|Thursday, December 5
Updated: December 6, 8:12 PM ET
Glavine leaves Atlanta with little resistance
By Jayson Stark
The last time the Atlanta Braves fielded a team that didn't include Tom Glavine, Omar Moreno played for it. Doyle Alexander pitched for it. The only starting pitcher who even had a winning record was David Palmer (11-10).
Sheez. How long ago was that?
It was so long ago -- namely, 1986 -- that nobody in the National League hit 40 home runs or saved 40 games that year. It was so long ago that Pete Rose was still playing, that both Niekro brothers were still pitching, that the mighty Braves hadn't had a 90-win season in almost 20 years (since 1969).
Sheez. that's how long ago.
Now, it's hard to imagine the Atlanta Braves without Tom Glavine heading for the mound six times a month, without Glavine standing by his locker after every significant Braves moment -- good, bad, ugly or Rocker-esque -- without Glavine as the hub cap around which every Braves season revolves.
But it's time to start imagining, because Tom Glavine doesn't work there anymore. He's a Met now. And it might take a while for that to compute.
He has spent the last decade and a half beating the Mets 16 times -- 17 counting the playoffs. Going 17-7 against them overall. Shutting them out for five innings in Game 3 of the 1999 NLCS. Beating them at Shea in the last week of September that year, handing them their seventh straight loss, almost knocking them out of a sure wild-card spot. Tantalizing them. Torturing them.
And now he's one of them.
For the Mets, obviously, he's a huge signing. He was their one true hope for offseason credibility, a guy they had to have, a guy they couldn't lose to the Phillies. Even if they did have to guarantee him $35 million at age 37.
For the Phillies, Glavine is a painful loss but not a devastating loss. Their offseason was already a success. The man they couldn't afford to lose was Jim Thome. And they didn't. They plan to dive now into the arms of Glavine's 40-year-old clone, Jamie Moyer, if he'll have them. And while Moyer won't give the Phillies the same buzz Glavine would have, he's an acceptable Plan B. They'll get over it.
Ah, but what does this mean to the Braves? That's the question of the day.
They had a lock Hall of Famer in their midst. A guy who wanted to stay. A guy who had been the face of the franchise through all the glory years. The only remaining Brave who had been on the active roster of every one of those 11 playoff teams. And they let him become a Met -- without even much of a fight.
"You know what I told him?" one of Glavine's closest friends said the other day. "I told him, 'The Braves don't believe you'll leave. They'll never believe it -- until the day you sign with somebody else."
The longer they dragged this on, the more confused, but more resolved, Glavine got. When the Braves failed even to acknowledge his most recent proposal for an entire week, Glavine refused to allow his agent, Gregg Clifton, to call them. He wanted to stay, all right. But he wasn't going to beg to stay.
Instead, he kept waiting for a signal that the Braves were just allowing the other teams to set the market -- and then would jump in to keep him the way they did with John Smoltz a year ago. But that signal never came.
He ran into GM John Schuerholz one day at a party. Schuerholz told him, "We love you. We want you back." But it didn't change their offer.
And earlier this week, after not hearing from anyone on the club for days, Glavine bumped into team president Stan Kasten at a Bruce Springsteen concert. No truth to the rumor that Glavine started humming "Born to Run," and Kasten answered with a chorus of "Ties that Bind." But it did prompt one last visit to the negotiating table.
From all accounts, though, that final session didn't go well. And right then, Glavine knew he was about to become every bit as much of an ex-Brave as Biff Pocaroba, Larvell Blanks and Chief Noc-a-homa.
"The hardest part," Clifton said, "is having to convince yourself that you can't look back. It's not the decision itself that's hard. It's the finality of it that prevents you from turning back."
Instead, he and Clifton decided -- after some agonizing -- to turn toward New York. It might not have been the best baseball fit. But it's a destination that will give Glavine the ultimate visibility, the ultimate off-the-field opportunities, the ultimate vehicle to whisk him into the Hall of Fame. And, oh yeah, it's also the ultimate place to make the Braves aware of what -- and who -- they let walk away.
The Braves, of course, won't exactly fold the franchise, either. There was life after Warren Spahn. There was life after Hank Aaron and Dale Murphy. There will be life after Tom Glavine, too.
As always, the Braves have plenty of options. They'll almost certainly offer Greg Maddux arbitration. And it wouldn't surprise anyone if Maddux took it, then tried to use that leverage to wangle a multi-year deal.
Or they could move John Smoltz into the rotation. He's all for that. But with Mike Remlinger and Tim Spooneybarger already gone, that would leave an awful lot of big-time bullpen arms to replace between now and February, in a world that doesn't have enough to begin with.
And there are other names on their list -- Moyer, Paul Byrd, Bartolo Colon, Javier Vazquez -- who can take the mound 35 times and maybe even win as many games as Glavine. But maybe not.
"Looking at what they have there right now, I'm not sure they can keep it together," said one NL executive Thursday. "I know John (Schuerholz) always comes up with the right solution. But I get the real sense their hands are tied financially more than they've ever been. And the best players in their system aren't close enough.
"We really like a couple of their young pitchers -- Jung Bong and Andy Pratt. But (hotshot shortstop prospect) Wilson Betemit has really underachieved, and I'm starting to wonder if he'll be all he was cracked up to be. They're really unsettled in the infield, except for (Rafael) Furcal. They've got offensive questions. I'm not so sure Glavine wouldn't have had a better shot at winning 300 by leaving than staying."
Still, we'll believe the Braves' demise when we see it. This isn't the end of the Braves. They're too good and too smart for that. But they do lose a big chunk of their identity without No. 47 on the cover of the media guide.
They still have Chipper, and they still have Smoltz, and they'll probably have Maddux back. But it will be bizarre to turn on the SuperStation some night and see Tom Glavine pitching against those guys. Somehow, we have a feeling this is one move the Braves might regret some day.
"I know they were worried about his age," said one NL scout. "But so what? At 39-40, most good pitchers become what he's always been -- a pitcher. Guys like him -- the Moyers, the Mickey Loliches -- they can pitch forever."
Maybe Tom Glavine can pitch forever, too. We don't know that yet. All we do know is this: He just can't be a Brave forever.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.