2007 NEWS

2007 News > 7/12/07

METS' GLAVINE IS A BLUE COLLAR WORKER

By Steve Popper, The Record

It was January 1993, long before Tom Glavine ever thought about 300 wins or his place in history. At that moment, he was in a doctor's office and all he could think about was the pain.

The Braves team doctor had examined him and given him the news. He had a partial tear of his rotator cuff and the first option was to undergo surgery and shut down for the upcoming season, working his way back to pitch a year later. But there was another option.

"They told me I could pitch through it," Glavine recalled. "They reassured me that it wasn't the kind of injury I was going to do any more damage. It was basically, can you stand the pain that you're dealing with or not?

"If you can, then what I was going to be doing was kind of going to be the rehab anyway if you don't have surgery. It's a throwing program, and you do exercises and you build it back up and go through your things. So that's what I tried to do."

That meant taking cortisone shots as often as he could coax the doctors into giving them to him. It meant surviving every five days on the mound.

"It was hard. I lost a lot of velocity that year," he said. "It was that cycle of, I'd get a shot and I'd feel good for two or three starts and then it would level off, and it would start to go downhill again."

Glavine did deal with it, not missing a start, an indicator of what his career would hold as telling as the pinpoint control that has him on the verge of baseball history and the Hall of Fame.

As much attention as his quest for 300 wins has earned the 41-year-old Mets left-hander, a more impressive feat might be that he has toiled on the mound for 21 seasons without ever spending a day on the disabled list.

He is an artist, a skilled tactician on the mound who has spun his way to 297 career wins with a fastball that wouldn't get him noticed in a tryout. But he is also the Everyman, a grinding blue-collar worker who shows up at the job site every morning.

Rick Peterson, the Mets pitching coach and resident Bruce Springsteen fanatic, considered these two differing skill sets and said: "Tommy is Bruce. He's the great performer who can walk among the average man."

"I think I got a lot of it from my parents, from my dad in particular," Glavine said. "He's very strong-minded, very tough, just went about his business and went to work every day. There's a part of me that's like, look, this is what I get paid to do and I'd better get out there and do it."

So he always has. He has made 653 consecutive starts, the most in National League history. Only Greg Maddux (20) has pitched more consecutive seasons with at least 25 starts than his 19. He took the ball when he needed surgery on his rotator cuff. And he took the ball when he had a broken rib in 1992. He avoided the disabled list when he was in a taxi accident in 2004.

But those ugly physical ailments were the sort of things for which Glavine could swallow a pain-killer, take a shot, stitch it up and take the ball. That changed last August when he left a game against the Phillies and noticed a coldness in his ring finger. He underwent a CT scan and an angiogram, which disclosed a blood clot near his shoulder. For a few days, he feared this problem would end his quest for 300 wins and end his career, and thoughts about his life began to creep through his mind.

"In your mind you always associate being hurt with pain," Glavine said. "Something hurts. I can't physically do what I want to do. I didn't have any of that. Nothing hurt. I felt great at the time. Physically I had no issues with doing anything I wanted to do. It was just something going on inside my body that I had no control over."

The tests showed the problem to be something he could resolve without surgery, instead requiring blood thinners. And he was back on the mound.

There is no magic formula, nothing that Glavine can point to as his secret. He is an athlete far greater than he may appear. And while he confesses he's not the hardest worker in the game, he may be the most meticulous.

"I'm not going to sit here and say that I'm the hardest-working guy in the game," Glavine said. "I will say I'm probably in the top 2 percent about doing my stuff."

"I can explain it easy," his former teammate John Smoltz said. "Perseverance, perseverance, perseverance. He has great mechanics and the ability to never give in."