1995 NEWS

1995 News > 5/1/95


By Steve Marantz, The Sporting News

If ever a baseball player had reason to wish a season off to a good start, it is Tom Glavine. The strike could not end and games begin soon enough for the Braves' veteran lefthander. As a union leader, he exhausted years of goodwill with fans. As a pitcher, he hopes to recapture their hearts.

No player -- with the possible exception of Blue Jays pitcher David Cone -- was more visible during the 7 1/2 month strike. Glavine was at the center of policy-making as a member of the union's executive committee. Other committee members occasionally were seen as talking heads on nightly strike updates. Usually, though, it was Glavine and Cone, or Cone and Glavine, Cy Young bookends, dapper young men with bargaining-table eyes and microphone mouths.

But Cone was spared harsh public reaction that marred Glavine's experience. For various reasons, Glavine became a lightning rod for public anger frustration in Atlanta, a non-union city. Fans may have been riled by his characterization of Phil Niekro, a popular former Braves pitcher, as "greedy" for contemplating returning as a replacement player. Possibly, they were put off by Glavine's high-minded and righteous-sounding talk -- of principles and freedom. Some fans may have considered Glavine a Stepford mouthpiece for Don Fehr, the brooding executive director of the union.

Any or all of those things contributed to withering attacks against Glavine on Atlanta talk radio and in letters to editors. Sports-talk hosts say Glavine was second only to Fehr as the target of angry callers, and that as the strike wore on, critical calls increased. Braves management looked on, with mixed feelings.

"It was strong, constant and it kept building," says Braves General Manager John Schuerholz. "I think it was very obvious and very apparent and the fans' comments indicated they were very unhappy with things Tommy was saying."

Braves President Stan Kasten, a member of the clubs' negotiating team, tried to stop bashing of Glavine despite a slight advantage it may have provided clubs. "Tommy's gone through a very difficult time, as difficult as any player in any sport," Kasten says. "He became a symbol in this market for a lot of the things people are unhappy with."

Glavine is unsure how deeply alienation cuts. Talk-show callers represent a weird fringe. On the streets, people are civil. Yet, some of his closest friends fail to grasp -- or swallow -- the union's position. That worries Glavine. If they do not understand, he concludes, many fans probably do not, either. The thought troubles him.

"Normally, you're under scrutiny for what you do on the field," Glavine says. "It's difficult for me to be looked at in a positive or negative way for the situation we're in now. I'd rather people say he pitched good or he stinks, rather than form opinions on the labor situation. It's not what we all signed up to do."

Two questions confront Glavine as the 1995 season gets under way. behind him, forget the unsettled labor situation, and do the job on the field? The latter confronts every big leaguer; only Glavine must deal with the former.

Strike hangovers are an occupational hazard. The strike was an emotional roller-coaster; those who rode up front are at risk of after-effects.

"I've seen (labor strife) affect lots of players," says Blue Jays designated hitter Paul Molitor, a negotiating committee member in 1990 and again in 1994-95. "It affects their relationships with management and translates into performance on the field.

"In Tommy's case, one of the top pitchers in baseball, you think he would be able to overcome that. That's a challenge to all the players who were involved. To try and put it behind them and go out and play."

Glavine agrees that a fast start would be a good thing. But the point, he says, is not to mollify angry fans. The point is winning, same as always.

He also agrees that forgetting labor problems while pitching would be wise. Again, nothing new. Players always have off-field personal and business matters that crowd up against baseball.

Glavine is sitting in a Florida dugout, midway through the second spring, seemingly unperturbed by challenges ahead. And why not? The morning sun is pleasant. Baseball has been good to him, and he to it. He makes nearly $5 million. He has been the game's steadiest lefthander in the 1990s; the second winningest pitcher -- 85 victories to teammate Greg Maddux's 86 -- in this decade. Moreover, he usually posts good numbers in April and May.

"I certainly will try to get off to a good start," Glavine is saying, "but I'll try to do it to help my team. Not to please fans or get people off my back. Anytime you pitch to please people or to silence boos you go out there for the wrong reasons.

"It's fair to say there's going to be some negative reaction and some positive reaction. Good, bad, I can't let it affect how I pitch."

Glavine is reminded of the remark by Lauren Rich, the union's assistant counsel, who suggested that the best way for him to win over fans is "to be himself and win 20 games."

"That's would go a long way," Glavine agrees. "Obviously the more success I have the quicker people will forget. If I get off to a slow start those people out there booing me will add fuel to fire. It works both ways.

He talks of learning to pitch within himself. The first step, he recalls, occurred when he slumped late in the 1991 season. Fans turned against him, even though he was on his way to 20 victories, and a Cy Young award, and the Braves were moving toward a pennant. He managed to get straightened out for the postseason, he says, by tuning out fans.

