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Homecoming

Glavine on return to Braves, family: 'This is the best'

Posted: Tuesday November 20, 2007 12:51AM; Updated: Tuesday November 20, 2007 12:51AM
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ATLANTA -- He's living, pitching, paternal proof that home, indeed, is where the heart is.

Home, too, is where the school carpool lines can be bumper-to-bumper, and that's fine by Tom Glavine. It's where the boys -- Jonathan, Peyton and Mason -- play hockey in a suburban rink called "The Cooler" and under the watchful eyes of their cool, famous father who was once drafted by the NHL and now helps coach his sons' teams.

Home is a powerful, emotional pull, especially around the holidays. That was undeniable Monday when baseball's latest -- and perhaps last -- 300-game winner finally found his way back home after a five-year Flushing exile.

"Now I have an opportunity that's the best of both worlds," Glavine said at a Turner Field news conference to announce the one-year, $8 million contract he'd signed to return to the Atlanta Braves after five seasons with the New York Mets. "I can be home, work at home and be around my wife and kids more than I have the last five years. I'm ecstatic."

He was not alone. "This is a great day," said new Braves general manager Frank Wren, who was "absolutely thrilled" about Glavine's return. Wren called the response by Braves players, employees and fans "overwhelmingly positive."

"I've never seen anything like it," Wren said of the reaction. "This guy was loved and is still loved."

"When I saw him put on the [Braves] hat and hold up the jersey," Christine Glavine said of her husband's familiar No. 47, "I got a little verklempt. A little choked up."

"I'm thrilled," said manager Bobby Cox, for whom Glavine won two NL Cy Young Awards, 242 of his 303 career victories and the 1995 World Series title by beating Cleveland 1-0 in Game 6.

"This is the best, and probably the only, scenario I would've played under," said Glavine, 41, who'd declined a $13 million option to return to the Mets, taking a $3 million buyout instead. He described the last five seasons as "not a struggle, but a juggling act, Chris and the kids [including his daughter, Amber] flying back and forth."

"Whether people want to believe me or not, I wasn't sure I wanted to play again," said Glavine, who played 16 seasons here from 1987-2002. Playing in New York, "There was stuff I missed out on at times, whether Little League games or hockey games. The kicker for me was the last weekend of the year."

That Saturday afternoon, with the collapsing Mets embroiled in a pennant race with Philadelphia, Chris Glavine held her annual charity luncheon to benefit a children's cancer foundation. "I gave my boys the option of whether to come up or stay home," said Glavine, who pitched that Sunday's season finale. "And they chose to stay home. That was the icing on the cake."

Actually, Chris and the children flew up to New York that Saturday night, only to see Glavine last one-third of an inning in a disastrous, season-ending rout by Florida. For him, the weekend was doubly troubling.

"My kids were making more and more sacrifices for me," Glavine said, "and that's not the way it's supposed to be."

So Glavine declined his option with the Mets, hoping to return to the Braves. Following the 2002 season, Glavine signed a four-year free-agent contract with the Mets after contentious negotiations with then-Braves GM John Schuerholz. Glavine didn't want to defer some salary again (at the Braves' request) for the second time in his career; the club wouldn't fully guarantee a fourth year.

When Glavine signed with the Mets, many Braves fans were furious that the long-time face of the franchise had left. They also recalled Glavine, the team's player representative, as the face of the players' union during the 1994 strike. So they booed him, loud and long and often profanely whenever Glavine returned to Turner Field.

"For a long time, I didn't understand it," he said. "I was, I guess, angry about it, but I got to the point where I was indifferent to it. Most of the people who came to the ballpark didn't know anything about, didn't understand the dynamics of why I wasn't here."

He knows the anti-union sentiment is still strong in the South. But, "That's 12 years ago," Glavine said. "Fifty per cent of the population of this country are divorced, and forgive their spouses for more than what I said as a union representative. I did my job and didn't shy away from it."

In hindsight, Glavine says now, "I was too visible" as a union spokesman. "I never backed away from a [media] request, or when somebody wanted to talk to me."

"You have to understand, Don Fehr [the head of the players association] wanted the smartest player [voice] out there," Cox said. "Out of 850 players, he chose Tommy."

Cox wanted Glavine to return last offseason. He phoned the pitcher twice in the week leading up to the winter meetings to tell him so. But the Braves never made an offer before Glavine re-signed with the Mets. This year was different.

After missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year following a record 14-season run, the Braves held their offseason organizational meetings in Orlando last month. "When we left those meetings, the No. 1 guy on our list to go after was Tom Glavine," said Wren, who learned he would be Schuerholz's successor while in Orlando. Now the club president, Schuerholz missed Monday's news conference due to the death of his mother earlier in the day.

"Not only can Tommy pitch, it's what he does off the field, too," Wren said. "He gives us another added weapon."

Glavine was 13-8 last season, with a 4.45 earned-run average. Yet before his last three dismal starts, he was 13-6 with a 3.88 ERA and 23 quality starts in 31 games. At age 41, he worked 200.1 innings.

"Sentiment goes a long way," said Cox, "but so does decision-making." And Cox needed starting pitching. Proven starting pitching.

"This is great from the standpoint of going down memory lane," Glavine said. "But if I'd looked at this organization and thought this was just a trip down memory lane and I didn't think they can win, I wouldn't have [returned]. At this point in my career, I don't need that.

"To me, the thing this team needed was depth in their starting rotation," Glavine said. "I've got a lot left in my tank." He's also very encouraged about the Braves' offensive firepower.

Now, Glavine gives Cox three veteran starters -- with John Smoltz and Tim Hudson -- who can eat up innings. "I know Bobby looks at it as his top three guys in the rotation, he can pencil in for 600 innings," said Glavine, who has never gone on the disabled list.

Add left-hander Chuck James, who many liken to a young Glavine. And the left-handed Mike Hampton, who may finally return to the rotation after missing the last two seasons due to injuries. So Glavine returned to Atlanta, this time taking less money to do so.

"What I told the Mets was I didn't think I was worth $13 million," he said. "I'm not that kind of pitcher anymore. I don't view myself as a No. 1 guy aymore. I'm not worth that money, and I didn't want the added pressure of having to go out there and prove that."

So Glavine came home, in every sense. A homecoming that could return the Braves to the playoffs, and has already rejuvenated an old family man.

"It's taken years off of him," said Gregg Clifton, Glavine's long-time agent, who surprised his client and close friend by flying in for Monday's ceremonies. Seeing Glavine standing there in his Braves cap and white 47 jersey, Clifton beamed: "He looks 10 years younger."

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