Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #44, Tom Glavine:
I’m probably in the minority here, but I liked Tom Glavine when he was on the Mets. He pitched like an old guy. Which he was. With a ever-so-slight gut that became noticeable as he aged, Glavine succeeded neither by being the strongest nor the fastest, but by knowing all the tricks, as all old guys do. He couldn’t throw a fastball by anyone, but he sure could make the batter seem clueless about that pitch on the outside corner. Swing early? It was a changeup. Swing late? Nope, fastball. Time it just right? Sorry, it was a little curve. Don’t swing at all? Too bad, he just painted the black. Glavine always seemed to be three steps ahead of everyone else, and as long as he could put the ball where he wanted, there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. It didn’t matter if the kids could beat him in a footrace or do more pushups — Glavine was an old guy, and old guys have special powers.
Being a “reliable veteran” contributed to the old guy persona: Glavine is one of just eleven pitchers to throw 1000 innings for the Mets. He never went on the disabled list with the Mets, and was the last starter standing in the 2006 postseason. Glavine’s stabilizing presence was completed by the frequent appearances of his family, particularly as he approached 300 wins in 2007 — his wife and four children became the faces of the his struggles and successes chasing the milestone. He was even named as a “Father of the Year” in ’07, and, as seen on the right, got to meet the Real American.
But things weren’t always smooth during his five seasons in Queens. Though he was easily the least infuriating of Atlanta’s big three – Greg Maddux’s sleepy, disheveled professor and John Smoltz’ grumpy buck hunter were always more grating – there was constant tension between Glavine and Mets fans, as if at any moment he might have ripped off his Mets jersey to reveal a Braves’ shirt underneath. The ceremony held at Shea Stadium to celebrate his 300th win felt a little bit like a 50th wedding anniversary being celebrated by a husband and his mistress – it was tasteful and there were flowers, but it seemed like he should have been doing this with someone else. The alliance between Mets fans and Glavine was an uneasy at its best, and came totally unraveled one awful final day at the end of one awful September in 2007.
It was an unfortunate final performance on many levels, particularly as one that permanently soured Glavine’s time with the Mets. After a slow start, he became the team’s de facto ace for much of 2006 and 2007, and was by most accounts a good human being and father. He should have been easy to root for, and had he spend the first 16 years of his career in, say, San Francisco instead of Atlanta, his time with the Mets might be remembered differently. He might have even been beloved, or at least “not bitterly hated.”
But he did play for Atlanta, and any goodwill he built with Mets fans was destroyed in one miserable inning. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Even the old guys run out of tricks.
The hardest Mets pitchers to steal against (minimum 500 IP):