Tom Glavine is not a guy who runs off the rails. Not with the bases loaded – he’d issue a walk if he had to. Not in the midst of his infamous first-inning yips. Not when he lost 17 games in his first major league season with the Braves.
He could wear the same serious expression whether he was working over a loaded Cleveland Indians lineup for eight shutout innings in the 1995 World Series, or getting shellacked by the Florida Marlins to spoil a postseason shot in his last outing as a Met in 2007.
“If there’s one thing that people would always say to me while I was playing, it was like ‘Man, would you smile sometimes?’” Glavine said. “‘You don’t look like you’re having any fun.’ I was like, ‘No, trust me, I’m having a blast, I just can’t do it any other way.’”
If the eyes are a window to the soul, Glavine walked around sporting a set of opaque sheers, even when he acted as the players’ face of baseball’s most devastating strike, or during his about-face to leave Atlanta and sign with the New York Mets, something even he didn’t see coming.
Glavine has made a career out of keeping it together, and the stoicism served him well, throughout his 22-year run to 305 wins and a first-ballot invitation to the Hall of Fame.
But this weekend? When he gets inducted Sunday afternoon, and there’s a speech to deliver and family and friends to thank and a career to flash before his eyes? Keep an eye on his upper lip.
“His upper lip gets a little bit stiff — you’ll see it’s almost like a pencil thin line — when he’s fighting back emotions,” said his wife Chris Glavine, the emotional yen to Glavine’s yang.
She saw the pencil-thin lip the night the Braves retired his No. 47 jersey. She doesn’t see it often. They’ve been married 16 years and she’s seen him in a full-out cry a grand total of once.
“We had some sad situations in the family recently, I’m like ‘Did you cry?’” Chris said. “He’s like ‘No. I came close.’ I’m like sheez, you know? What’s it going to take?’”
This weekend might do it. Chris thinks it could come during the speech. Glavine’s speech has been a month in the making, with a steady stream of late-night tweaking at the Mac laptop, trying to pack all the punch he can in the designated nine to 10 minutes each of the six inductees are encouraged to take.
“I think he’s definitely going to let his guard down,” said Chris Glavine.“I don’t think he’s too concerned about shedding a tear.”
She’s heard the speech, except the part that mentions her. And she says to keep an eye out during the part about his parents. Thanking them is where he might finally crack. And it would be ironic, since that’s where he got a lot of the stoicism.
“Yeah, my parents are very even-keeled, not real emotional,” Glavine said. “They deal with things as they come, even when I was a kid. I can count on my hand, less than five times, where my parents ever got really ticked off at me. They’re always very under control. I don’t want to say calculating, but they were measured in their responses. Indirectly I probably saw that and paid attention to it and I’m sure a large part of my DNA is wired the same way.”
Growing up in Billerica, Mass., Glavine can remember his parents, Fred and Millie, getting upset when he threw snowballs at cars – and with a future Hall of Fame arm, they had good reason.
He also said he got in trouble at age 12 when he went for a walk on the beach without telling them, and it just so happened that another kid started to drown in the water that day and emergency personnel flocked to the beach as Glavine’s mother worried sick it might be him. He gets that now as a father of five, four sons and a daughter.
Glavine said his parents showed their love by their actions, by always being there, and that’s something he’s tried to emulate as a father.
But even his father Fred, who would get up 4 a.m. to make sure work with his construction business was done by the time of Glavine’s games in the afternoon, scrapped the handshake his son extended after winning his 300th game in 2007 and went for the hug.
Somewhere along the line, the rules have changed. And Glavine himself couldn’t get mad at his 19-year-old daughter Amber, when she came home with a tattoo on her arm because it was Roman numeral 47.
“I was like ‘Oh my god, your dad is going to kill you,” Chris Glavine said. “And when she opened (the bandage) up I was like ‘Oh, my God, that’s so cool!’ I’ve never gotten a tattoo but I had a little tattoo envy. A Roman numeral 47. How cool is that?”
As for Dad’s reaction?
“I was flattered,” Glavine said. “Not a fan (of tattoos) but it’s discreet.”
Guards are down at a time like this, and feelings fly. To commemorate the occasion, we look back at a handful of times throughout Glavine’s career when his guard was most definitely down.
Former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones recalls a time he got Tom Glavine to burst out laughing on the field after an exchange they shared when Jones got a cheap hit off his former teammate while Glavine was pitching with the Mets:
Chipper: “He threw me a change-up and I literally hit it directly off the end of the bat, one of those cue balls where it hits maybe six inches inside the first base bag and spews over towards the tarp. Just one of the worst possible hits you can ever get. He’s over there covering first and I’m running and he goes, “You gotta be (expletive) me!” and I started laughing. And I go “I’m sorry, I was trying to hit it a lot harder than that but sometimes you got to hit it the way they throw it, softly?” I got a little wry smile out of him, which getting a smile out of Glav or getting any kind of reaction out of Glav when he was between the lines, you’ve done something.
