If you didn’t watch him day in and day out, you might not get it. You’ll get a guy like John Smoltz, because once he figured it all out, he simply had conventionally great stuff. You know, the kind of stuff that tears up your elbow and shoulder by simply throwing a baseball very hard with lots of sink. Greg Maddux’s greatness is self-evident. He had this unreal ability to make his fastball move two inches and hit his spot dead on. Then, when the hitter would sit on the fastball, he threw a change and the chump would just sit down. There are very few who would argue with Maddux being placed among the ten greatest pitchers of all-time. This, however, is about Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine.
Tom Glavine was a stubborn bastard. He had, for the most part, one game. He threw the ball low and outside. It might be a fastball with small down and outside movement (92 – 94 mph early in his career, declining during the Braves salad years, but movement on the fastball was not Glavine’s game). It might be a change-up (which he threw at varying speeds). Either way, he threw the ball low and outside. On any given day, if the umpire was giving him the corner, he’d throw a little further outside. It didn’t matter if the hitter wasn’t biting on the outside pitch. Three balls and the bases loaded? He’d rather walk in a run. Just stay low and on the outside corner of the plate. He’d show a few inside pitches every game. They were never thrown for strikes. He’d throw the occasional big sweeping curve to a lefty. Those were just show me pitches. The one thing Glavine didn’t do is throw the ball over the middle of the plate. He just stayed low and outside.
Glavine’s greatness bothers a lot of people. He didn’t strike out as many people as most great pitchers. He walked more than most. He didn’t give up a lot of home runs, but he didn’t prevent them in the way that many of the great pitchers do. He just prevented the other team from scoring runs. He’d give up one to stop them from scoring three. He stared at the hitter with those cold, poised, competitive eyes and he threw his game. Low and outside. A hitter with patience might draw a walk, only to have the next guy reach out and tap into a double play. Glavine did not, would not, could not give in. If you wanted to hit, you had to hit his pitch. Low and outside.
There are three things no Braves fan should ever forget.
1 – When the Braves first brought Glavine to the majors, he wasn’t ready and the Braves were really awful. A lesser pitcher might have given up. Tom Glavine didn’t. He learned. He got better. His competitive fire didn’t weaken when he struggled, it burned all the brighter. He believed he could get people out and stop runs from scoring in the big leagues. Once he figured out his game, his belief became his reality and the Braves would benefit greatly.
2 – Terry Pendleton won the MVP. David Justice and Ron Gant were the big bats. TP, Rafael Belliard and Sid Bream strengthened the defense. Otis Nixon provided the speed. Steve Avery got better with every start. John Smoltz’s shrink helped him to a dominant second half. Charlie Liebrandt was the solid veteran leadership. The trade for Alejandro Pena helped the Braves close out games. It may have been a team effort, but it was Tom Glavine’s back the Braves rode during their worst to first season in 1991. It was Glavine’s rise to greatness that carried the team. Glavine was simply the best player on the team. In fact, the Braves success mimicked the path of his career. After years of struggling, he found success and carried his team with him. Everything that happened for the Braves after was a direct result of that first Cy Young year.
3 – Here’s how the story goes. Tom Glavine was dealing against the Indians in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series. He had just worked around a Kenny Lofton stolen base in the top of the sixth and angrily entered the dugout with neither team having scored a run. Glavine told his teammates, I’m paraphrasing here and using the language Leo Mazone uses, not Glavine when he tells the story, “Get me a fucking run. They’re not getting one.” David Justice promptly hit a solo shot. Glavine got them out for two more innings. He could have pitched the ninth. Many of us wanted him to pitch the ninth. Glavine’s game was throwing low and outside and the Braves game plan was to turn it over to Mark Wohlers in the ninth. That was OK with Glavine. He never deviated from the game. The Braves won the World Series and Tom Glavine was the World Series MVP. The best game he ever pitched was the most important game he pitched.
Tom Glavine was elected to the Hall of Fame today. He will be inducted alongside his manager, Bobby Cox, and teammate Greg Maddux. Glavine was, as Bobby Cox said, a warrior. He was a fierce and stubborn competitor. If you wanted to beat Tom Glavine, you had to beat him at his game. I’m not sure we ever saw him smile on the mound. I don’t believe he was capable. He was, after all, just a stubborn son of a bitch who threw the ball low and outside.