Braves v Yankees X

The dizzying intellect of Tom Glavine


Articles about new Hall of Famers probably should not begin with personal stories, but back in 1991, when I was 24 years old, I found myself panicked in the Atlanta Braves clubhouse. Every sportswriter, I suspect, has a story about their first time in a professional clubhouse or locker room. That’s a scary place for a rookie writer. The clubhouse is a place where a writer is allowed but not necessarily welcome, a place where a writer is grudgingly allowed to observe (up to a point), but it is made perfectly clear that the writer does not belong.

Anyway, I was standing there, trying to figure out what to do, and I can only imagine how out of place I looked. The Braves had caught us all by surprise. Back then I worked at The Augusta Chronicle, 120 or so miles away, and the one thing that seemed sure was that I would not be writing any baseball. The Braves had lost 97 games the year before, 97 the year before that and 106 the years before that. It was during that stretch that an Atlanta newspaper asked readers to send in catchy Braves slogans, and one of those readers earned eternal fame by coining: “Atlanta Braves baseball: Better than getting hit in the head with a hammer, unless it’s a doubleheader.”

The 1991 Braves were a .500 team on July 4, a mildly surprising but generally uninteresting fact, and they plodded along for a little longer, and a little longer, and in early August they were 10 games over .500. On Aug. 27 they moved into a first-place tie with the Dodgers. I cannot even begin to relate how certain everyone was that the Braves would fall apart, but somehow, they did not (and would not for a dozen years). The winning was persistent enough that finally my sports editor sent me to write my first Major League Baseball game. I was insanely nervous, and utterly clueless, and then I found myself in the clubhouse after a victory with no idea whatsoever what I was supposed to do next. I felt a hand on my shoulder.

[MORE: Glavine, Maddux, Thomas headed to Cooperstown]

“You look lost,” Tom Glavine said.

“Um, well, no, I’m from the Augusta Chronicle and, um, I’m supposed to, um, write a story.”

“Yeah, I figured that,” Glavine said. “Come over to my locker, I’ll help you with your story.”

I don’t know that the conversation was quite that decipherable. I’m sure I did a lot more hemming and hawing. And I’m not sure that Glavine said those exact words. But both points were expressed. I was panicked, and he had chosen to help. I followed Glavine to his locker, he told me all about the Braves season and I wrote a story. And I have never forgotten the kindness.

So, I claim no objectivity when it comes to Glavine’s awesomeness. I have always viewed Glavine’s career through that prism — the guy who saved me when I was young. It’s funny because, looking back, he was young, too. He was not even a year older than me. He was not much bigger than me. But worlds separated us. Glavine was having his breakout season — he would win his first of two Cy Young Awards.

[Calcaterra: Glavine — Skinny, sweating and scared]

What’s easy to miss is that Glavine, for most of his career, was a power pitcher. It’s easy to miss because, compared to other stars of his time, Glavine did not strike out a lot of hitters. Also he grew famous for the circle change-up that he perfected.

But especially early in his career, Glavine threw his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, he had a hard slider he could mix in with a curveball and he was great athlete (he was taken in the fourth round of the NHL Entry Draft). The reason he did not strike out that many (among 300 game winners, only Early Wynn had a lower strikeout-to-walk ratio) was because strikeouts were not his thing.

What was his thing? Well … remember the “Battle of wits” scene in “The Princess Bride?”

“But it’s so simple – all I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I clearly cannot choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool. You would have counted on it. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.”

That, in a beautiful and hilarious paragraph, was Tom Glavine’s pitching style. His poison was simply this: He intended to get the hitter to swing a pitch at the knees and three inches outside the strike zone. The only question was how he was going to do it. The battle of wits had begun!

[MORE: Glavine’s reaction to Hall call]

One way Glavine might do this was to throw every single pitch at the knees and three inches outside the strike zone. It certainly seemed that entire games went by when Glavine did not throw even one strike. This strategy — the “look, eventually the hitter has to swing” strategy — was brutally effective.*

*This was especially effective — anti-Braves fans will tell you — because many of those Glavine pitches three inches outside of the strike zone were actually called strikes by accommodating umpires. This is certainly sour grapes up to a point. But it will be interesting to see if Glavine, among his Hall of Fame speech thank yous, throws one out there to the home-plate umpires.

Another of Glavine’s strategies was to throw the exact pitch that he should not throw. The great Tony Gwynn used to say that one of his great pleasures was matching up against Glavine because he knew that anything was on the table. A 2-0 change-up? Maybe. A down-the-middle fastball at 0-2? Possible. A slider in a fastball count, a fastball in a change-up count, a 3-2 pitch at the knees and three inches outside? You bet. With others, Gwynn more or less knew what was coming because he had studied them so intently. With Glavine, though Gwynn had studied him even more, his best strategy was to expect PRECISELY what he did not expect. That made for some epic matchups.

Another Glavine strategy was to get ahead in the count. That’s obvious, but it was a near religion with Glavine. First-pitch strikes (even if it meant throwing his low-and-outside fastball that looked better than it was and getting a foul ball) were everything. So Glavine threw A LOT of fastballs. The circle change was often his best pitch — it was undetectable, and it moved so much that it was all but impossible to hit solidly — but Glavine knew like all great things it would lose some of its wonder if used too much.

“If I throw 100 pitches in a game,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci back in 1997, “I’ll probably throw as many as 70 fastballs. … Too many guys pitch backward. They throw their breaking ball so much that it’s almost like their fastball is their off-speed pitch.”

Glavine won two Cy Young Awards and finished Top 3 another four times. He won 305 games and another 14 in the postseason. He made exactly 400 starts between 1991 and 2002 and averaged 224 innings per season, and in that time the Braves won with a sort of bland consistency that marks them as one of baseball’s great teams.

