Today, long-time MLB pitcher Tom Glavine was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. But 29 years ago, he was drafted in the fourth round by the NHL's Los Angeles Kings. Glavine talks about choosing baseball as his career and his long-standing passion for hockey.
This story was originally written June 15, 2010. The Atlanta Thrashers are still defunct.
It’s one of hockey’s strange tales. Back in 1984, a little-known left-hander from Massachusetts was selected in the fourth round (69th overall) by the Los Angeles Kings, the same year he was picked in the second round (47th overall), by the Atlanta Braves. In the NHL draft, he was taken two rounds ahead of Brett Hull and five ahead of Luc Robitaille.
Fast-forward 26 years and Tom Glavine is a future Hall of Fame athlete; heading to Cooperstown instead of Toronto.
“Obviously I would have been a Hall of Fame hockey player because those two were,” Glavine joked. “I don’t know what would have happened had I played hockey. I’d like to think I would have worked hard and been able to make it to the NHL, but I’m hard pressed to believe it would have worked out any better than baseball did.”
Glavine was a star hockey and baseball player at Billerica High School in Billerica, Mass., when he was taken in the entry draft of two different pro sports. Suddenly the kid was being faced with a career decision, but he still wanted to play like a kid.
“It was tougher for me when I was going through the college selection process,” Glavine said. “I was getting recruited by some pretty good baseball schools and a lot of hockey schools. At that stage in my life I still wanted to play both sports. I wanted to go to college and play for a school that had a good hockey and baseball program, so that kind of weeded out the big-time baseball schools that were recruiting me because they didn’t have hockey.”
But Glavine ultimately faced a decision – which sport to choose. Weighing the pros and cons of each route, he sided with baseball and one of the deciding factors was that he was a south paw. A natural edge in baseball translated to nothing special in hockey.
Glavine, of course, went on to have a tremendous pitching career, mainly with the Atlanta Braves. Finishing with 305 wins, 2,607 strikeouts, 10 all-star selections, two Cy Young Awards, one World Series MVP and one World Series ring, he ranks up there with the best left-handers of all time.
Obviously you can’t second guess success like that, but when Glavine left his hockey career in Billerica, he kept the passion with him through the years.
“There’s not too many times I go to a hockey game and don’t wonder ‘geez, what would have happened if I went that route,’ Glavine explained. “Certainly in a large part it’s because of my love for the game and my interest in the game and I naturally wonder how far I would have been able to take it had I gone that route. Certainly getting drafted ahead of Luc and Brett only adds to my wonderment, so to speak.”
Even when surrounded by America's pastime, there were times to enjoy hockey. Early in the baseball season, when the NHL playoffs were on, Glavine and a few Braves teammates would catch a game if they were on the road in a host city. For the players who weren’t fans, they soon became glued to the action; others who grew up with the game, like John Smoltz from Detroit, could get back to their roots.
“There were a handful of times in the clubhouse during a rain delay that some guys had sticks laying around with tennis balls or whatever,” Glavine said. “There were a few times I coaxed Smoltzy to put on the catching gear and get in net and let me shoot on him.”
Today Glavine is a retired baseball great, but a full-time parent. Residing in Atlanta, Glavine is the head coach of the hockey team for one of his kids; a team that last season included the son of Thrashers center Nik Antropov, Daniel, who was playing a year above his age level.
“I’ve been involved with coaching my kids in hockey for a number of years, just never as a head coach because I haven’t been around as much as I need to be and I haven’t been able to make the commitment,” Glavine said. “Once I stopped playing baseball, I was able to make the commitment to be a full-time head coach.”
And while it’s enjoyable, as any coach of a minor hockey rep team can relate, it can also be discouraging.
“It can be frustrating sometimes because you don’t know what you’re going to get out of the kids on any given day,” Glavine said. “You’re not sure if they care about the game or just worrying about who’s sleeping over after the game. That can be a little frustrating to deal with, but that’s part of what makes it fun.”
Glavine is still a hockey fan and plays a couple of times a week with some coaches from his home rink. A Bruins fan at heart from his Boston beginnings, Glavine admits to being a Thrashers fan now and believes while the fan base currently struggles, the future is looking brighter.
“Ever since my kids have been involved in youth hockey, every year the numbers grow in terms of kids coming out to play and try out,” Glavine said. “At the adult level, are we at the point where we’re able to tap into that market and get a strong base of fans for the professional team? Not yet.
“Atlanta is a tough city to get that base because there are a lot of people here who are transient; they come from other places, like myself. If the Thrashers are able to start having success and become a playoff team year after year, I think the potential is there for them to grow their fan base. But it’s the kind of thing they have to continue to grow at the youth level; these kids are going to be the first generation of kids who grew up in Atlanta with hockey backgrounds.”