The scouting report from the National Hockey League is still kicking around on the fringes of Tom Glavine's life. A reporter in Toronto somehow obtained it from the NHL office and gave a copy to a reporter from Atlanta, who gave a copy to a reporter from somewhere, who gave a copy to.... Anyhow, the scouting report has ended up here.
Name: Thomas Glavine
Birth date: Mar. 25,1966
Weight: 180 pounds
Skate size: 9½
The blanks on the first two pages are filled with the studied printing of a high school student's hand. Medical information. Hockey background. Honors received. Hopes and aspirations. On the third page, typed, are the succinct musings of an unnamed evaluator of talent: "Good skating ability...long stride with good balance...good acceleration...excellent scorer, smart around net...has several moves and can finish off...excellent slap and wrist shots with a quick release...tough and durable, will not be intimidated...excellent competitor." The final ranking, stamped at the top of the third page, is No. 56 out of 240 or so draft-age hockey players.
Eight years have passed since this report was written. All the other players in that draft, the draft of 1984, have either lived up to the anonymous assessments on their reports or faded to jobs in the workaday world. This is the one report that remains open. The last prospect. How good can this kid, this center-ice man, this lefthanded shooter from Billerica, Mass., ever be? No one knows.
"I never was too keen about Tommy playing pro hockey," says the prospect's father, Fred, owner of a small construction business in Billerica. "Hockey, it's a long haul. He probably could have made it, but to really succeed? It seems to me there are a number of players who are expendable every year. There's tremendous turnover."
"The decision never was whether to play hockey," says the kid himself, now grown and successful. "The decision was whether to go to college. I had a full hockey scholarship to the University of Lowell. That was a big thing. Four years of college for free."
The most telling question in that entire scouting report was this: "Other sports in which you participate and your hobbies?" The one-word answer, written in the teenage hand, was "Baseball."
No one will ever know how well the most successful pitcher in baseball today would have done in hockey. The last prospect will remain a prospect, forever.
"The question I'm always asked again and again is what I learned from hockey to bring to baseball," says Glavine, the 26-year-old lefthander for the Atlanta Braves. "I've thought about it a lot. The answer, I think, is nothing. The games are so different, requiring such different skills. What's the same? I suppose I could say mental toughness or aggressiveness, something like that might come from hockey. But otherwise, nothing."
The idea that Glavine would ever play that other game—he was drafted in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Kings—has faded with each succeeding baseball season, going and going and ultimately gone. Those hard bodychecks in the corner? That pell-mell rush to the net? That collision of pads and sticks and people? Gone. He is a practitioner of this quieter game, this game of rhythm and style and chessboard intelligence, soaring again as the ace in the Braves' rotation.