Hockey? At week's end Glavine had a 12-3 record in this baseball season and a 2.63 ERA. He was heading along the same path that last season made him a starter in the All-Star Game, a 20-game winner and the easy choice for the National League Cy Young Award. His salary this year is $2.925 million. Hockey is a sport of his past.
If anything, Glavine's style as a pitcher is the opposite of the style a hockey player needs. An imaginative mind can see Roger Clemens, the 1991 Cy Young winner in the American League, lacing up a pair of skates and dropping his gloves at center ice to fight the biggest and baddest goon on the other side. Clemens, the man who wears a mouth guard to stop himself from grinding his teeth while he pitches, is all fire and spirit and malevolence. Glavine? An imaginative mind can see him in an office, a solver of corporate problems, an idea and detail man in a suit and tie.
He goes about his business with precision, not angst. He deceives. He fools. One pitch sets up another pitch, and another, and another. His dominant pitch, for goodness' sake, is the changeup. The changeup? There is no hockey equivalent to the changeup.
"He's got command of four pitches: the fastball, curveball, slider and change," Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone says. "He has great control, and he can change speeds as well as anyone in this game. I was telling him the other day that when I was growing up, my idol as a pitcher was Whitey Ford. Tommy is the Whitey Ford of today."
Glavine's mental approach—unflappable is the word used most often to describe it—is the foundation for his success, the foundation, in fact, for his survival. Selected by the Braves in the second round of the 1984 draft and signed despite the scholarship offer from Lowell, Glavine has followed a fast and bumpy road to where he is now. If he didn't have such no-nonsense control of his mind, he probably wouldn't have any mind left at all. In the majors by the time he was 21, suffering with a 9-21 career record by the time he was 22, playing with a succession of struggling Atlanta teams, he has passed tests that might have sent many young pitchers to early career changes.
"Tommy's never let anything bother him," his mother, Millie, says. "Not even as a kid. I think our whole family's like that. We just don't let things bother us. We're not the type of people who get frustrated at a traffic jam."
"He's had to be mature," says Fred. "He's one of those kids who was always playing each level of sports at the earliest age. He was just an athlete, good enough so the older kids would let him play. He was always the youngest."
The two-sport business made life simple. There never was that crush of specialization, of year-round devotion to a single game. When baseball was done, the equipment went into the closet. When hockey was done, the equipment went into the closet. Not until the Braves called did one set of equipment come out to stay. The signing came a few days after the 1984 state championship baseball game, Billerica High against Brockton High. Glavine pitched the first nine innings and then, with the score tied 1-1, moved to centerfield. In the 11th he made a throw to nail a Brockton runner at the plate. In the 13th he singled to lead off the inning and scored the winning run. "Of all the things he did in high school, the one that's probably remembered best is that throw from center," Fred says. "He got the kid by about 15 feet."
A few weeks later he was in Bradenton, Fla., in a rookie league, beginning the upward trip. And the ascent was rapid. Glavine quickly moved up to Double A ball in Greenville, S.C., and by the end of the 1987 season, he was in Atlanta. The following season he finished 7-17 on a 54-106 team. He was pitching some good games but getting hurt by big innings. A walk would lead to another walk, and then, suddenly, the count would be 2-0 on the next batter and Glavine would be trying to force a fastball over the plate. Not good. He realized he had to cut out those buzz-saw innings. He also realized he needed another pitch, an off-speed pitch to set up his other pitches.
He tried a split-fingered fastball that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. He tried a pitch called the four-seam circle changeup, thrown with the index finger and thumb in a little circle against the side of the ball and the middle and ring fingers running across two seams. It really didn't work, either.