1993 NEWS

1993 News > Tom Terrific

TOM TERRIFIC

By J. Edwin Smith, Fan Magazine

OK, says Tom Glavine, let's dispense with the obvious.

Indeed, these are tough times. His team is struggling, having had a perplexing season-long drought at the plate with men in scoring position. And Glavine himself- Mr. Perfect in the eyes of most - is having difficulty with the corner of the plate.

"I've been up and down," admits the 27-year-old lefthander with a shrug of his magnificent shoulders.

"I don't know what it is," he says after great hesitation. "I'll be going along fine, and then I'll walk somebody or something like that. Next thing I know, I'll throw a good pitch - really, it's a good pitch and the guy will just get enough of the bat on it."

And before you know it, the Braves are trailing. Once again.

For the record, Glavine had lost two games in a row when these words were being carved in stone. His ERA had taken a beating, resting in the high-three range after consecutive 20-win seasons with marks of 2.55 and 2.76, respectively.

To make matters worse, the gifted one's strike outs-to-walks ratio had gone haywire. No longer was his change-up taking a toll with the swinging third strike; no longer was his curve nibbling at the outside corner.

"Good grief," Glavine's critics will tell you, "Tom Glavine is in serious trouble. His arm's shot - it must be!"

Forget, if you will, that even Warren Spahn himself lost 245 games over the course of his brilliant career.

Come to think of it, Steve Carlton was less-than-perfect while recording 244 defeats.

And now that you mention it, we remember Bob Gibson, Fergie Jenkins, Whitey Ford and Nolan Ryan having off days on the mound.

Trouble is, all of this is forgotten when the subject of Glavine is raised in mixed company. Why? Well, we'll get around to that in a moment.

For now, let's concentrate on the obvious-- Glavine's numbers, those two unexplainable losses and that hefty ERA.

"It's been a bit frustrating," Glavine is quick to admit. "But I'm not going to sit here and make up a bunch of excuses. There have been games this season where I have been very fortunate with run support. There have been other games where I haven't pitched all that well, yet the team was able to come back and score some runs and I was able to get a no-decision.

"Of course, I've always been a big believer that everything evens out in the end. A few weeks ago against Philadelphia, I gave up six runs but we still won. Should I have won that game? No, absolutely not. You ask, what's the problem? Good question - I wish I knew. I made good pitches, I put the ball where I wanted to, but they still hit the ball. I felt fortunate to get a win. By all rights, I should have lost. But at the same time, there are games you should win but don't. Like I say, it all evens out."

It is at this juncture in the conversation that Glavine turns on that childish charm of his, lowers his eyes and smiles. You almost expect him to shuffle his feet and say "Gee, whiz," but he doesn't.

Instead, he lowers his voice and says: "You know something? I owe this one to the offense. I sure as hell didn't win it."

Another pause, then: "I also think I made the Phillies look a little bit better tonight than they really are."

This from the man, who at the time, had won seven games - the best mark on a staff considered to be the game's best.

So, what's going on with the Braves at this precise moment in the season - early June, fourth place behind the San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers? Good question, says Glavine, again smiling and shaking his head in feigned bewilderment.

"We've had some tough games along the way. Again, we've all had our ups and downs," says Glavine, who was a combined 40-19 over the course of the past two National League Championship seasons.

"We all are trying to maintain an attitude that there are going to be better days ahead. But, yes, it has been somewhat frustrating. There are, I'm sure, a lot of people out there who are expecting this pitching staff to go out there every night and never give up a run and pitch complete games. At the same time, because of this lineup we've got, us pitchers expect the team to score four or five runs a night. And that might be a little frustrating on us pitchers when they don't. That's high expectations for you.

"Then again, you could also say that there were a lot of people out there who thought this team would go 162-0 and we'd just breeze through the season. But that's not realistic. Hey, we've had two great seasons. We also know that there are going to be tough times for us, that nothing comes easy. Right now, the best thing we can do is continue to think positive and keep our heads up."

That's easier said than done, right?

Glavine smiles and looks across the clubhouse. Players are going about the business of business - mentally trying to accept another loss while shuffling a daily schedule that, besides the usual interviews with the media, includes publicity appearances and radio talk shows and the usual crush of outside activity that comes with the territory of being considered one of the two best teams in the game.

"Sometimes we tend to put too much pressure on ourselves," he says without hesitation.

