The fourth-round draft choice of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings in 1984, Glavine chose baseball over hockey and promptly led the National League in losses his rookie season. Following that early setback, however, the Concord, Massachusetts native rapidly developed into one of the finest left-handers in the Senior Circuit as a cornerstone of the dominant Atlanta pitching staff of the 1990s.
Glavine makes his living working on the outside edge of the plate, gradually expanding the strike zone until good batters chase bad pitches. Using his superb control, Glavine darts his low-90s fastball and devastating changeup just on or just off the outside corner, never giving in to a hitter no matter what the count. Particularly deadly against right-handed batters, his control frustrates hitters who know what to expect but rarely succeed in foiling the lethal left-hander. Glavine occasionally works in a sharp breaking curveball and in recent years has developed a slider that he uses against left-handed batters. Although capable of getting a strikeout when he needed one, Glavine relied more on the sinking action of his fastball to induce groundballs and double plays.
Glavine made his debut in 1988 with an abysmally bad Braves club. Desperate for pitching help, Atlanta lost 106 games and in the process rushed many of their talented young starters to the big leagues. After an atrocious 3-9 first half in which he posted a 5.38 ERA, Glavine gave the Braves a glimpse of the future with a 3.69 ERA in fifteen second-half starts. Still, his seventeen losses that year topped the National League.
After two promising but inconsistent seasons in which he put together a 24-20 record, Glavine and the Braves both had breakout seasons in 1991. The twenty-five year-old southpaw became the ace of an Atlanta team which went from last place in 1990 to a thrilling NL West title in 1991, clinched on the final weekend of the season. Catapulted by a 6-0 May which won him the National League Pitcher of the Month, Glavine was the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game that summer. After finishing 20-11, tying for the league lead in wins and complete games while finishing third with a 2.55 ERA, Glavine became just the second Brave ever (after Warren Spahn in 1957) and first Atlanta pitcher to capture the National League Cy Young Award.
After upsetting the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLCS, the Braves’ fairytale season ended in a heart-stopping seven-game World Series loss to the Minnesota Twins. Glavine absorbed a loss in Game Two despite allowing just one earned run in eight innings, but won Game Five in Atlanta behind a fourteen-run explosion from the Braves’ bats.
The next few years would feature more of the same from Glavine and Atlanta. The ace of a rotation that included promising youngsters John Smoltz and Steve Avery, as well as veteran Charlie Leibrandt, Glavine and his partners in crime became known as the Fab Four, forming a staff that was the envy of the baseball world. In 1992, Glavine (in the midst of a 19-3 start) became the first National League pitcher since Robin Roberts to start the All-Star Game in consecutive seasons. He would again finish the season with twenty wins, while the Braves would again win their Division, again topple the three time NL East Champion Pirates in the NLCS, and again fall in the World Series, this time to Toronto in six games.
Determined to finally go all the way in 1993, the Braves added Cy Young winner Greg Maddux to their already frightening staff. Still, Atlanta found itself almost ten games behind a powerful San Francisco team on July 20th when they traded three minor-league prospects to San Diego for slugging first baseman Fred McGriff. Ignited by the arrival of McGriff, the Braves surged to a stunning 51-17 record the remainder of the season, and found themselves tied at 103 wins with the Giants on the final day of the season. While Glavine picked up his career-high 22nd victory — and the Braves’ 104th — with a 5-3 win over Colorado, across the continent the Dodgers clobbered San Francisco 12-1 to give the Braves their third straight Division Crown. But the Braves came up short of their goal once more, losing the NLCS in six games to Philadelphia.
While 1994 would prove a subpar year from Glavine (13-9, 3.97) Atlanta was in position to reach the post-season when the players’ strike hit in mid-August. As the Braves’ players’ union representative, Glavine found himself in the thick of the labor dispute and bore the brunt of the fans’ anger. When baseball finally returned in the spring of 1995, the longtime fan favorite often heard boos when he took the mound.
By the end of the season, Glavine and the Braves would more than win back the loyalty of their supporters. Knowing from the start of the season that anything less than a World Championship would count as failure, Glavine contributed 16 wins as Atlanta cruised to another division title and reached the World Series for the third time in five seasons. After picking up a win with six strong innings in Game Two, Glavine enjoyed his finest hour in Game Six. Nursing a 1-0 lead built on Dave Justice’s solo home run, Glavine shut down a dominant Cleveland Indians‘ lineup for eight innings, allowing just one hit, three walks, and not a single run. Mark Wohlers closed out the ninth inning to give the Braves their first World Championship in Atlanta. Glavine was named MVP of the World Series.
Over the next two seasons, Glavine won 29 games as the Braves won two more division crowns but stumbled as heavy favorites in the playoffs. In 1998, Glavine produced perhaps his finest season, winning 20 games against just six defeats, finishing with three shutouts and a career-best 2.47 ERA. While Atlanta solidified their reputation as underachievers with a six-game loss to San Diego in the League Championship Series, Glavine enhanced his stature as one of his generation’s best pitchers by narrowly beating out Padres closer Trevor Hoffman for his second Cy Young Award.
In 1999, the revamped strike zone took away the corners the Braves pitching staff feasted upon, and Glavine was affected most of all. He was forced to leave the ball over the plate, resulting in a league-high 259 hits allowed. The defending Cy Young Award winner carried a 3-7 record and an unsightly 5.00 ERA into June, but adjusted to finish the year with a respectable 14-11 record and a 4.12 ERA. With Glavine pitching well, the Braves beat the Astros and Mets in the playoffs before losing to the Yankees in the World Series once again.
Spring training 2000 found Glavine trying new pitches to help him cope with the new strike zone. A cut fastball learned from Braves ace Greg Maddux allowed him to dominate righties on the inside part of the plate. The new formula worked: Glavine led the league in victories with 21, and finished second in Cy Young Award voting. He took a beating in the postseason, though, giving up seven earned runs in 2 1/3 innings in the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2001 he continued his winning ways, compiling 16 victories and a 3.57 ERA.