Tom Glavine: Stubborn symbol of an unforgettable Braves era

Tom Glavine salutes the masses Friday night at the ballpark. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A choked-up Tom Glavine salutes the masses Friday. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The beauty of the Braves in the early ’90s was that there was no one guy, but Tom Glavine was first among equals. He’d been a true pro at a time when this club was essentially Amateur Hour. He didn’t just show up when the going got good. He was here, as he famously said, when “it was 95 degrees and we were 20 games under .500 and there were 5,000 people in the stands.”

He was the guy who got Chuck Tanner fired. On a Friday night in Pittsburgh — the date was May 20, 1988 — the sunny-side-up manager let the kid pitcher absorb a frightful beating: Seven hits and six walks and seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. Two nights later, a general manager who had staked everything on the care and feeding of young pitchers fired Tanner and replaced him with Russ Nixon.

On another Friday more than 22 years later, Glavine had his No. 47 retired and was inducted into the Braves’ Hall of Fame. And Pete Van Wieren, who broadcast the first and last games Glavine worked and most of those in between, thought of Nixon.

It was early in Glavine’s big-league career and Braves insiders were worried he didn’t strike anybody out, and after another loss — Glavine would lose 17 times in 1988 — a few such folks had gathered in a hotel bar and one asked, “Why can’t we ever find one of those guys who throws 95 mph?”

And Nixon, who sugarcoated nothing, said: “Don’t worry about Glavine. He’ll be fine.”

Some players are too talented to fail. Glavine was too smart. He kept plugging away until, one day in spring training at West Palm Beach, he found that if he applied a different sort of finger pressure to the standard-issue circle change, his offspeed pitch would sit up and do tricks. That change-up would become his ticket to Cooperstown.

He won his first Cy Young Award the year the Braves went from worst to first. He beat Colorado in the 162nd game of 1993 to clinch a tie in the last great division race. (No wild cards then.) He wasn’t half as gifted as John Smoltz or Steve Avery, and he didn’t possess quite the maestro’s mystique of Greg Maddux, but Thomas Michael Glavine was the guy who deserved to toe the slab on the night of Oct. 28, 1995, the night the Atlanta Braves became world champions.

He worked eight innings. He yielded one hit. (Bloop single to Tony Pena in the sixth.) He won a game 1-0 against the best-hitting club of the era, and he was voted World Series MVP for his work. He was, as Van Wieren said Friday, “the right man in the right game.”

A year ago the Braves retired Maddux’s No. 31 and we were regaled by tales of the Mad Dog. I asked Bobby Cox, who was the GM who fired Tanner, if he had a Glavine story. He thought for a while and said, “There really aren’t any Glavine stories. He was just a solid guy.”

I asked Mark Lemke and he said: “I remember him knocking on my door when I was in rookie ball at Bradenton and saying, ‘I’m the new guy.’” Then the Lemmer said, shrugging: “Not really a great story, is it?”

There was no flair to Glavine. He didn’t even have a nickname, unless you count “Glav,” which you shouldn’t. He started every game with a backup stick of sugarless gum in his pocket. He won 305 games with that self-taught change-up and an inherent stubbornness.

Larry Dierker, once a pitcher himself, offered the best description of the two canny Braves: “Maddux would rather give you something to hit than walk you. Glavine would rather walk you than give you something to hit.”

No, he wasn’t Sandy Koufax. But you know what? Tom Glavine won nearly twice as many games throwing a fastball that topped out at 91 mph with a hurricane at his back. On Friday he entered one Hall of Fame, and another will come calling soon enough. And the best part of the rain-delayed ceremony at Turner Field was this:

The unflappable Tom Glavine appeared near tears from start to finish. “I’m in awe,” he said. Awed for the first time in his life.

456 comments Add your comment

lerry

August 6th, 2010
8:27 pm

Robert

August 6th, 2010
8:29 pm

First. Love Glavine.