And the thing was that in all those years, hitters never quite caught up to him. They never quite figured him out. They didn’t understand that, just like in the Princess Bride, there was nothing to figure out, that they had no chance to win the battle of wits. The Dread Pirate Roberts built up an immunity to iocane powder. The Dread Brave Glavine had done pretty much the same thing.

Rob Manfred wants a new, unnecessary rule to protect middle infielders


Commissioner Rob Manfred is at the Cards-Cubs game this afternoon and the sporting press just spoke with him about the fallout from the Chase Utley/Ruben Tejada play from the other night. Not surprising.

Also not surprising? Manfred’s desire to implement a new rule in an effort to prevent such a play from happening again. Or, at the very least, to allow for clear-cut punishment for someone who breaks it:

Which is ridiculous, as we already have Rule 6.05(m) on the books. That rule — which is as clear as Crystal Pepsi — says a baserunner is out when . . .

(m)A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play:

Rule 6.05(m) Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.

That rule totally and completely covers the Utley-Tejada situation. The umpires were wrong for not enforcing it both then and in the past, but that’s the rule, just as good as any other rule in that book and in no way in need of replacement.

Why not just enforce that rule? What rule would “better protect” infielders than that one? What would do so in a more straightforward a manner? What could baseball possibly add to it which would make plays at second base less confusing rather than more so?

I suspect what Manfred is interested in here is some means to change this from a judgment call to a clear-cut rule. It was that impulse that led to the implementation of clocks for pitchers and batters and innings breaks rather than giving umpires the discretion to enforce existing pace-of-play rules. It was that impulse which led to a tripartite (or is it quadpartite?) means of determining whether a catcher impermissibly blocks the plate or a runner barrels him over rather than simply enforce existing base-blocking rules.

But taking rules out of the subjective realm and into the objective is difficult or downright impossible in many cases, both in law and in baseball. It’s almost totally impossible when intent is an element of the thing, as it is here. It’s likewise the case that, were there a clear and easy bright line to be established in service of a judgment-free rule on this matter, someone may have stumbled upon it once in the past, oh, 150 years. And maybe even tried to implement it. They haven’t, of course. Probably because there was no need, what with Rule 6.05(m) sitting up there all nice and tidy and an army of judgment-armed umpires standing ready to enforce it should they be asked to.

Unfortunately, Major League Baseball has decided that eschewing set rules in favor of new ones is better. Rules about the time batters and pitchers should take. Rules about blocking bases. Rules about how long someone should be suspended for a first time drug offense. Late Selig and Manfred-era Major League Baseball has decided, it seems, that anything 150 years of baseball can do, it can do better. Or at least newer and without the input of people in the judgment-passing business like umpires and arbitrators and the like.

Why can’t baseball send a memo to the umpires and the players over the winter saying the following:

Listen up:

That rule about running into fielders that you all have already agreed to abide by in your respective Collective Bargaining Agreements? We’re serious about it now and WILL be enforcing it. If you break it, players, you’re going to be in trouble. If you refuse to enforce it, umpires, you’re going to be in trouble. Understood? Good.


Bobby M.

If players complain, they complain. They don’t have a say about established rules. If, on the other hand, your process of making new rules is easier than your process of simply enforcing rules you already have, your system is messed up and we should be having a whole other conversation.

Anti-Chase Utley signs at Citi Field were brutal and hilarious

Chase Utley sign

Obviously Chase Utley was not the most popular figure in Citi Field last night. The fans booed him like crazy and chanted for him to make an appearance after the game got underway.

They made signs too. Lots and lots of signs. The one at the top of this article is the only one the Associated Press saw fit to grab a photo of, it seems. But there were more and, unlike that one, they were less than tame.

My favorite one was this one, held by a girl about my daughter’s age. It’s direct. It’s totally unequivocal. It gets the point across:

There’s no arguing with that. Utley could show up with a team of lawyers and after five minutes in front of this girl he’d be forced to admit, both orally and in writing, that, yes, he Buttley.

The New York Post categorizes many more of them here. Including one that didn’t make it into the park which said “Chase Utley [hearts] ISIS.” It was confiscated by Citi Field personnel. Why?

The sign, which actually used a “heart” drawing for loves, was confiscated by Citi Field security after she got inside Monday night. Culpepper was annoyed but gave a frank explanation.

“My guess is Isis doesn’t want to be associated with Chase Utley,” she said, calling him, “my least favorite player ever.”

Somebody call the burn unit.

NLDS, Game 4: Dodgers vs. Mets lineups

Clayton Kershaw

Here are the Dodgers and Mets lineups for Game 4 of the NLDS in New York:

CF Kike Hernandez
2B Howie Kendrick
1B Adrian Gonzalez
3B Justin Turner
SS Corey Seager
RF Yasiel Puig
C A.J. Ellis
LF Justin Ruggiano
SP Clayton Kershaw

With a left-hander on the mound for New York the Dodgers are stacking the lineup with right-handed bats, using an outfield of Yasiel Puig, Justin Ruggiano, and Kike Hernandez rather than Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, and Joc Pederson. Adrian Gonzalez and Corey Seager are the only lefty bats in the lineup. A.J. Ellis gets the start over Yasmani Grandal by virtue of being the personal catcher for Clayton Kershaw, who’s pitching on short rest.

RF Curtis Granderson
3B David Wright
2B Daniel Murphy
LF Yoenis Cespedes
C Travis d'Arnaud
1B Lucas Duda
SS Wilmer Flores
CF Juan Lagares
SP Steven Matz

Obviously facing Clayton Kershaw is much different than facing Brett Anderson, but they’re both lefties and manager Terry Collins is using the same lineup as Game 3 with one slight change: Travis d’Arnaud and Lucas Duda flipped in the batting order.