When I conceived this countdown of the playing careers of local TV broadcasters, I figured it would take two weeks and would eat up some time between the end of the season and the Winter Meetings. Here we are, four weeks and 35,000 words or so later, and we’re done. I finally learned to shut up.
Thank you to everyone who read even part of it and I especially thank everyone who commented.
3. Tom Glavine. Atlanta Braves. WAR: 73.9
Coming out of high school in Massachusetts, Tom Glavine was the second-round pick of the Atlanta Braves in the 1984 MLB Draft and the fourth-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 1984 NHL Draft. It seems like he made the right choice with baseball, but we’ll never really know.
The left-handed Glavine moved through the minor league quickly, making his major league debut in August of 1987. The Braves were pretty bad in this period and while Glavine probably could have spent more time in the minors, Atlanta really didn’t have anyone better. He made nine starts in ’87 and went 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA. The Braves lost 106 games in 1988 and Glavine led the league in losses his rookie season, going 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA.
The Braves were rebuilding around young pitching and soon Glavine was joined in the rotation by fellow young arms John Smoltz and Steve Avery as well as veteran Charlie Leibrandt. The team still finished last in 1990, but at least the team had some interesting young talent.
That young talent all came together in 1991 as the Braves went from worst to first. Glavine went 20-11 with a 2.55 ERA that year and won the Cy Young Award. The Braves went to their first World Series since moving to Atlanta, falling to the Twins in seven games. Glavine made two starts in the 1991 Series. He took a complete game loss in Game 2, allowing three runs (but only one earned) and won Game 5 despite allowing three runs in 5⅓ innings.
The Braves dynasty of the 1990s was now underway. Avery’s career was derailed by injuries, but free agent Greg Maddux joined the team in 1993 and Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz became the greatest top-three rotation in major league history for the next decade. The Braves won 14-straight NL East titles (leaving out the strike-shortened 1994 season) and Glavine was there for 12 of them. He won 20 games five times in Atlanta and made eight All-Star Games. Glavine won a second Cy Young Award in 1998.
As a pitcher, Glavine never threw hard. When he came up, his fastball was clocked in the 86-88 mph range, which was at least average in the late-eighties. But he had a hard-biting slider and a terrific circle change that throughout his career, kept hitters from keying on the fastball. But Glavine’s greatest skill was his command and his ability to paint the corners with his pitches. When hitters did make contact, it was rarely hard contact and usually on the ground.
The other remarkable thing about Glavine’s career was his durability. In his 22 years in the majors, he only made one trip to the disabled list and that was when he was 42 and in his final year.
As you likely know, for all the winning the Braves did in this era, they only managed to win one World Series in 1995. Glavine was the MVP of that win over the Indians as he made two starts and won both of them with a 1.29 ERA.
The Braves let Glavine leave as a free agent at age 37 after the 2002 season. He signed with the Mets and had five seasons there as a crafty, mid-rotation left-handed starter. He made two more All-Star Games in New York and won another 61 games, including his 300th-career win against the Cubs on August 5, 2007. The Mets snapped the Braves streak of winning the NL East in 2006 and Glavine, now 40, made three postseason starts and went 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA that year.
Glavine returned to Atlanta as a free agent for 2010, but at 43, he was done. He went on the DL for the first time in his career and the Braves released him in June. He retired that winter.
Glavine finished his career with a line of 305-203 with a 3.54 ERA over 22 seasons. He was a ten-time All-Star and won two Cy Young Awards. He was also a good hitter for a pitcher as he won four Silver Slugger Awards. Glavine was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2014.
Glavine joined the Braves front office after retiring in 2011 and started filling in as a substitute broadcaster. Since 2018, he’s taken on a much larger role in the broadcast booth, calling about 30 to 40 games a season.
2. Bert Blyleven. Minnesota Twins. WAR: 96.0
It is hard to look at that WAR total and try to figure out how Bert Blyleven was kept out of Cooperstown for so long. But the truth of the matter is that when Blyleven was active, no one thought of him as a future Hall-of-Famer. He only made two All-Star Games and never finished above third in Cy Young Award balloting. Sportswriters of the time painted Blyleven as a good but not great pitcher who was a malcontent and thought himself to be better than he was. I can’t speak to the malcontent part, but I can say that Blyleven was exactly as good as he thought he was.
