KISSIMMEE — Braves general manager Frank Wren can't help but have a "throwback moment" when he glances at Tom Glavine's jersey hanging next to John Smoltz's in the clubhouse. Glavine, who turns 42 today, was a staple in the Braves dynasty in the 1990s, racking up five 20-win seasons and two Cy Youngs en route to five World Series appearances. But after spending the past five years with the Mets, he re-signed with Atlanta in 2007 for what some (including Glavine) thought was an unlikely reunion. ¶ The Times caught up with the crafty lefty — and 300-game winner — to chat about his return, the Rays' young rotation and on once being selected in the NHL draft before Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille.
You were part of a young, talented rotation with Steve Avery and Smoltz (and later Greg Maddux). What do you think of the Rays' trio: (Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza)?
I've seen Kaz, and I've seen Shields but not (Garza). I like Scott a lot; he's got a good arm and has continued to learn how to pitch. Shields had a great year last year. I like his stuff. It's just so similar to so many guys in this game that have good stuff and potential. It comes down to how well and how much better they grasp what they're trying to do and grasp the consistency and become great pitchers.
Did you ever envision, when you first got started, what eventually happened with you three and the postseason runs?
God no, there was no reason to. Not only from an individual standpoint but as a group. We all knew we had some talent — Steve and I were high draft picks; Smoltz was highly touted in the minors. I think we all knew we had a chance to have a little bit of success. To envision to have that success as a trio with this team, all the wins and Cy Youngs and World Series appearances, there's no reason to envision that. But we were fortunate to be a part of it.
Did you ever think you'd leave Atlanta — and was it always a thought you'd come back?
No on both counts. I never thought I'd leave (Atlanta), and once I did, I never fully thought the opportunity would be there to come back. … When I left, it was just as much a shock to me as it was to everyone else following the team. … In my mind, it was you go and do your thing and play it out and five years later, what couldn't happen five years previously with me and the Braves getting to — times were different, the temperature was different, and it worked out.
How much different does it feel the second time around?
It's different. There's only three guys (with Atlanta) that were playing prominent roles when I was (on the team) before. There's a lot of new faces, and there's some getting used to, some trying to fit in. But it's still in a sense that we kind of know each other. Lot of these guys watched me growing up, and I've played against them a lot. It's been a much better adjustment coming back to a familiar setting vs. where it was when I went to New York five years ago, where I didn't know anyone or anything.
Was it a little overwhelming in New York?
I think New York sometimes gets a bad rap 'cause people tend to focus on the negative side of it, the difficult side of it — what it is like when you're not playing well there. It is a tough place to play when you're not playing well. But there aren't many places, if any, that are better to play when you're doing well.
Looking back on everything, when you were drafted in the fourth round by the Kings in 1984, did you ever consider going the hockey route?
I thought about it. At the time, I was a better hockey player than I was a baseball player. My college choice was more based on hockey than baseball. But I think, it's the kind of thing I wonder what would have happened, and I miss playing the game. But I definitely don't regret or second-guess my decision. I was smart enough to know at 18 years old that even though I was a good hockey player, being a left-handed pitcher I had a huge advantage in this game I didn't have in hockey.
You were drafted five rounds before guys like Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille — they must have seen something.
There were some pretty good players that got drafted before me, so that naturally means I would have been a Hall of Fame hockey player (smiling). When I look at the list of guys I got drafted ahead of, it's a pretty impressive list, and it definitely makes me laugh when I hear some of those names.
Joking aside, think you could have been a hockey Hall of Famer?
I like to kid myself and say I naturally would have. But it's a tough game. I'm fairly confident that at my age I still wouldn't be playing hockey — though (Chris) Chelios is still playing and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. … So you never know.
What kind of player were you?
I was a scorer, more of a finesse player, a center. I tried my best to stay away from the corners. I wanted to camp out in front of the net and have someone get me the puck. That was my game. … Just give me the puck and I'll find a way to put it in the net.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.