"I learned I can't pitch trying to please people," Glavine says. "I've got to do what I do best. The more you worry about what everybody else is thinking, the more pressure you put on yourself."

Another step occurred last season, during which his ERA soared to 3.97 -- his highest since 1990 -- and his walks-per-inning percentage went from a career average of.34 to.42. Part of the problem, as Glavine tells it, was a good problem. His arm was healthy; in prior years it ached. He gained about 5 mph on his fastball last summer, up to about 87. "That's a different style of pitching," Glavine says. "Throwing harder threw my release point off a bit. Consequently, my control suffered."

He watched closely as Maddux methodically molded a third consecutive Cy Young season and a 1.56 ERA. Maddux's strength, Glavine concluded, is knowing his limits and staying within them.

"I don't think I've ever seen a guy go out with a game plan and stick with it no matter the situation the way Greg does," Glavine says. "He never tries to do more than he can do. He won't try to throw a pitch on the black when all he needs is to hit the comer. He won't try a great changeup if he needs a good changeup. He doesn't do more than he's capable of doing."

Applying Maddux's example to himself, Glavine won six of his last eight decisions, finishing at 13-9 before the strike came on August 12. Glavine says he has to apply that thinking again now, controlling the temptation to speed up the conditioning process because of the shortened spring. "I think in the end common sense always has to win out," he says. "You have to remember it's a long season and you want to be around in September."

Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone says he believes Glavine was on his way to his fourth consecutive 20-victory season. Although Glavine says he "probably would have liked to have thrown a bit more than I did" during the union activism, Mazzone says he is confident the three-time All-Star will come through the labor storm in stride.

"He takes care of business in a very professional manner," says Mazzone. "He does it in different fashions. I've seen him throw 79 pitches in a 9-inning gaim. I've seen him do it with change of speed. Whatever is working for him on a particular night, he'll use. He's the type of pitcher who wins when he doesn't have his best stuff. I've seen him throw a shutout striking out one, and I've seen him throw a shutout striking out 10.'

Mazzone categorizes Glavine as a "no-count" pitcher, not to be confused with many "no-account" pitchers. "It means that the change of speed is a constant it will always be there," Mazzone says. "I always compare him to a pitcher who was my idol -- Whitey Ford. If you want to compare a style and a QW of winning attitude with a strong mental approach, Tommy Glavine is Whitey Ford. Same size, same willingness to gamble. Never gives in."

Ford's 16-year career ended in 1967, a year after Glavine was born. Ford's Hall of Fame record with the Yankees was 236-106 with a 2.74 ERA. He was 10-8 in World Series play. Glavine, who turned 29 last month, is 108-75 with a 3.58 ERA He is 1-4 in the playoffs and 2-2 in the World Series.

Ford retired when the Major League Baseball Players Association was taking its first halfing steps. He never reaped the multimillion-dollar fruits of its collective-bargaining zeal. On the other hand, he never spent a day on strike, and he never had to stare across a table at 12 club owners loaded for bear.

Glavine became the Braves' player rep in 1991 and assumed the additional position of alternate National League rep in 1992. Nothing in his family background predicted union activism; his father, Fred, is a self-employed concrete contractor in Billerica, Mass. "I don't know how he got that deeply involved," Fred Glavine says. "I guess it was because he was brought up always to stand up for what he believed in."

Somebody had to be the Braves' player rep when Dale Murphy gave up the elected position, Tom Glavine says. The union encourages veteran starting pitchers to be team reps because they have more free time. Besides, he was curious about the pension and insurance aspects of collective bargaining. The last thing he anticipated was a protracted strike.

"When the strike came along I sat back and tried to learn as much as I could," says Glavine. "Next thing, I had people calling me saying the players' association referred them to me, I guess, because I have a pretty good reputation with the media. One interview turned into two and it snowballed. ... I think some players are a little uncomfortable about what they are talking about and about sticking their necks out."

Union officials say Glavine was designated spokesman by the negotiating committee partially because of respect he commands from other players. Moreover, they say Glavine felt strongly enough about the union's position that he was eager to express himself.

Club negotiators say Glavine is quiet in bargaining sessions. But he expresses himself emphatically to media. Here is an excerpt from Glavine's remarks to reporters on March 31, after players won a federal injunction restoring 1994 work rules:

"These guys (owners) are getting more than they ever thought they were going to get. So why is it so hard to get a deal? The answer to that question is, they've always wanted more. More to the point where they have total control over players' careers. . . ."

