Glavine’s Choice: Add to 305 or Start His Hall Clock Ticking

By Murray Chass

November 23, 2008

Greg Maddux, who will be 43 shortly after next season starts, and Mike Mussina, who will be 40 Dec. 8, have announced their retirements. Tom Glavine, who will be 43 during next spring training, has not made any such announcement. That’s because he doesn’t know if he is retiring or pitching for a 23rd season.

“I’ll have a good idea in about a month when I start throwing,” Glavine said. “It will depend on how I feel. If I have pain and issues similar to what I had last year, I’m not going to try and pitch with that again. It wasn’t any fun.”

Glavine, something of a medical marvel, pitched from Aug. 17, 1987, until last June 10 without ever being on the disabled list. Then his left elbow ended his streak. He came back Aug. 14, pitched four innings and went back on the disabled list the next day. On Aug. 21 he had elbow and knee operations.

“I had a tear in the flexor tendon of my elbow,” he said. “I had that fixed. They also cleaned out my shoulder, which was no big deal. But if either one of them doesn’t feel good, at this stage I wouldn’t want to do it.”

After averaging 33 starts a season in 20 full major league seasons, Glavine started only 13 games last year and won only two. However, with 305 victories, fourth most in history by a left-hander, Glavine could retire and be elected to the Hall of Fame with Maddux, his friend and longtime teammate, in five years.

His credentials need not grow. He has been a 20-game winner five times, and he has won the Cy Young award twice. He has a .600 winning percentage and has pitched more than 200 innings 14 times and pitched 198 innings twice, including the strike-shortened season of 1995.

Why would he want to keep playing?

“Number 1, I still enjoy it,” the left-hander said. “I like going out and pitching. In my mind, as long as physically I’m able to do what I want to do, it’s something I feel I should do. At 42 years old, I guess the prospect of retirement sounds nice. But at 42 years old that’s a lot different than people retiring at 65. I have a lot of my lifetime to figure out what I’m going to do. Baseball is something I enjoy doing and if my body allows me to keep doing it, I will. But if it doesn’t, I won’t.”

Glavine pitched for the Braves for his first 16 years, defected to the Mets for five years and returned to Atlanta, where he lives, this past season.

“Being able to do it at home in Atlanta makes it easier,” he said. “My kids still want me to play.”

And if he wants to play, the Braves would like to have him play for them.

“We had a conversation at the end of the year,” Glavine said. “They’re interested in having me back as long as I’m able to do what I want to do. They’re going to do things to prepare in case I can’t come back, but their indication is they want me back.”

Glavine was told he could start throwing four months after the operation, which puts it right before Christmas. If he suffers no setbacks, he’ll begin throwing from a mound in late January. That timetable would put him on schedule to pitch in exhibition games sometime in early to mid-March, and that, he said, would give him enough time to get ready for the start of his 23rd season.

Mussina Starts His Hall Clock

If Tom Glavine retires before next season and appears on the Hall of Fame ballot with Greg Maddux five years from now, Mike Mussina would have no chance of being elected on his first try, if he has a chance of being elected at all.

Mussina has been a good pitcher in his 18-year career but not good enough for my taste in Hall of Fame players. I have been critical of him for not being the pitcher he should have been, and his fans have been critical of me. Fair enough.

But now Mussina is retiring, and in five years he will be judged on his record when his name appears on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. If he should have to wait for a subsequent ballot because of the presence of Maddux and Glavine and make it, he would welcome the wait.

Mussina’s record is good —  270 victories and 153 losses — but not good enough, in my opinion, to propel him to the Hall of Fame.

By winning 20 games this past season, Mussina eliminated one of the strikes against his candidacy. But others remain. He was never been, for example, the dominant pitcher in his league in any season and never seriously contended for the Cy Young award.

Even this year as a first-time 20-game winner, Mussina was a distant also-ran in the Cy Young balloting. He received two third-place votes and tied for sixth, finishing behind his teammate, Mariano Rivera.

Asked his view of Mussina as a Hall of Fame candidate, Glavine said, “Mike has certainly had a great career, better than most people realize. When you look at his numbers, you’re probably surprised at how good they are. He had a solid, quiet, good career.”

But, Glavine added, “If you’re viewed as a guy on the bubble, not having 300 is not going to enhance your chances.”

 

Glavine

Maddux

Mussina

W-L

305-203

355-227

270-153

Pct.

.600

.610

.638

ERA

3.54

3.16

3.68

Starts

682

740

536

Complete Games

56

109

57

200 IP Seasons

14

17

10

20-Win Seasons

5

2

1

Cy Young Awards

2

4

0

Some people think Mussina should continue pitching so that he could win 30 more games and clinch election to the Hall as a 300-game winner. But Mussina himself pointed out that he would have to play for three more years to get to that total. That’s a long time for a guy who wants to be at home with his family. 

His desire, incidentally, makes me think more of him than his career achievements. You have to like a guy who would give up a few more years of his baseball career to be with his family.

Announcing his retirement, Mussina apologized to reporters for lying to them when they asked during the season if he planned to retire or keep pitching. He always said he hadn’t decided, but he really had, he said, before the season began.

“I knew this was going to be my last year from the first day of spring training,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be part of the season.”

Mussina’s reason for not telling the truth is acceptable. On the other hand, his response to Brian Cashman, the Yankees general manager, after the season was questionable.