JJ

August 6th, 2010
8:29 pm

Robert

August 6th, 2010
8:29 pm

First to spell it correctly? Glavine is my all time Brave. He was who I wanted to be playing whiffle ball. Kudos to the Braves for doing it right.

Mark Bradley

August 6th, 2010
8:30 pm

Kudos, lerry.

JJ

August 6th, 2010
8:32 pm

One of these days I’ll get 1st

Steve Carter

August 6th, 2010
8:32 pm

Tom Glavine will always have a special place in my heart. He was the starting pitcher against Montreal in 1988 for the last Braves game I ever got to see in person with pop. For that simple fact alone he will probably be one of my all-time favorite Braves. Thank you for that great memory Tom, and for many others along the way. May you get every honor you richly deserve

Steve Carter

August 6th, 2010
8:32 pm

with my pop I should have said. sorry I need a proofreader I guess.

Mark Bradley

August 6th, 2010
8:33 pm

There’s always tomorrow, JJ.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, KTM#5. KTM#5 said: RT @MarkBradleyAJC: While we await the ceremony, here's a little something I've written about Tom #Glavine. #Braves http://bit.ly/c03tkC [...]

Bravesfan86

August 6th, 2010
8:35 pm

Thx mark! Gave me sumthin to read while
waiting on rain! Go Braves! And bring on the ceremony alrdy! Glavine deserves it all!

UGA/TIGER

August 6th, 2010
8:36 pm

Could he have been as good without the leadership of Leo?

Mark Bradley

August 6th, 2010
8:42 pm

Good question, UGA/TIGER. I’m among those who believe Leo Mazzone belongs in the Hall of Fame as well.

jeremy c.

August 6th, 2010
8:43 pm

Man, that was a pleasure to read Mark. I love the attention to details and the backstories (Russ Nixon, the change-up adjustment). Thank you for writing something that lives up to the man and his moment.

As a Braves fan, circle me grateful.

Mark Bradley

August 6th, 2010
8:45 pm

Thanks much, jeremy c.

frank james

August 6th, 2010
8:49 pm

Mark – Do you know how many starts Glavine and Maddux missed? I don’t remember very many. They were dependable and you could throw pitch counts out the window. Smoltz missed some time but nobody was any better when he was healthy. These guys were good, but Leo and Bobby deserve alot of credit for the way they handled them.

Say What?

August 6th, 2010
8:50 pm

maestro’s mistake?

Good Job Mark

August 6th, 2010
8:54 pm

you actualy made a post supporting atlanta sports and not shooting them down…im soo proud

The Braves Trinity

August 6th, 2010
9:00 pm

Who’s first among equals in the Braves Trinity? 15-4 in the postseason anyone?
-

Robb Dryden

August 6th, 2010
9:08 pm

I remember watching him when i was the tallest man on Jim Harricks UGA bball teams. Thanks Mark for the memories.

TheDream

August 6th, 2010
9:09 pm

Beautifully written article Mark! I agree wholeheartedly with you on Leo deserving the Hall. I know players have a 5 year waiting period before they are considered, is it the same with coaches?

Heath

August 6th, 2010
9:11 pm

To paraphrase the movie Fargo, “Tommy, you went to New York for a little more money…there’s more to life than a little more money.”

heywood...

August 6th, 2010
9:13 pm

and u couldn’t dunk, robb. matter of fact, i think u and the entire
team went the entire season w/o a single dunk. unbelievable.
thank God for mark fox.

MikeDW

August 6th, 2010
9:14 pm

Ah, the days…back when the Braves were perennial winners, life had unlimitless potential, and the girls were hotter and more accessible….. can’t we just all go back?

MyPatooti

August 6th, 2010
9:18 pm

Thanks Heath, I, for one, am with you. Reading this column, you would never know he left the Braves and went to the METS, of all teams. I’m sorry, but still have not forgiven him. The real character of a player shows up foremost in his allegiance to his team that made him what he is. They should have done this after the game, due to the rain delay.

