March 31, 2003, Shea sold out. Tens of thousands of fans paid whatever they had to, played hooky from wherever they were supposed to be that day just to see the start of another new era: Tom Glavine pitching for the first time as a New York Met. After 16 seasons and countless accolades in Atlanta—two Cy Young Awards, eight All-Star berths, not to mention a World Series MVP—who could have blamed the Shea faithful for being kind of geeked that unseasonable, cold afternoon? And then, after a long winter of waiting, the game and season finally got underway—and, a half inning later, in a flash seemed over. Just like that, it was 4–0 Cubs. The prize of the offseason got booed off the mound, didn’t even last four innings. Then some reliever named Mike Bacsik, who’d arrived with Roberto Alomar from Cleveland, gave up nine more runs. 15–2 was the final: the biggest blowout on Opening Day in half a century. The game-time temperature was 39 degrees, winds gusted 20 mph. Trust me, I was there. It was all bad.
Eleven years ago a plan to disarm the Mets was hatched from an office deep within the bowels of Turner Field. An evil baseball genius concocted it, but he needed the perfect agent to execute it. He needed Tom Glavine.
The year before, the team had finished last. Half a starting lineup worth of big-name acquisitions—Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz II, Roger Cedeño II—had failed to meet expectations. And now this latest hired gun, who’d already logged 3,000 innings on his aging left arm, who’d just turned 37 and only came to town after the Braves refused to guarantee him a third year—we were so ready to write him off as well. At four years and $42.5 million, it seemed the Mets had been outfoxed, or tomahawk chopped, again.
Glavine’s first start as a member of the Mets was surely just another of the franchise’s well-publicized false starts. He finished the season 9–13 with a 4.52 ERA; the Mets came in last, again.
The following year, however, the ace pitched closer to form, earning an All-Star selection despite having no luck in run support. Then further misfortune famously struck—literally, his taxi was hit while leaving LaGuardia. Glavine lost two teeth in the collision. Laid up in the ambulance, then in NYU Medical Center, you know he must’ve wished he’d inked a four-year deal anyplace else but Queens. There were stitches and replacement teeth but no DL stint; he’d never done that before. The Mets finished the season second to last, only beating out Montreal in its final year of existence. Atlanta won the division handily, again.
In 2005, things began to turn. Both pitcher and team put up pretty solid seasons. That’s the year Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran arrived in Queens; David Wright and Jose Reyes, meanwhile, came into their own. Glavine finished the season 13–13 with a 3.53 ERA. The Braves won the division again, and the Mets finished fourth again, but over .500 at least.
The 2006 season, obviously, needs no introduction; some people might not remember, though, that Glavine was selected to his tenth and final All-Star game, finishing the year 15–7 on a team that won 97 games. It was without doubt a magical year, despite Pedro winning all of nine games and—along with Orlando Hernandez—missing the entire playoffs due to injury.
In 17 post-season innings, Glavine was 2–1 with a 1.59 ERA.
After the 2006 season, Glavine was a 40-year-old free agent and just 10 wins shy of 300. It would have been understood if he had circled back to Atlanta, returned home, but instead the old vet opted to pitch another season in Queens.
It’s a strain on my family for me to be in New York, and it’s tough to be away from my family during the season.
. . .
I’m sure at some point in time the Braves would have made an offer, but I told the Mets I would have a decision before the winter meetings and I stayed true to my word. But the Mets never pressured me to make a decision. They were very respectful to me.
He won his 300th on August 5, 2007 in Wrigley Field. It’s very possible that we’ll never see, in our lifetime, another pitcher reach that milestone in a Mets uniform.
What most people remember about that season, however, is Glavine’s final start as a Met. September 30, 2007 was every bit as painful as March 31, 2003—and then some. Glavine retired exactly one batter in surrendering seven earned runs. The Mets went on to lose 8–1 and miss out on the playoffs, completing an epic September collapse.
Mets fans were not in a forgiving mood after that game, understandably so, and Glavine did the right thing in declining, at age 41, his $13 million player option.
Instead he signed a one-year deal with the Braves, and went on to win two more games in his professional career. In hindsight, can we really blame a 41-year-old pitcher clearly at the end of the line for what happened in Game 162 of 2007, or is it more the fault of the team for not having a younger, stronger stopper?
The following year you subtract Tom Glavine from that roster, and add indisputably one of the game’s best pitchers, Johan Santana, and what’s the result? A similar meltdown ensues.
In fact, compare Glavine and Santana’s Mets numbers, both on the diamond and payroll. It’s fairly clear which pitcher gave the organization and fans a better return. And while you’re at it, repeat that exercise with a real fan favorite: Pedro Martinez.
Glavine finished his Mets career 61–56 with a 3.97 ERA. Not outstanding, especially by his standards, but not too bad in a hitter’s era. His 1005 innings pitched, 164 starts, and 61 wins are each 11th best in team history. For a franchise that prides itself on a tradition of pitching excellence, those stats—all accrued after the pitcher’s 37th birthday—are somewhat surprising when compared to other players who spent their prime in Queens.
Only three southpaws in baseball history have won more games. Maybe we have forgotten, but there was still greatness in number 47, even past his prime.
Glavine was never "Tom Terrific," at least not for us. He never put up a season here as good as Pedro’s best, never threw a no-hitter like Santana. He didn’t have Gooden’s fastball, Seaver’s slider or Pedro’s changeup, but I’m sure a lot of kids out there learned just as much about the game when 47, a true artist, took the mound every fifth day. He was a quiet pillar of a team that went from laughingstock to toast of the town in a four-year span.
Perhaps most of all, he got off to a rocky start in this town but stuck with its tough fans, earning his keep unlike so many other high-priced busts we’ve seen around here.
Yesterday, during his Hall of Fame induction, Glavine made a point of thanking the Mets organization and its fans alongside their Atlanta counterparts. He thanked the Braves trainers, and then Mike Herbst of the Mets. He thanked Atlanta’s legendary pitching coach, Leo Mazzone, and then Rick Peterson of the Mets.
To all the folks associated with the Mets organization, thank you for treating me and my family the way you did. Thank you Fred and Jeff Wilpon for the opportunity to play in New York and for providing the resources so I could experience a post season there. To the fans of New York, thank you so much for your support and ultimately for treating me and my family with so much respect.
For a fan base that feels eternally disrespected, this is the last person to hold a grudge against.
You’d think the team could have at least tweeted a congratulatory message to the Hall of Famer who started four Opening Days and made two All-Star appearances in orange and blue.
Just because you don’t separate on the best of terms, doesn’t mean it wasn’t real while the relationship lasted.