“Cash called me right after the season ended and I told him I hadn’t made up my mind,” Mussina related. Why not tell him the truth then?

“It was part of the way we were dealing with it,” the pitcher said. “When Cash called me, the post-season was still going. We didn’t want to cause any kind of trouble during the post-season, making any kind of announcement while games were still going on. He said stay in touch. I think he had the idea. I wasn’t trying to put him in a tough spot by holding out. I wanted to get to the right point and announce it.”

In reporting Mussina’s decision to retire, Tyler Kepner of The New York Times quoted a friend of Mussina, Mike Borzello, a former Yankees’ bullpen catcher, as calling the pitcher Mr. Almost for his near misses on the field, such as the perfect game he fell one batter short of pitching. Mr. Almost is an apt name for his Hall of Fame candidacy as well.

The Catchers Club

The past season was a difficult one for the catchers club of managers. It lost three members. Three of the four managers who were fired – John McLaren (Seattle), John Gibbons (Toronto), Ned Yost (Milwaukee) – were former catchers. But the Mariners came along last week and hired Don Wakamatsu as their manager, raising the roster to 13 managers who were catchers in their playing careers.

Wakamatsu, 45, who has served as bench coach for Texas and Oakland, joins Mike Scioscia of Anaheim and Bob Geren of Oakland as former catchers who now manage in the American League West. The National League West has even more former catchers who are managing – Joe Torre (Los Angeles), Bruce Bochy (San Francisco), Clint Hurdle (Colorado) and Bob Melvin (Arizona).

The first Asian-American to manage in the majors – his parents were born in an internment camp during World War II – Wakamatsu played in one season, 1991, in the majors. He appeared in 18 games for the Chicago White Sox, starting nine of them, all when Charlie Hough pitched.

What the Execs Are Talking About

Reports from club executives on free agents:

A. J. Burnett’s agent wants a five-year contract for the pitcher. “He said he has a 5-year offer so he’s entertaining 5-year offers,” an executive said. “The fear is this is Carl Pavano II.”

Pavano is the pitcher who just concluded a 4-year, $39.95 million contract with the Yankees but spent most of that time on the disabled list. Burnett has his own history with the disabled list. He has been on the list more than a third of his career, the equivalent of 3.2 seasons out of nine years in the majors. Broken down, that time totals 589 days in 10 appearances on the list. That’s a lot of broken-down time for any pitcher.

Burnett has had only two seasons when he wasn’t on the list, both when he could be a free agent the following winter.

One executive said the “rumor on the street” was that the Red Sox offered Burnett $17 million a year for 5 years, but if they did, Burnett should have responded by asking, “Where do I sign?”

The general manager of another club said he’s heard $17 million a year for Burnett, but he wasn’t sure if that was asked or offered.

Scott Boras wants “Barry Zito money” for Derek Lowe, but does that mean $18 million a year or the whole package — $126 million for 7 years? 

Boras wants 6 years at $25 million a year for Manny Ramirez. That would leave the Los Angeles Dodgers about $100 million short.

“It’s early in the process,” a general manager said. “Ask for it; maybe someone will give it to you. Scott is pretty good at creating this huge number, then saying he’ll come off it. But it’s still high.”

Arizona is making a “big move” on CC Sabathia, whom the Yankees offered a shade less than $140 million for 6 years. Another general manager questioned that report because he heard that the Diamondbacks have let 35 employees go in the business department.

Shaun Rachau, the team’s vice president for communications, confirmed that the club eliminated 31 positions on the business side Nov. 7. Before the cuts, he said, the Diamondbacks had the most full-time employees in Major League Baseball. He also said no positions were eliminated in baseball operations.

“The job eliminations were strictly about being more efficient in how we operated, especially during a challenging economic climate,” Rachau said in an e-mail message.

Another Mr. May Mistake

A column in Newsday about George Steinbrenner started me thinking all over again about the popular misconception of the derivation of Mr. May, the trash tag Steinbrenner applied to Dave Winfield.

Writing about the Yankees’ failure in the 1981 World Series, the Newsday column recalled Steinbrenner’s apology to the city for the loss and the elevator fight the owner allegedly had in a Los Angeles hotel, then said that to Steinbrenner, Winfield, who had one hit in 22 at-bats in the Series, “was indelibly branded as ‘Mr. May.’”

One of the early columns on this Web site dealt with the Mr. May reference in a column in The New York Times. The Times, I pointed out, was wrong, about the timing and now so is Newsday. Steinbrenner anointed Winfield Mr. May for his hitting failure not in the 1981 World Series but in a pennant-race series with Toronto in September 1985.

I called the Times’ attention to its mistake and suggested a correction was in order because the Times loves corrections. It has designated page 4 of the first section for corrections, and you can find plenty there every day. However, the paper’s editor in charge of sports corrections, declined to correct the Mr. May mistake, saying the statement in the column was open to a reader’s interpretation.

Harvey Araton, who wrote the Times column, told me subsequently that he knew it was 1985 and not 1981 but worded it poorly in the column.

“I can see where a reader might think it was ‘81,” Araton said, “I should have been more specific, maybe used another word.”

Nevertheless, the Times never corrected the error so Times readers, like Newsday readers now, think Steinbrenner created Mr. May in 1981, not 1985.

Mike Abrams, the corrections editor, deemed a correction unnecessary. Had he made the correction, maybe he would have saved Newsday a mistake and cut off the error before it spread further.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.