pitches. In short, a guy who had always relied on touch and feel became an even better pitcher. The turnaround has been stunning: Since the second half of 2005, Glavine has gone 27-15 with a 3.28 ERA. In the two-plus seasons prior: 26-35, 4.21. "Basically, I had to make

it harder for the hitter to stand in the box and know what pitch I'm going to throw or what location I'm going to throw. Now when I'm on the mound, I have a lot better feeling than 'I'm going to throw a changeup here so it better be perfect.' Now I might throw that changeup out, or I might go inside, or I might throw a breaking pitch. I can do whatever I want.

"I had to fight the urges to go back to my old game. I've always been a pitcher who would say, 'Give me the ball and I'll make my pitch.' Now it was, 'I made my pitch. Give me the ball and let me think about what I'm going to do next.' I might say to myself, 'I think I want to throw a changeup right here, but you know what, let's get away from that.' I began to recognize situations when I could throw a fastball inside instead of reverting back to my old changeup. It really took me the second half of 2005 before I felt it became second nature."

As good as ever?

"I feel that way."

Glavine made the N.L. All-Star team last season and continues to be one of the league's top starters. He was 5-2 with a 3.39 ERA after his first 11 starts this season. Scouts say Glavine can't pitch as deep into games as he once did, but when he's on the mound, he has never been better.

"I've heard that from hitters. I'm not going to argue with it. Again, the game tells you a lot. Believe me, it's a good feeling knowing that when I go into a game, there's an 'A' game I want to use, then there's a 'B' and 'C' plan I can go to if Plan A is not working.

"Coming off the second half of '05 gave me a lot more confidence. I was feeling good about the changes I made and the direction I was going. I had a real good spring in 2006 and thought, I get this now. It's become second nature like my old game used to be."

Being overshadowed

"I've never been totally comfortable being the guy in the spotlight."

Perhaps a downside to being part of a talented trio is that at least one member will be overlooked. Among the Braves' Big Three, that most often was Glavine. He didn't win four consecutive Cy Young awards like Maddux, and he didn't dominate in the postseason like Smoltz. Of course, Glavine hasn't exactly pitched without honors. He has copped two Cy Youngs, has been named to All-Star Game rosters 10 times and is the only one of the three to be named World Series MVP.

"I can handle the attention, but it's not something I crave. I always enjoyed those years in Atlanta when there would be talk before the season about Greg and other top pitchers in the National League. Then when the season was over, you'd look up and it was, 'Oh, wow, Glavine won 20 again.' In the end, it hasn't hurt me any financially, and it hasn't hurt me popularitywise. I've been around some great players, and they deserve the recognition they get.

"I have what I consider a very vanilla personality. I just show up and do my thing. If Pedro (Martinez) were here right now, everybody would know he's in the room. With me, you can come into the clubhouse and you don't know if I'm here or not. In the end, I operate better that way."

Nearing the end

"When this year is over, it's not like I'm going to have lost my desire to play this game."

Glavine is not bragging when he says there's nothing left for him to accomplish except, of course, scoring win No. 300. He has said that this likely is his last season, but he's not closing the door to 2008 just yet.

"With the adjustments I've gone through, going out on the mound with more than one way of getting guys out is fun for me. I'm not going to lose that. "But I'm pretty sure I'm going to know what is the right decision. It's not going to be based on how I pitch. It's going to be a family decision much more than my desire.

"You always hear that age-old debate: Do you want to go out on the top of your game, or do you want to get everything you can out of your career? I don't know the answer to that. In a perfect world, this year I'd love to win my 300th game, a World Series, at least 15 games -- and if I call it quits, say, 'Wow, you can't go out better than that.'"