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Hirsh: Braves' Glavine is where he belongs
An exclusive interview with Hall of Fame-inductee
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Former Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine spent 22 seasons in the big leagues, 17 in Atlanta. - photo by MCT

Fully grasping what it means to be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame can’t be easy, even for the most cerebral figures in the game. Slowly, Tom Glavine is getting there.

It’s now been more than a month since the crafty southpaw was granted baseball immortality — an honor that’s been inevitable for more than a decade — and his induction is quickly approaching. Glavine’s Hall of Fame plaque will be erected on July 26, when he’ll be officially cemented as an all-time great.

With 305 regular season wins, two Cy Young awards and a World Series ring, he certainly deserves that honor.

"It has started to sink in," Glavine said. "I think every now and then something else will bring it back into my brain, making it a little harder to get my head around it all. But it’s settled in a bit."

In his first year of eligibility, Glavine received 91.9 percent of votes from the Hall of Fame electorate, easily surpassing the 75 percent threshold needed for admission. One could argue his name should have appeared on all 571 ballots, but that tiff isn’t relevant anymore.

What is relevant, however, is the wonderful coincidence that allowed Glavine to join the Hall the same year as fellow Braves legends Bobby Cox and Greg Maddux. Collectively, this triumvirate played a major role in turning Atlanta into the Team of the 90s and bringing the city its first championship.

"It means a lot to go in with Bobby and Greg," said Glavine. "It’s hard to believe that I’m even getting in, but the icing on the cake is to do it with them."

Glavine spent many seasons with those two: 10 with Maddux, 17 with Cox. Over the course of time they enjoyed a wealth of success together, most notably winning the 1995 World Series title. Maddux and Glavine combined for a 6-1 record in the 1995 playoffs, with Glavine earning the World Series-clinching victory in Game 6 over Cleveland. Eight innings pitched, no runs allowed.

Their success on the field will ultimately be their legacy, that cannot be denied; but Glavine’s favorite story involving Maddux and Cox falls into a comedic genre, rather than a dramatic one.

Before K-zones and other modern technology existed, starting pitchers would often spend off-days charting games from clubhouse televisions. One day, Maddux was charting a game when Cox came up to the clubhouse for a cup of coffee. The manager asked Maddux about the home plate umpire.

"He looks terrible, Bobby," Maddux said. "He’s missing all kinds of calls."

When Cox went back to the dugout, Glavine turned to Maddux and said, "You know he’s going to get thrown out of the game now, right?" Maddux replied, "Yeah, I know."

Sure enough, Cox went out to argue the next borderline pitch and was ejected immediately.

"That was Greg in a nutshell; he liked to goof around," Glavine said. "And that was Bobby in a nutshell; he always stood up for his guys."

Where he belongs

While Glavine, Maddux and Cox were all no-brainers for the 2014 Hall of Fame class, this year’s voting process didn’t come without controversy.

The issue here is two-fold: who should have the power to vote, and should players linked to performance-enhancing drugs be allowed into baseball’s sacred temple?

The former of these polemics stems from ballots that included names such as Jacque Jones, Armando Benitez and J.T. Snow — all of whom were solid in their own rights, but not Hall of Famers by any definition of the term.

The problem was magnified when the world found out Craig Biggio, considered a worthy member of the Hall by most fans, missed the cut by just two votes.

It’s become clear that the election process needs to be amended. That’s easier said than done, though; baseball is a sport rooted in more than a century of traditions, and sweeping changes don’t happen often.

"It seems as though there is more and more dissatisfaction of how the voting is done," Glavine said. "I do think a lot of people are starting to get agitated with some of the voting and the reasons it’s going those ways.

"What can we do about this? I don’t have the answer on whether it will change or how it should change, but I do think the discussion is going to continue and it will be interesting to watch it."

The steroid debate is not a new one, but it’s undoubtedly picking up steam. As of today there is no consensus among writers on whether or not PED users should be allowed in the Hall of Fame, and there probably never will.

Glavine, however, has a strong opinion on the matter.

"If I can sit here and say definitively, ‘If X player used steroids and he got caught and he’s a potential Hall of Fame guy,’ then no, I don’t want him in there," he said. "I don’t want guys who cheated in the Hall of Fame. You want guys in there who played the game the right way."

The conversation gets far more complex when dealing with players who have been suspected of steroid use but never convicted: Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, to name a few.

"The hard part is some guys haven’t been proven guilty, and that’s where the gray area lies," Glavine explained. "I think we all have our suspicions, some stronger than others, so how that plays out in the long run in people’s minds, I don’t know."

Regardless of what side one falls in these quarrels, it can’t be argued that the BBWAA got it right with Glavine (bitter outliers notwithstanding). A consummate professional who always played the game the right way, the kid from Billerica, Ma., embodies what it means to be a Hall of Famer.

Nostalgia has a knack for clouding one’s view of the past, but it sure doesn’t feel as if they make athletes like Glavine anymore. Thankfully, though we can no longer enjoy his talents on the field, we can appreciate him in the most appropriate way possible: in Cooperstown, N.Y., alongside Koufax and Ford and Gibson and Grove.

Right where he belongs.

Andrew Hirsh is a sportswriter with the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at ahirsh@forsythnews.com, 770-205-8983 or on Twitter at @andrewhirsh.