Pitching only part of the Glavine story
Dignity, strong leadership, calm as important as 300 wins
Tom Glavine was headed toward the Hall of Fame well before he won his 300th game. But now he officially has the number that has traditionally signified greatness for starting pitchers.
Glavine is only the 23rd man to reach the 300 milestone. Only three left-handers have won more than Glavine, who has won two Cy Young Awards and has won 20 games in five seasons. The numbers can go on at whatever length you like. He has been a model of consistency and durability.
But what sets Glavine's career even farther apart from the norm is that his individual success has been part and parcel of collective success. Pitching is a solo act, and you can be a great pitcher on a mediocre team, or even a bad team. But the greatness is accentuated when it is accomplished in the context of team success, under routinely pressure-packed situations.
That largely defines Glavine's career. He came up with the Atlanta Braves in 1988, so he was in on the ground floor of that franchise's stunning success. In the major span of Glavine's career with the Braves, from 1991 through 2002, the Braves never lost a division title. Certainly, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, et al., had something to do with that. But Glavine was at the core of the Braves' long and unbroken run.
And then, when it appeared that Glavine's career might be on the downswing, he produced a 15-victory season for the New York Mets in 2006, as the Mets, in turn, produced the National League's best record.
There was no Smoltz, no Maddux in evidence at this juncture. Glavine had always been a leader -- on the mound and in the clubhouse -- but on the 2006 Mets, his leadership was even more obvious than ever. And that is the intangible part of this Hall of Fame career.
Glavine's career on the mound has been about guile and guts. He has been the portrait of a man in command of his craft. His command of the strike zone and ability to baffle with the change of speeds have been more than adequate substitutes for velocity. He has never lit up a radar gun, but he has beaten the best consistently -- with brainpower, with will, with ability guided by a world of pitching knowledge.
He has changed, he has adapted, he has persevered. His pitching has been, in a way, a perfect reflection of his personality. It could easily be argued that he has been a remarkable pitcher in part because he has been a commendable individual. The qualities he carries as a competitor are part of who he is.
Glavine has been appreciated now by more than one generation of reporters. He is as accessible, as articulate, as thoughtful in defeat as he is in victory. He may not be as humorous in defeat as he is in victory, but all the other qualities are still present.
He has been a source of knowledge for younger pitchers, and a source of good sense and calm reason in difficult times for teammates. His leadership role in the players' union was so visible that, during some of baseball's labor disputes, he became a target for some fans' discontent. But this was Glavine doing what he believed was right and being typically candid about it. The indisputable growth and success of the union can be attributed at least in part to the fact that Glavine played a prominent role.
There have been 300-victory pitchers with more raw talent, more dominant stuff. But there hasn't been anybody who stayed the course better than Tom Glavine. For those of us who have been privileged enough to follow his career, he didn't need the magic number to qualify for the Hall of Fame because his success, his career, what he represented for the game, had already reached the level of Cooperstown.
But with the milestone attained, there can be not even the smallest dispute. Tom Glavine is a 300-victory pitcher now and a Hall of Fame lock later. Both the victories and the honors are richly deserved.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.