2007 NEWS

2007 News > 7/29/07

THIS TOM IS TRULY TERRIFIC

By Nick Cafardo, Boston Globe

We interrupt Barry Bonds's joyless pursuit of the home run record for a feel-good story that has flown under the radar -- Mets lefthander Tom Glavine's first attempt for his 300th career victory Tuesday night in Milwaukee.

It will be like old times for Glavine, surrounded by his wife and children, and his parents, siblings, and friends. The 41-year-old Billerica native is about to reach one of pitching's greatest milestones very quietly.

He never made huge headlines or found himself surrounded by controversy. He's done everything with class, and could be the last pitcher to get to 300 for a while, unless Randy Johnson's ailing back is magically cured.

He was like you and me growing up in Massachusetts, spending his winters skating and shooting pucks on frozen ponds, and fantasizing about being Fred Lynn on baseball fields in the summer. He is the son of Fred and Millie Glavine, humble people who owned a construction business.

He was never a sexy story because he never got into trouble. He was raised right, worked hard, and made something of himself.

There has never been alcohol or drug abuse. He never has lashed out at a teammate or thrown at someone's head. He has never been caught throwing a spitter or scuffing the baseball. He is a master thief, however, stealing the outside part of the plate inning after inning.

He knows every hitter's weakness and where to locate a pitch. He threw harder earlier in his career than he does now, but he never had the big fastball like the Big Unit. Nor did he have the nickname.

When he steps on the mound, however, he is as tough as nails, with a stern look on his face and a head of steam building. He has never given in to anyone. His athleticism shows in how well he fields his position, and he used to get a kick out of having a higher batting average than ERA.

He has appeared in 10 All-Star Games, won two Cy Young Awards, and finished second in the balloting twice. He has won 20 or more games five times, pitched more than 4,000 innings, and has made 657 starts.

In the winter of 1995 when I wrote a book with Glavine, he could only dream of 300 wins, and it wasn't until he got to 250 that he thought it was possible. Fred Glavine constantly talked about Boston Braves lefthander Warren Spahn, and in some ways Tom Glavine always tried to live up to that standard. He did a pretty good job of it.

Glavine was a great pitcher before Greg Maddux showed up in Atlanta, but when you teamed them with John Smoltz, the trio formed perhaps the best starting rotation in modern history. Every day was a pitching think tank, and the professor was pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

"What can I say?" said Maddux of Glavine. "Great pitcher. Great talent. Great knowledge. Great, great competitor. Great teammate. Great friend."

Glavine loves talking most about pitching. Any young pitcher who comes into contact with him gains knowledge. I remember driving with him from Alpharetta, Ga., to a card show in Montgomery, Ala., and the entire conversation was about pitching and how he set up batters and who gave him trouble. It was one of the most fascinating conversations I've ever had with a pitcher.

In some ways, if Glavine wins Tuesday, it will be bittersweet. It will be the culmination of an incredible dream.

But after that comes the big decision. To pitch beyond this year or retire. Those around him feel he'll be coaxed into pitching one more season, especially if it's back in Atlanta, where he makes his home, or Baltimore with Mazzone, or Washington with former Braves CEO Stan Kasten, or even Boston. The reason he would retire is, "At some point I need to be a full-time dad," he said. "I have a wife and four kids. And I want to be a full-time husband and father to them like my father was to me."

He's been in the limelight for 21 years and performed at such a high level that leaving the game would be difficult, especially since he can still get batters out. What he'll have to come to grips with when the 300-win high is over is once you leave, it's truly over. You never get it back.

For 21 years he's been Tom Glavine the baseball star, but he knows that for the rest of his life all he wants to be is Tom from Billerica.