Given his knack for rhetorical flourish, Glavine's friends and family are concerned he is permanently alienating owners. His father, Fred, and mother, Mildred, say they wondered if Braves Owner Ted Turner would blackball him from baseball. Mildred advised Tom to take a less visible role. "I told him he'd probably end up pitching for Yokohama and he'd have to buy me a satellite," says Fred.

Says Glavine: "I had to assure my parents it wasn't a personal thing, and that I had spoken with Ted Turner on this. It's not a personal battle, it's a business battle. I'm not going to burn any bridges on this. You can have a disagreement and still respect people. I assured my parents that's what I am doing."

Teammates also are concerned about Glavine. Fred McGriff advised him to "lay low."

"I told him to let some other guys do it," McGriff says. "There were 12 guys negotiating and 10 of them decided to let two go before the public."

Another teammate, Mark Lemke, stands up for Glavine. But he never tries to persuade Glavine to take a lesser role. "It's something he wants to do," Lemke says. "He got really involved and interested. It `something he's gotten good at. I think he's handling it well."

As the strike dragged on, Glavine's private life suffered. He and his wife, Carri, were moving into a new home near Atlanta. She was pregnant. He needed to be with her, but negotiations were a movable feast and Glavine a place setting.

Each time Glavine packed a bag, they had the same conversation. Carri: "How long are you going to be gone?" Tom: "I don't know." Carri: think you're going to get anything done?" Tom: "Probably not." Carri: "Then why are you going.?" Tom: "I really don't think we're going to get something done but maybe something will happen and we will."

Their daughter was born January 24. Resisting suggestions she be named Norma Rae, they christened her Amber Nicole.

A few days later, Glavine was in Washington, D.C. A nation turned its lonely eyes to mediator William Usery and President Clinton. One improbable evening, Glavine, Cone, Scott Sanderson, Jay Bell, Cecil Fielder and Terry Steinbach found themselves in a corridor outside the Oval Office, chatting with the president. For nearly an hour, they talked about college hoops, golf, football. No aides, lawyers, or reporters. Just guys killing time. "It was a neat experience," Glavine says. "Kind of hanging out with the president. Not an everyday experience."

But the episode ended badly for Glavine, and not only because talks fell apart. Somebody noticed he did not wear a tie to the White House. His attire was interpreted as an arrogant flaunting of protocol; more fodder for talk-show critics. Exasperation overcame Glavine.

"When you reach a point where people are complaining about what you do or don't wear," he says, "they shouldn't be talking about it any more, because they've obviously reached a level of frustration ... the bottom line was, President Clinton didn't complain about it, so if he's not complaining, the heck with what everybody else says."

Today, in hindsight, Glavine is comfortable with his behavior during the strike. "I look at the situation and ask myself, What could you have done differently?' " he says. "The only thing I could have done different is ... hide from the issues so fans wouldn't be mad at me. Some players think that way. Personally, I don't. I had more of a responsibility to my players than worrying about my image."

Kasten, still defending Glavine, says he believes Glavine unfairly absorbed anger intended for the union's executive leadership. "Over the course of eight months, Tommy said some things that were regrettable," says Kasten. "I put my foot in my mouth almost on a daily basis, too. Some remarks probably didn't sound as good as he would have liked, to the public, and to owners, too. If he could have taken them back, he would have. He will tell you that."

The question is put to Glavine: Would you take back anything?" His reply is instantaneous:

"Nothing. I don't think I said anything that, bottom line, wasn't the truth. I didn't try and say anything that would try and please somebody or not make somebody mad. I tried to answer questions honestly. My responsibility was that the players back home would get the honest information. Those were the people I wanted to reach."

This story is looking for an ending. If a settlement had been reached, Glavine might well have walked away from his union duties, with honor. But he remains a Cold Warrior, on 24-hour call.

Manager Bobby Cox says he hopes Glavine is excused from negotiations if they resume during the season. Schuerholz no longer discusses Glavine's union role, citing a detrimental effect on his club's "mental health."

Cone has remarked that he sometimes stays awake at night thinking of luxury-tax proposals. Glavine is not at the point of losing sleep, but he says he often thinks about getting a deal.

"Usually, you think about pitching and who you face next and what the lineup is and what you need to work on," says Glavine. "You still do that, but other times now I think about where we're going, what is the future of the game, what's got to change, what's got to happen in September. Are we going to have an agreement? What's it going to be? How do we get there?"

Occasionally, Glavine reflects on his career's odd turn, from superstar pitcher to union pitchman. His thoughts are apropos to a joke told among philosophers and religious mendicants:

Q. How do you make God laugh?
A. Tell him your plans.

"You have this innocent dream of playing in the big leagues and what it's all about," Glavine says. "Like everyone else, you're surprised once you get here. There's a lot of politics involved, a lot of business things. I always wanted to be out front as a player talent-wise. Not as a labor leader."