Brent

August 6th, 2010
9:20 pm

Tom Glavine was truly a great ballplayer. He deserves to be not only in the
Braves HOF, but MLB Hall of Fame. But just like Ty Cobb, just because he was a great player doesn’t mean he is not a jerk of the highest order. And that statement has nothing to do with his role as union rep or his decision to leave for the Mets. He is truly an A**hole

Dave

August 6th, 2010
9:20 pm

My favorite Brave, no question. I’ve always thought it was a real shame that the fans never gave Glavine the love and respect he deserved, and Glavine could never come to be just a little more fan-friendly. Tommy should have been the poster child of the Braves’ dominant era, but the fans will always gravitate to Smoltz and Maddux. Great guys, but neither was here at the beginning.

NCBravesFan

August 6th, 2010
9:20 pm

Nicely done, Mark as always. Wish I had been there for the big show.

Have to admit that ceremony brought a couple of tears. The Braves did a nice job.

Sonny Clusters

August 6th, 2010
9:21 pm

We was never much on unions until we heard Tom Glavine singing “look for the union label” one time on radio. From then on, we was always looking for that label.

Don

August 6th, 2010
9:22 pm

Time for Hanson to get whacked. Braves going to get crushed tonight. Not hitting Zito.

Don

August 6th, 2010
9:23 pm

Hanson will get whacked tonight. Zito will shut down this lousy team.

"Chef" Tim Dix

August 6th, 2010
9:23 pm

A product of good stock.

If accolalades are for you, isn’t that the best reason?

Don

August 6th, 2010
9:24 pm

Bad game coming for lousy Hanson.

Don

August 6th, 2010
9:24 pm

It’s gonna be FUGLY. Zito will shut down that weak braves offense.

Brent

August 6th, 2010
9:26 pm

Sonny, you are part of the downfall of this country

RN

August 6th, 2010
9:26 pm

I’m sorry he never got his professed desired to bean (and potentially injure) the replacement players during the strike. A classy sportsman like him needs the opportunity to hurt people he disagrees with to have a full career.

Don

August 6th, 2010
9:26 pm

Gary

August 6th, 2010
9:28 pm

Glavine did a fine job here in Atlanta, I will never forget Glavine, Smoltz, Maddox and Avery. Great memories. It was an awsome ride. I also remember when the Braves moved to Atlanta and what it was like for 25 years before these guys.

NCBravesFan

August 6th, 2010
9:28 pm

MB: are you live blogging this affair or are you already enroute to Taco Bell?

TNBravesFan

August 6th, 2010
9:28 pm

Don I love how you have gone on all the blogs and talked bad about the Braves. I think you may be our good luck charm.

Don

August 6th, 2010
9:29 pm

Uh Gary it’s MaddUx

Don

August 6th, 2010
9:29 pm

ONE to NOTHING GIANTS! That’s all that will be needed folks. You can turn off those TV sets.

Don

August 6th, 2010
9:30 pm

Phillies will come back like last night. Then it will be a 1 game lead. So much squandering going on.

NCBravesFan

August 6th, 2010
9:31 pm

Don: trolling. Ur doing it wrong! :lol:

Don

August 6th, 2010
9:31 pm

Phillies will come back like last night.
Then it will be down to a one game lead.
So much squandering going on!!

Mark Bradley

August 6th, 2010
9:32 pm

I’m still here, awaiting pithy comments from you folks. Thanks for asking, NC.

Don

August 6th, 2010
9:32 pm

Get ready for an easy 1 2 3 inning for Barry

MyPatooti

August 6th, 2010
9:33 pm

If Hanson is going to be a major league pitcher, he will have to start holding runners on base. That run belongs to him not McCann. He reminds me so much of Millwood when he first came up and was rated highly. We all know how that worked out. I predict the same path for Hanson. Hey Hanson, how about a little intensity and spirit!

Don

August 6th, 2010
9:34 pm

Look at Zito at Turner Field
3-0 1.87 era
Going to be 4-0 in a little over 2 hours!

Don

August 6th, 2010
9:35 pm

Not even the amazing Hey can get a hit on Barry Z