“It’s not how you go about it,” John Smoltz told reporters this week, but how do you go about it? If you’re suggesting, as Smoltz and others have, the Braves mishandled the release of Tom Glavine … well, how do you handle it? How does a team say goodbye to someone who isn’t ready to leave?
Joe DiMaggio retired at age 37, saying he could no longer “be Joe DiMaggio every day.” Today’s athletes are different. Smoltz got mad and left for Boston because the Braves had the gall to offer too little money to a 41-year-old pitcher — he has since turned 42 — coming off shoulder surgery. And now they’ve angered Glavine, who’s 43 and coming off shoulder and elbow surgery.
Two days after he was lopped, Glavine launched a counteroffensive. He accused the Braves of lying to him and being cheap. He said he merited special treatment for his years of meritorious service. Brett Favre felt the same. Brett Favre went from being the Green Bay Packers to despising the Green Bay Backers because they didn’t show due deference.
But should due deference to a legend trump the greater goal of all professional teams, which is the winning of games? The hardest thing for any ballplayer is to know when to stop playing ball, and the great ones find it hardest of all. They always think there’s another big game or another touchdown pass in that famous arm.
Joe Namath went out as a Ram, Michael Jordan as a Wizard. Roger Clemens “retired” so many times we needed an abacus to keep track. Randy Johnson won his 300th game at age 45, working for his sixth different franchise. And this was the career path of Greg Maddux after he left the Braves in 2003: Cubs to Dodgers to Padres back to Dodgers.
Yes, there’s money still to be had, lots of money. But these guys have made more for one year’s work than the average Joe or Jane earns in a lifetime. How much is enough? How long is too long? What happened to the concept of a graceful exit at the top of one’s game? Did it walk away in 1966 with the princely Sandy Koufax?
John Schuerholz felt moved to apologize Friday for the way things ended with Glavine — “The environment and the tone and the manner … didn’t feel comfortable to me,” Schuerholz told reporters — but what could the Braves have done? Cut him in spring training? (Wouldn’t Glavine have then said, “You didn’t even give me a chance”?)
Brought him up for one start and paid him his million-dollar bonus while strongly suspecting he’d get tattooed? (And what if, come October, the Braves found themselves one game out of the playoffs? Would Glavine have apologized to them?) Should they have offered him a job as a coach? Shoved aside Joe Simpson in the TV booth? Made Glavine general manager and booted Frank Wren to the curb?
In the clear light of hindsight, the Braves might have rushed things. They could have tried to arrange a formal news conference, as opposed to the hasty gathering behind the press box a half-hour before Wednesday’s game, but Glavine had made it clear he wasn’t retiring. And he said Friday he wants little to do with the Braves now. So there.
Every legend wants to depart “on his own terms,” but seldom do those terms account for anyone else’s. This isn’t Tee Ball. Not every player gets to play in every big-league game. And it’s the guys who were once the best players who can’t seem to grasp they’re just not as good anymore.