"I know I do. If I give up two or three runs, I get angry at myself. I expect a lot out of myself.

"One inning I'll cut loose and my control won't be there, and the next inning I'll try and back off. It's been a constant battle to try and settle into a groove out there. I just need to go out and start relaxing and stop trying to pitch and be perfect."

Once again, that is far easier said than done. The reason, of course, is that everyone-even enemy batsmen have come to expect the impossible from Tom Glavine.

The man is supposed to be flawless. Unhittable.

Awesome - in capital letters.

So, you say you have a Mission Imposible? No sweat, dude just flip the ball to ol' Tom Glavine and all of your problems are over. The kid is the original piece of work. He can make a baseball do strange things.

Mature men wielding big chunks of lumber have been known to look quite foolish trying to hit a Glavine pitch.

Mention all of this to the Massachusetts native and . .. well, Glavine can not help but chuckle.

"People tend to believe anything, right?" he asks, even though he already knows the answer.

"That has always baffled me. I mean, I'm human - really. All I do, all I have ever done, is work hard at my profession. There's no big secret about what I do. But some people tend to over-react. I win a few games and all of a sudden I'm supposed to be the greatest pitcher of all time.

"At the same time, when I have trouble winning... well, it's just the opposite. When I'm going through difficult times, everyone wants to know if I'm injured. Or even worse."

For instance, when Glavine was kicked around like an old, mangy dog last July by the American League in the annual All-Star game, critics were quick to jump up and shout that Glavine's pitching was a travesty, that he no more deserved to be out there on the mound than your Aunt Ediith.

"Now that really hurt," says Glavine, his voice just above a whisper.

Glavine started that game and lasted only 1 2/3 innings. He gave up nine hits and five runs before departing with an ERA of 27.00.

"I stunk up the place," he says matter-of-factly. "But for some people to say that I didn't even deserve to be out there - that's not right. It was just one of those nights when everything I threw, even the good pitches, were hit. But I thought I earned the right to be there."

Indeed.

Up until that shaky moment, he had breezed through the first half of the season with a 13-3 mark. In fact, during a three-month stretch from May 23 to Aug.24, Glavine reeled off one of the most remarkable undefeated streaks in Braves history.

In a span of 17 starts covering 122 1/3 innings, he was 13-0. He allowed only 5.6 hits per start, pitched five complete games and had an ERA of 2.05.

"But for one reason or another, all of that gets lost when you only look at what happened to me in the All-Star Game," says Glavine, regaining his composure and flashing a huge grin.

"That's what I mean when I say that sometimes people expect just too much from another person. I've never met anyone who's perfect. And I'm certainly far from being perfect."

Trouble is, no one wants to believe that.

Not when Glavine freely admits it.

Not even when his obvious talents start to unravel.

To fully understand this, one must return to last season and take time to walk a mile or so in Glavine's shoes. When you've done this, you'll see that the road on which he traveled en route to a failed defense of his 1991 Cy Young Award was filled with many calamitous twists and turns, not to mention the not-so-minor matter of a broken rib.

"Sometimes it was hard to take. It hurt, and I hurt," Glavine says.

But nothing hurt more than the continuous remarks and disbelieving looks expressed toward Glavine from the media when the Braves' ace went into a late-season tailspin.

"You'd have thought I'd personally let everyone down," says Glavine, letting his mind drift back to the roller-coaster ride that was 1992, a season of spectacular highs (he won 19 of his first 22 decisions) and spectacular lows (he gave up a gazillion consecutive hits in the All-Star Game, lost five of his last six decisions, and then gave up eight runs in one inning in Game 6 of the NLCS).

"I went from being everyone's friend, where everybody wanted to talk to me, interview me to all of a sudden being a bad pitcher who couldn't win a big game. It was as if everyone had forgotten everything I'd done up to that point."

Before we go any further, let us point out that Glavine was not using this conversation as a forum to strike back at the Fourth Estate. He had no crying towel in his magnificent left hand. Fact is, nothing could be further from the truth.

Fact is, we pulled these word's from him. He was a reluctant participant, a victim of friendly fire, so to speak, for he was smiling, even laughing, as he dressed at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium in February in preparation for pitching coach Leo Mazzone's 1993 edition of "Let's Get Ready to Three-Peat."

