The Starter: Glavine goodbye stings
Series of moves brings youth but moves out an icon
ATLANTA -- Like many of their fans, Braves players have been eagerly waiting for Tommy Hanson's call to the Majors. But they didn't necessarily prepare themselves for the fact that this much-anticipated move would come at the expense of a beloved organizational icon.
When the Braves players learned early Wednesday evening that Tom Glavine had been released, many found it hard to get excited about Hanson being slated to make his Major League debut Saturday.
A few hours later, when Turner Field's video board informed them that they'd acquired center fielder Nate McLouth from the Pirates, they discovered that looking forward to a brightened future proves difficult while dealing with the pain of saying goodbye to a friend who represented a glorious past.
"Sentimentally, it stunk," said Chipper Jones, now the lone remaining member of the 1995 World Series team. "Optimistically, looking into the future, it's a step in the right direction. So we're just going to mourn the loss of Tommy [Glavine] for a little bit, and when that wears off, we've still got to go out and win ballgames."
Braves GM Frank Wren, who orchestrated the series of moves Wednesday, made it clear that the Glavine release was not a move made lightly. Signed in February, the 43-year-old Glavine had been on the disabled list all season and had made his fourth Minor league rehabilitation start Tuesday, with most under the impression he would join the Braves this week.
"This was not easy," Wren said. "Tommy Glavine is a special guy in a lot of ways. The most difficult part was the last three or four weeks, while watching him try to come back. In our view, the comeback wasn't working."
While acknowledging that their organization's future was indeed brightened, it was still difficult for many Braves to deal with the fact that their organization had just said goodbye to their elder statesman at a time when he was preparing to finally test his troublesome left shoulder against Major League opponents.
"I guess we all would have liked to have seen it happen sooner and not on the cusp of him coming back," Jones said. "He worked so hard to have the surgeries and then got ready during the offseason to come back and help us win. Now, right when he's saying he's ready and he's coming back, he's done.
"I was under the impression that when he was ready to pitch, they would bring him up. But, obviously, the higher-ups felt different."
When Glavine made his Major League debut in 1987, Bobby Cox served as the Braves' general manager. Four years later, while serving the first full season of his current managerial tenure in Atlanta, Cox saw the determined young left-hander win the first of two Cy Young Awards and team with John Smoltz to lead the Braves to an improbable run toward the first of the five World Series visits they'd make during the 1990s.
"He was a team guy all the way," Cox said. "Whatever you asked him to do, he did it. He always pitched with pain. Young players should learn from Tommy."
And young players did learn from Tommy.
"Any time you lose a friend, it's tough. But I wish Glav nothing but the best," said Braves catcher Brian McCann, almost 20 years Glavine's junior. "He taught me a lot about reading hitters' tendencies. He was a great pitcher, a great influence in the clubhouse and he'll be missed."
Glavine's departure officially puts an end to the great era the Braves enjoyed when they had him, Smoltz and Greg Maddux in the starting rotation. It's been 10 years since that trio was part of the same rotation and seven years since they were last together on the same Atlanta pitching staff.
But with Glavine's presence, there was still that link. No more.
It was weakened in January, when Smoltz decided to end his long association with the Braves by opting to sign with the Red Sox. Smoltz is still upset about the negotiations he had with the Braves, and he was unhappy when he learned that his friend had been released Wednesday.
"They handled it, let me just say, in a very interesting way," Smoltz said. "One that leaves you scratching your head. It's unfortunate for Tommy. Obviously, you know, I'm using a very soft word of disappointed, because that ain't right. To go that far and to rehab and then right before the time, you know, do that. That's not my problem anymore. I just feel bad for a teammate of mine that I had for a long time."
Glavine won more games for Atlanta than his fellow aces Maddux and Smoltz on that staff, notching 244 of his 304 wins in a Braves uniform, including three consecutive 20-win seasons from 1991-93.
"Tom was always a great competitor," Braves bullpen catcher and former teammate Eddie Perez said. "You knew he was going to give you everything every time he stepped on that mound. He will be missed."
When Glavine was called to Cox's office around 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, he had reason to believe they were going to discuss whether he'd be making his regular-season debut this weekend or early next week. After throwing six scoreless innings in a Minor League rehab start on Tuesday night, the left-hander declared that he was ready to end his season-long stint on the disabled list.
But removing the sentimental factor from the equation, Wren instead assumed the tough responsibility of asking Glavine whether he wanted to retire or be released. Glavine did not opt to retire.
"Yeah, that was tough," Cox said, while appearing to fight back tears. "It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through. As an organization, we made a decision, and that was that. Tommy has all the respect in the world from me, the organization and the players. I think he still wants to pitch, and his arm is pretty darn strong right now. It's pretty hard to talk about it, really."
While the timing of the Glavine decision might have raised eyebrows, it's certainly easy to understand why the Braves feel Hanson gives them greater certainty than they would have had with Glavine in their rotation.
While Glavine has spent this entire season on the DL dealing with a shoulder that bothered him during his much younger years, Hanson has been proving why he's considered the game's top right-handed prospect. A 22-year-old who stands 6-foot-6, Hanson has posted a 1.49 ERA and limited opponents to a .169 batting average in 11 starts with Triple-A Gwinnett this year.
"I don't think there's any doubt that Tommy Hanson is ready to pitch up here," said Jones. "We've all been waiting for the phone call. It finally came, and he's going to get his shot on Saturday."
With McLouth, the Braves have added a five-tool All-Star to an outfield mix that has proven to be their Achilles' heel over the course of the past two seasons.
"He's a baller," said Braves closer Mike Gonzalez, who played with McLouth in Pittsburgh. "He's definitely an upgrade to this lineup. He's a great clubhouse guy. He's fluent in Spanish. He's everything. He's a top-notch dude. I think he'll definitely make a big impact once he comes here."
While McLouth and Hanson prepare to begin their tenures in Atlanta, Glavine finds himself pondering whether he's willing to leave his family behind to pitch outside of Atlanta.
Knowing Glavine's competitive spirit, many of his former teammates think there's a chance he'll pitch again. But at the same time, they know that it just won't be the same if he finds himself ending his career away from an organization that allowed him to begin his journey toward Cooperstown.
"It would have been a storybook ending if he had gotten to end his career here, and that's something I think we all wanted to see," Jones said.
Said Cox: "I know one thing for sure, he's going to the Hall of Fame."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.