Tom Glavine. John Smoltz. There are others, of course, but the common thread is that they are notable and wealthy professional athletes who have created controversy recently by extending their careers while well past their prime.
Glavine, a 300-game winning pitcher, was released by the Braves this week while on the verge of rejoining the major-league club for his final season. He had improved steadily in three minor-leage rehab starts after arm surgery. The Braves, however, never allowed him to make the big team and opted for pitcher Tommy Hanson (who had better stats in the minors than Glavine).
Smoltz got similar treatment in the off-season, as the Braves made tepid efforts to re-sign him. Like Glavine, he was coming off arm surgery and was a questionable commodity. After losing 90 games in 2008 with an aging pitching staff, the Braves are not eager to build around such players.
The problem is complicated by the fact that Glavine and Smoltz are part of Braves’ lore, five World Series teams and 14 straight playoff seasons. Sentiment is big with fans, and it can sell tickets and lure TV viewers.
It does not win baseball games, though, and Braves’ GM Frank Wren seems to me to be eager to put a new stamp on the franchise. When I asked him at a press luncheon last year about the careers of Glavine, Smoltz and Manager Bobby Cox, he replied that “there are only so many throws in those arms. Bobby looks like to me he could go on doing that for years.” So there is an indication that he was not going to coddle any aging superstars.
Wren insisted last week that the decision to release Glavine was over performance, not business. This has a party line ring to it, like someone saying “money is not a factor” in our decisions. Folks, baseball is a business. Money is ALWAYS a factor. If Glavine had made the Braves’ roster and stayed the entire season, he would’ve been paid over $3 million. If I were running a team, that would DEFINITELY be a factor.
And speaking of money, why would any athlete turn down a chance to play baseball for a few million bucks? THAT is good business, too. So they don’t need to apologize.
(Now, the soap opera gets a new twist with a report that Glavine may file a grievance over his release.)
And Glavine did get a bit of a bum’s rush there. The Braves allowed him to make a start at Class A in front of a sold-out crowd before releasing him. I agree with his opinion that the Braves had decided before then to let him go. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the way the Dallas Cowboys replaced legendary coach Tom Landry with Jimmy Johnson years ago. Glavine is a class athlete who should not be used as a sideshow.
Also, consider that the Braves’ starting rotation now consists of two rookies, Kris Medlen and Hanson. If Atlanta makes a playoff run late in the season, how well will a rookie handle a “must win” start? Glavine is battle tested.
Fact is, there’s no easy way for a team to handle such a situation. Sports fans love sentiment and memories, and it IS fun to watch a lengendary performer in action. The Braves can overcome any ill feelings easily. Win.