2007 NEWS

2007 News > 7/12/07


By Marty Noble, MLB.com
Original Article HERE.

NEW YORK -- Rare were the occasions last summer when 300 was a number Tom Glavine preferred to discuss or ponder. By his own decree, the number had a subordinate place in his life at the time. He neither had bowled 300 nor batted .300. And 300 had no significance in golf and hockey, his other sporting passions. The Glavines didn't drive a Chrysler 300, knew nothing of the pending release of the movie "300" and less about the graphic novel by Frank Miller that was the basis for the movie.

The number was there, though, undeniably prominent on his personal horizon, followed by two words that gave it historical context -- career victories. To him, the number was there to be ignored whenever possible. "First things first," Glavine would say. The 290s were there, like a mental moat. "When I get to 290 ..." he would say.

Only when his victories total was 10 shy would he take the next logical, round-number step and think 300 without a sense of being premature and presumptuous. And, truth be told, if he could have attained 299 victories in private, away from the glare that career achievements in baseball often create, he would have opted for that.

"But I found out you really can't sneak up on it," Glavine said in Spring Training, five months after his 290th victory had eliminated the moat.

And now, after a disquieting pause in June that prompted him to order a moratorium on discussion of the topic, 300 is almost part of Glavine's official baseball identity, a component in his baseball DNA. It is as much a part of his baseball identity as the No. 47 he has worn on his back.

The 300 win mark is a threshold that only 22 others have crossed. And with Randy Johnson's back stealing miles per hour from his fastball and opportunities from his future, there is a compelling reason to believe Glavine could be the 23rd and final pitcher to cross.

Whether others follow is immaterial. "Pitchers with 300 victories" is bound to be the most select grouping in the game's pantheon of career achievements. Craig Biggio's 5-for-6 night last month made him 26th player with at least 3,000 hits, and though Frank Thomas became only the 21st player to hit 500 home runs, Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez are on the waiting list with designs on expanding to group to two dozen.

"I know how exclusive this is," Glavine says, "and how ... cool it will be to be part of it. I never thought about it seriously until I got to 250. But from the time you start to learn about the history of the game, you develop a sense of what personal achievements are really special. And [winning] 300 games is right up there."

His winning 300 times never was a given or even likely, not even when Glavine was knocking off an average of 17 victories per season with the Braves from 1989 through 2002. That run of excellence did produce five seasons of 20 or more victories, two Cy Young Awards, two runnerup finishes, two third-place finishes and 12 of his 14 postseason victories. But it left him 58 victories short of 300 and without the Braves' championship assembly line working in his behalf.

Three seasons with the Mets that increased his total by only 33 victories had passed before Glavine's second team achieved a first-place finish and before his own rate of production returned to more of a Cooperstown level.

He knows he might have reached 300 last season had he re-signed with the Braves after 2002. He also knows the adoption of QuesTec -- a computerized camera system that tracks the location of pitches -- and the absence of the strike zone he, Greg Maddux, Leo Mazzone and others worked so hard to expand undermined him as much as (if not more than) it undermined others. Maddux expanded the strike zone too, but not to the degree Glavine did. And Maddux occasionally would throw a pitch over the plate. When Glavine did, he hadn't executed the pitch properly.

"Maybe I would be retired by now if I'd stayed [with the Braves] and they didn't bring [QuesTec] into the game," Glavine says. "But I would have missed what [the Mets] did last year. There are tradeoffs."

Now at age 41, he has a chance to win 300 games and pitch in a second straight postseason for the franchise the wooed him away. "I'm proud of what I've done, what we've done here," he says.

Glavine has reached the threshold as a crafty left-hander, the uncompromising pitcher who never gives in to the batter, seldom gives in to the umpire and needs a helping of adversity before he giving in to his own pitching coach.

"What made him a great pitcher with us early on is part of what made it hard for him to adjust," Braves manager Bobby Cox said in May. "He's pretty strong-willed."

The Braves manager thinks primarily of the eight shutout innings Glavine shoved down the throats of the Indians in the decisive Game 6 of the 1995 World Series.

"You want to talk about will?" Cox says.

By the summer of 2005, Glavine's New England stubbornness, the shrinking of the strike zone and National League batters had made 300 victories appear to be on a more distant horizon. But Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, as relentless as his pupil, finally persuaded Glavine to throw inside more and throw a breaking ball occasionally.

A master of analogy, Peterson asked the golfer in Glavine whether he would play a round with two clubs. As bright as he is unyielding, Glavine got the message. Since the beginning of 2006, he has won 45 percent of his starts and 65 percent of his decisions. In his first three seasons with the Mets, he won one third of his starts and 45 percent of his decisions.

"Obviously, that's been a major change for me," Glavine says. Peterson is quite high on his acknowledgment list.

Glavine's New England upbringing -- his father Fred was a construction worker who seldom missed a day on the job -- has served him well too, particularly early in his career when he could have deferred to injury. He overcome a torn rotator cuff -- he won 22 games despite it in 1993, broken ribs which he believes cost him the Cy Young Award a year earlier, an accident that cost him his two front teeth and, last year, cold fingertips and a blood clot scare.

He has missed a start here and there, but he never has been assigned to the disabled list, is mostly unfamiliar with the trainer's room and is as proud of his 652 starts, the 14th most in history, as he is of his 297 victories. So are Fred and his wife Mildred.

Their boy is right there on so many all-time lists with another left-handed pitcher familiar to New England and the Braves -- "Mr. Spahn," as Glavine identified the Hall of Famer last year.

Glavine is not going to approach Spahn's 363 victories, the most by a left-handed pitcher, or even Steve Carlton's 329. But most of his career has overlapped with the era of the incomplete game when victories and losses have been harder to come by for a starter. No matter, he is quite content with life on the cusp, so long as it continues to move forward.

On the cusp seldom is a comfortable position these days of 24/7 news and countless news outlets and Web sites. Anticipation becomes a burden -- and, at times, an obstacle -- for those residents of the cusp. The most routine development is seen through the prism of anticipation and assigned greater significance than it deserves. So it is these days that each out Glavine achieves is not a step toward victory that day, but a leap in the direction of Cooperstown.

"But that's not the way I look at it," he says.

Twenty summers removed from his first victory and perhaps only months removed from his final changeup, he looks not at how close he is to 300 but how much more he needs to do to finish the job. Fred Glavine taught his boy to be thorough, to keep his eye on the ball. It's not yet time to celebrate in this already-celebrated career.

Like any construction worker, Glavine has a vision of the finished product. He sheepishly admits he has peeked ahead, just as he acknowledges he already has a sense of what he wants to say in a Hall of Fame induction speech once his historic career comes to end.