Glavine: “I don’t know if (the reaction) was simply based on (the cheap hit) or if it was one of my patented games that I pitched against the Braves and I was getting killed and it was one of the few good pitches that I actually made and I still didn’t get an out. It was always weird facing teammates. I remember the first time I faced (Jeff) Blauser when he was with the Cubs. I had to step off the mound for a minute because I was laughing. It’s hard to get past that initially. He has this stupid grin on his face. But yeah it’s always weird when you’re facing teammates that you’ve played with for a long, long time.
John Smoltz and Glavine were so close they were almost like brothers as much as teammates and friends, and that meant they could kid each other in ways others couldn’t. Smoltz admittedly took that too far one time, when Glavine had been spending a lot of time in the training room trying to work his way through an injury – Glavine did not go on the disabled list for the first time until 2008 at age 42.
Smoltz: “There was one time he got really mad at me. I don’t think he talked to me for a week. When he’s looked back, it was pretty funny, but at the time, he was struggling physically and he was having a hard time staying on the field. He was getting treatment all the time and we knew it. But to be funny, to break the ice — we used to sit next to each other — I put tape from his locker with arrows pointing how to get back to the dugout. It was all done without reporters seeing it and he got really mad, because he was afraid that he would have to explain something. Looking back, I still chuckle about it because we all got a good (big) kick out of it but he got really mad.”
Glavine: “I was (angry). I wasn’t feeling good and I was concerned about it, and I was trying to make my next start and it just caught me at the wrong time. It was pretty funny. I had another one, too, that was pretty funny in the old ballpark. It was ’92. I was getting criticized for not having a good second half and it was two years in a row where I wasn’t having a great second half. I came to the ballpark one day and the guys in white tape had put the outline of a body in front of my locker. I didn’t get mad at that. I thought that was pretty funny.”
Glavine was known for being even-keeled, patient and eminently coachable. But on one particular occasion – a visit to the mound from pitching coach Leo Mazzone – Glavine had had enough, and he shot back.
Mazzone: “One time I went out to the mound, I said ‘Tommy, we’re going to have to start hitting the zone a little bit.’ He goes ‘Well, this little guy, Leo, whispering in my ear, ‘Never give in to the strike zone.’ I wonder where I heard that before.’ I went, ‘You know what? I agree with you Tommy, I’m going back to the dugout.’”
Glavine: “When I was struggling I would fall into trying to be too fine and try to make the perfect pitch instead of a good pitch. That was something that we always talked about: don’t sacrifice stuff for location. If you’re having a game where you’ve got good stuff but you don’t have great command, don’t start backing off and then get into where you’re throwing one pitch hard and you’re throwing another one softer and you’re constantly back and forth trying to find something. just stay after it and hopefully eventually something will come to you. … That thick exterior was not so thick that given day.”
Glavine was generally respectful of teammates, opponents, and umpires. But Chipper Jones remembers one particular umpire that Glavine had a tough time with: Gary Darling. Glavine recalls the run-in after debating Darling on a 3-2 pitch to Dante Bichette in Denver only to have Darling back behind the plate for his next start at home against the Expos.
Glavine: “Brian Schneider was hitting, left-handed hitting catcher, and I had gotten him to a 2-2 count. I was obviously not a big slider guy, but it was a point in time where I was throwing it a little bit more, so on a 2-2 count I threw him a slider. It wasn’t a strike but it started close enough to the plate where I was trying to get him to swing at it and he didn’t swing at it. In my mind, for not being very good with that pitch, I had executed it exactly like I wanted to so, as I (follow through) I was like ‘(expletive) how do you not swing at that?’ As I’m turning around to go back to the mound, I hear somebody screaming at me. I turn around and sure enough there’s Gary, and he’s out in front of home plate with his mask off and he’s screaming at me: “That pitch wasn’t a strike.” And I’m like “what are you talking about?” He’s screaming at me. So I let him have it. I wasn’t even (expletive) talking to you. I wasn’t talking about it being a strike. I was talking about the pitch and he didn’t swing at it. And I was like get your (expletive) mask on and get back behind the (expletive) plate.’ So needless to say from that point on, coincidentally or not, whenever, Gary Darling was behind the plate for me, it was a battle. I wasn’t getting too many borderline calls.”
Glavine never got choked up on a baseball field as a player, but he came close when he embraced his family after his 300th win at Wrigley Field in 2007, especially when he saw his oldest daughter Amber, typically stoic like him, streaming tears.
Glavine: “She was losing it. Your kids obviously aren’t as mentally invested in what you’re doing as you are and they shouldn’t be. That’s what I always loved about it. I was Dad. I was not the baseball player. And in that moment to see her emotions in being as proud of me as she was, it was one of those moments like, ‘Wow, she gets it, she knows what this means to me.’”
Chris Glavine: “I think it was a culmination of everything that we had been through as far as the going up to the Mets. It didn’t matter where we were, everything that he had worked for this is another cherry on top. Where it didn’t matter if you were a fan of Tom Glavine, he was getting his due and that was so gratifying for me to see like he took so much crap for leaving the Braves. He took so much crap for being the stand-up strike guy and after all that even the Cubs fans were chanting his name and it was just, I’m like yeah, this is your minute, and soak it up and nobody can deny what he’s accomplished like it or not. For the most part people do like him but you can’t take away from him what and how he’s gone about his business.”