2002-12-14 / Sports

"Father" Wilpon Reels in Glavine To Lead Mets

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch

Baseball Columnist

The Mets made their share of moves last offseason, swinging trumpeted deals for Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz and Mo Vaughn that unanimously awarded GM Steve Phillips the Hot Stove League title by January 15. We all know how that turned out.

But the Mets’ latest triumph, stealing two-time Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine away from the Atlanta Braves, is something totally different. Glavine represents the newfound muscle of owner Fred Wilpon, who took charge of the club’s pursuit of the free-agent lefthander from Day One.

Let’s not beat around the bush – Wilpon’s generous three-year, $35 million offer had a lot to do with bringing Glavine to New York, where he’ll put the finishing touches on what should be an illustrious Hall-of-Fame caliber career.

But it was Wilpon’s personal outreach that really swung the deal for Glavine and his family. Boasting the irreplaceable atmosphere of a family-run organization, a novelty when compared with the coldly corporate ownership of AOL Time Warner and the Braves, Wilpon made it a priority to personally call Glavine at his Alpharetta, Ga. home shortly after the World Series.

"I think for us, it started with the first phone call from Fred," Glavine recalled Monday at Shea Stadium. "He took the time to call me and asked to have my wife on the phone, which meant a lot to me. He knew that she was every much as part of this decision as I was and he took the time to do that.

"He is very warm and very family oriented. You feel like you're talking to your dad. It was the warmth of talking to your father. That’s a big thing for us and it made a big impression on us."

So Glavine was impressed, and he continued to be so when the Mets gave him a tour of the Big Apple in late November. Wilpon and his son Jeff whisked the Glavines around Manhattan and its Westchester suburbs, scouting out things to do, places to eat, ways to live.

When the wives of dinner companions Al Leiter and John Franco stood up and warmly hugged and kissed the Mets owner at the end of the night, Glavine and his wife Chris were taken aback. "You just don’t see that," Glavine said.

It took a few weeks and the complete breakdown of negotiations between Glavine and the Braves, but in the end, the result was just what Wilpon had planned. For the first time since landing Robin Ventura in 1999, the Mets had targeted a big name on the free-agent market and actually got their man.

"One thing in our plan was to go get a front-line starter," COO Jeff Wilpon said. "From the very beginning, that was what we wanted to do."

Glavine certainly fits that mold for the Mets. Even though he’ll be 37 by Opening Day, Glavine immediately surpasses Al Leiter as the ace of a pitching staff which also includes Pedro Astacio, Steve Trachsel and a yet-to-be-determined fifth starter.

With the guile that comes with 242 career victories and a physique that compares to nearly any pitcher in the game, Glavine lends the Mets an instant presence on the field and in their troubled clubhouse – an experienced veteran who’s won before, and more importantly, knows how to do it again.

"I look at this situation for me much like the situation in 1991 when Terry Pendleton came to the Atlanta Braves," Glavine said. "We were a young team that needed some help. They needed some veteran leadership and a guy who really knew how to win and Terry was the guy they targeted to do that. I look at this situation pretty much the same.

"This is not as young a ball club, but they’re looking to put pieces in the puzzle that they think are going to be the difference for them. I certainly feel that I can be one of those pieces. I'm looking forward to that challenge."

So are Mets fans. A sedan with "We Got Glavine!" written on the back window in soap was spotted on the Major Deegan on Monday morning, and a substantial group of die-hards braved freezing temperatures to stake out Shea’s Diamond Club entrance later that day, hoping catch a glimpse of the newest Met.

"I've had a few people here yell at me on the streets. They’ve been more positive than what they usually are," Glavine joked, trying to convince himself that he’s no longer the hated enemy in New York.

That identity shift will take time, no doubt. But by the time Glavine packs up for his first spring training camp in Port St. Lucie, it’ll be clear that he’s not only the Mets’ best pitcher. He’ll have become their leader.

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