2007 NEWS

2007 News > 2/25/07


By Mike Berardino, Sun-Sentinel

You think Tom Glavine reached immortality's doorstep just flipping changeups toward home plate for the past two decades?

You think the classy Mets lefty had an easy ride to the 290 wins he'll take into his 21st major league season?

Think again.

Glavine's is a story of great persistence and adjustment, and I'm not just talking about his losing debut season with the Mets in 2003 or the circulatory scare he had last summer.

Go all the way back to the beginning and you'll find a pitcher who was battling just to stay in the big leagues, who probably couldn't have imagined he would go on to become one of the top lefties of this or any generation.

"I guarantee there was nobody in 1988," Glavine says one morning at Mets camp, "that looked at me and thought I had a chance to win 300 games."

Not only was he stuck with a then-woeful Braves organization, but Glavine's first two seasons produced a combined 9-21 record. He managed to go 14-8 in 1989, but then he fell back to 10-12 the following year.

His record as he turned 25? Would you believe 33-41?

By comparison, Dontrelle Willis enters his fifth season at the same age with a career mark of 58-39.

And yet you always hear about the great turnaround Randy Johnson staged at a similar point in his career. Or how a wild young Curt Schilling got serious about his craft after a long talk with Roger Clemens.

Glavine? He just sort of figured things out with the help of former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

"Having started out the way that I did and being here now is something I'm extremely proud of," says Glavine, who turns 41 in March. "I think the lesson for young guys in particular is you have to be realistic about yourself and your expectations."

Young Marlins starters such as Scott Olsen, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson would be wise to pay heed. Things might not go as swimmingly this year as they did for them as rookies, but the Glavine example will always be there to provide perspective.

That lesson is more vital to kid pitchers stuck in losing situations such as Pittsburgh (Zach Duke/Paul Maholm) or Kansas City (Zack Greinke) or Tampa Bay (Scott Kazmir).

Wins aren't easy to come by for them at this stage of their careers, but as Glavine soon learned all that can turn around. Five 20-win seasons, two Cy Youngs and 10 All-Star appearances later, he is the sage voice of reason for hundreds of impressionable young hurlers.

"If you're a young pitcher on a not very good team that's not winning a lot of games, it's not realistic for you to expect to go out there and be a 15-game winner," he says. "As hard as it was for me losing 17 games in 1988 ... you as a person have to be your own best coach, so to speak."

Deep down Glavine always believed he was on the right track. He wouldn't allow himself to regret his decision not to sign with the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, who had drafted him as a center in the fourth round in 1984, two rounds ahead of Brett Hull.

Shaving nearly a full run from his ERA in his second season and then again in his third helped build Glavine's resolve. So did the positive feedback he received from opponents and teammates alike.

"You have to be honest with how you assess what's going on, and I knew in my heart that I was getting better," he says. "You may not always see the results of it and that may not be your problem. When you're playing on a team that's not winning a lot of games, I don't care how good you're doing, it's still going to be hard for you to win."

Ten more wins and Glavine will become the 24th member of the 300-win club, a society that already includes his friend and former Braves teammate, Greg Maddux.

That could happen as soon as May 22 in Atlanta, where Glavine is on track to make his 10th start of the year. Or it could happen a week later at Dolphin Stadium in start No. 11.

Glavine might get at least two more shots to reach the milestone against his former team. His 24th and 28th starts could come against the Braves in August, but the Mets surely hope he's already made history by then.

Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca calls the countdown "an awesome thing" and openly hopes he'll be the one working with Glavine on his memorable night.

"I'm so happy for him," Lo Duca says. "There's not a guy I've ever played with who deserves it more."

Or who had to overcome a less auspicious start to get there.