Sunday, August 05, 2007

Going for Record Without Suspicion and With Purpose


By WILLIAM C. RHODEN
Sports of The Times
August 6, 2007

Chicago

From his exalted perch of achievement in San Diego, Barry Bonds shouted out encouragement to Tom Glavine on Saturday night. Bonds was floating on a cloud in California, where he tied the career home run record by hitting his 755th. In a moment that encapsulated respect and admiration, Bonds acknowledged Alex Rodriguez, who had hit his 500th career home run in New York earlier in the day. Then he acknowledged Glavine, the 41-year-old Mets left-hander, saying that he and all major league players were rooting for him to win his 300th game last night against the Cubs in Chicago.

“We’re pulling for you,” Bonds said.

These chases are excruciating for everyone: the player, his family, the news media. Bonds called reaching 755 the most difficult feat he had accomplished in baseball. A-Rod echoed those sentiments Saturday, and I’m certain Glavine feels the same way about chasing 300 wins. So close yet so far is the slogan of the record-setting chase.



Last week, Glavine left with a lead in Milwaukee and seemed headed for the Promised Land until the Mets’ bullpen blew the lead in the eighth inning and the game in the 13th.

Chicago, on the face of it, did not seem promising. Wrigley Field has been sheer death on pitchers’ aspirations. Roger Clemens failed to win No. 300 here in a 2003 interleague game. In 2004, Greg Maddux failed here in his first attempt to win his 300th.

“Somebody’s got to do it sooner or later and hopefully it will be me,” Glavine told reporters Friday. “It’s an extremely historic ballpark.”

He added: “Not too many places I think you could pick that would be a better venue. But wait and see how it works out.”

Thanks to Glavine, I’ve had an epiphany regarding baseball records.

I still believe that hitting a baseball is the most difficult feat in sports, but after watching Glavine struggle, and after watching the increased wear and tear on pitchers’ arms, I’m convinced that 300 victories may be baseball’s next unreachable milestone.

Consider that 22 players have reached 500 home runs, and 22 pitchers are in the 300-win club. But only three pitchers have reached 300 victories in the past 20 years: Nolan Ryan, Clemens and Maddux. On the other hand, eight hitters have reached 500 in the past 20 years.

Glavine is not convinced that the 300-victory milestone is out of reach. “Nobody was looking at me 20 years ago,” he said recently. “So I’m sure there’s somebody out there right now who’s maybe not quite on the radar screen, but in the next few years will emerge as the kind of guy that maybe you start looking at.”

My second thought, and this has been reinforced during the Bonds march, is that records mean more when they are accomplished in the context of a championship run. Bonds, as much as I respect the feat, is a traveling home run exhibition, much as Hank Aaron became with the Braves.

I appreciate records — any record. But what matters is whether they are set and broken in the context of a pressurized season, when every at-bat for a hitter or every outing for a pitcher is crucial.

A-Rod’s home runs are a necessity for the Yankees, not a luxury. The Mets, clinging to a lead in the National League East, need Glavine to pitch well and win each time out. The Mets are in a three-team race for the division, with Philadelphia and Glavine’s former team, the Met-killing Atlanta Braves.

Having said that, the “lifetime achievement” records — career homers for Bonds and A-Rod, 300 victories for Glavine — provide perfect symmetry to distinguished careers.

Glavine was selected by the Braves in the second round of the 1984 amateur draft. He made his major league debut in August 1987, and it’s easy to forget that his early climb up the mountain was steep. From 1987 to 1990, Glavine was 33-41, and he lost 17 games in 1988.

But he won the Cy Young award in 1991 and was the most valuable player of the World Series in 1995, when Atlanta beat the Cleveland Indians in six games. He has appeared in five World Series. Glavine won his second Cy Young in 1998.



The only point of controversy surrounding Glavine is that he was a player representative for the players union and was heavily involved in negotiations between the union and team owners in a labor dispute that led to a strike in 1994 and the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. He was booed at home the next season for his role with the union. In 2003, Glavine left Atlanta to play for the Mets. That’s it. That’s the controversy.

Reaching 300 victories will be the crowning achievement of a great career. After that there will be only one more mountain to climb with the Mets.

E-mail: wcr@nytimes.com

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