What started the conversation was an innocent enough question: If you'd been totally honest with the media about your broken rib, do you believe it would have enhanced your chances of beating Greg Maddux for the Cy Young Award?

Glavine's repsonse was pure Glavine--he chuckled, raised his eyebrows as if to say "next question, please," then carefully contemplated the land mines hidden within the question. Once that mental task was completed, he answered in this fashion: "Sure it would have, because it would have made things a lot easier on me. But then again, that wasn't even a consideration, even though it might have made people less critical of me."

Of utmost importance, Glavine wil tell you, was keeping enemy hitters off balance, not the media off his back.

"It's not like I was hiding anything from the press, " says Glavine. "When it first happened, we just felt like we didn't want people to know (about the rib injury) for whatever reason. With a broken rib, maybe we'd see more people trying to pitch me inside or trying to hit me or bunt on me. We just didn't want to open people up to those opportunities or let them take advantage of me.

"But, no, I wasn't trying to hide anything from you guys or trying to be macho about it. We just felt it was best for us not to let other teams know about it."

Hiding the rib injury was a team decision; the heck with individual honors. That's what Glavine was trying to tell us on this early February afternoon in his happy (he's married now) and carefree (a $24.5 million contract spread over five years) manner.

But then again, he says with that Huckleberry Finn grin, he is going after his third consecutive 20-win season with a somewhat bitter taste in his mouth.

You can blame the media for this departure, thank you. Why? Because even one of the game's greatest pitchers has easily tramped-upon feelings--just like the rest of us mere mortals.

As Glavine puts it, "When you go through a season like I had, where everyone is saying I'm a shoo-in to win the Cy Young, then three weeks later they're saying 'How can this guy be pitching in a World Series game?'--that's hard. Everything was great, and then I struggled, and then everybody started jumping off the bandwagon."

At this point, Glavine gave pause to smile, then added: "It was tough to deal with, it was tough to listen to all the crap, but then again it's all part of the game. But it did open my eyes--it showed me what really goes on, how people really look at you. It aggravated me, and it hurt me at times. But I used that as a positive--it motivated me a lot in the World Series."

All of which brings us back to the original question. If Glavine had played to the mercy of the media--Yo, guys, back off; the rib is busted, but I love my team and this city too much to sit down--would the ugliness that was each question-and-answer session in front of Glavine's locker during September have been more joyous, if not vastly sympathetic?

"Every day, there it was--what's wrong with your arm? It was something I couldn't walk away from," says Glavine, that smile--the one that keeps saying: "Honestly folks, I'm not bitching; really"--still plastered across his face.

"It would have been real easy for me to say this is not my fault and here's what's really going on. But I chose not to go that way, whether it helped or didn't help (my Cy Young chances). My only concern now is that I handled it in a very professional manner."

And that, he did. While taking his lumps, so to speak, for the team, he remained a welcomed gust of fresh air in a clubhouse where the atmosphere is not always up to the EPA's high standards.

As for the busted rib? It was a result of the flu--no lie.

"I got sick, threw up a bunch of times, and then all the muscles got sore, and the more I pitched, the weaker (the rib) got," Glavine says in his best unemotional, medical voice.

The pain never went away. Then I broke it warming up before the Montreal game (on Aug. 19). Three weeks later the pain went away. Until then, though, I was having a hard time breathing."

From a cinch to win the Cy Young to being looked upon as a questionable commodity--that's the road Glavine traveled last season.

Out of fairness, we'll close with one bittersweet memory. This came moments after Glavine had pitched a near-perfect, complete-game performance in a 3-1 victory over Game 1 of the World Series. As the media tiptoed toward Glavine's locker, they were greeted with nothing but smiles.

"To go through what I went through, it was big for me to get back out there in the World Series--show people what I could do when I was healthy, " says Glavine, again cherishing the moment.

"There was all that doubt about me being unable to pitch in a big game. Then I went out there and shut a lot of people up.

"Very rarely have I been that mad, but I still think I handled myself pretty well. It certainly was nice to shove it back in a few faces. It was a good feelling.

"Sure I had to bite my tongue a little bit, because there were a lot of things I wanted to say--and couldn't. But you learn to deal with the good and the bad. I'm sure there will be more."

Indeed.

Here we are, five months later, and the man of the hour has the media wondering what is wrong with the Braves' ace.

"Yeah, I really stink, don't I? The arm is shot. I better give up pitching and get a real job," Glavine jokes.