Blyleven was born in the Netherlands, but his family moved to Canada when he was three and Southern California when he was seven. He arrived in California around the same time the Dodgers did and his immigrant family bonded with their new country over their shared love of baseball and the Dodgers.
Blyleven was taken in third round of the 1969 Draft by the Minnesota Twins. Less than a year later, he was making his major-league debut at only 19 years of age after just 21 minor league games. Blyleven went 10-9 with a 3.18 ERA in his rookie season. He was named The Sporting News AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year. Blyleven was passed over for a start in the American League Championship Series in favor of a more experienced pitcher, but he did throw two innings in relief of Jim Kaat in Game 3, allowing one unearned run in the loss.
By 1971, the 20-year-old Blyleven was the ace of the Twins staff, which is impressive since Kaat and Jim Perry were also in the rotation. The Twins, however, fell to fifth place and no one was very impressed with Blyleven’s 16-15 record. A 2.81 ERA, 17 complete games, five shutouts and a league-leading strikeout-to-walk ratio were lost upon the baseball writers of the time.
As a pitcher, Blyleven was a curveball specialist. In fact, he had one of the greatest curves in the history of the game. When he was young, he relied mainly of a fastball, curve and changeup. As he got older, he added a slider and a sinker to his repertoire. But it was always about the curveball with Blyleven.
Blyleven won 20 games for the Twins in 1973 and made his first All-Star Game. He started to get some attention after winning 20, but he also lost 17 games and his 2.52 ERA was only second in the American League. He got a few down-ballot Cy Young votes and finished seventh. But Blyleven pitched 25 complete games that year and tossed nine shutouts. He had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio and the best fielding-independent pitching numbers. According to the advanced stats that came years later, Blyleven was not only the best pitcher in the AL that year, he was the highest WAR of any player in the entire league. He finished 26th in MVP balloting.
Blyleven continued to be one of the most dominating pitchers in the AL, but the Twins were lousy and his win totals were just average in an era when it normally took 23 or 24 wins to lead the league. But Blyleven knew how good he was and wasn’t afraid to say it or demand that he be paid like it. Notoriously-cheap owner Calvin Griffith resented this and Blyleven demanded to be traded after the 1975 season, preferably to the Dodgers or Angels.
The Twins didn’t trade him, but free agency came after the 1975 season and Blyleven announced that he was going to “play out his option” and be a free agent after the 1976 season. On top of that, the Twins hired a new manager in no-nonsense, old-school Gene Mauch who really didn’t like the outspoken Blyleven. In June, the Twins traded Blyleven to the Rangers for Mauch’s nephew. (Roy Smalley Jr.)
Blyleven signed a new deal with the Rangers, but he was injured much of his time there. He still managed to throw over 200 innings both seasons because he threw so many complete games. But again, the Rangers were bad and Blyleven’s win-loss record was poor, which is all anyone looked at. But he had an ERA under 3.00 in both years despite pitching through and around injuries.
In 1977, Blyleven was finally traded to a good team, the Pirates. But he wasn’t happy about it because he want to play in California and he didn’t like manager Chuck Tanner, who was known for not letting pitchers throw many complete games. Blyleven wasn’t shy about telling the media that Tanner should not have pulled him for a reliever and those kinds of comments did not go over well with the writers or the fans. He was never considered a “team player” on a team that would go on to be known as the “We Are Family” Pirates of 1979.
Blyleven had the worst season of his career with the 1979 Pirates, although by “worst season” we mean he went 12-5 with a 3.60 ERA. He had a lot of no-decisions as Tanner only let him finish four of his 37 stats. However, he did win over some of the fans when he allowed just one run in a complete game win in the clinching Game 3 of the NLCS. He also got the win in Game 5 of the World Series when he threw four innings of scoreless relief and the Pirates won the first of three elimination games.
Any goodwill from Pirates fans that Blyleven had from winning those crucial games in 1979 disappeared when he walked out of the team early in 1980, upset about the way Tanner was using him. He demanded to be traded. Blyleven was suspended and while he eventually returned and apologized, he came to symbolize the “spoiled rich athlete” of the day. The Pirates traded him to Cleveland after the season.
With the Indians, Blyleven found his groove again with a team and a manager who let him manage himself. He went 11-7 with a 2.88 ERA in the strike-shortened 1981 season. But in 1982, he was diagnosed with a torn arm muscle. The next year, he broke his arm after he fell while at home. But in 1984 he bounced back with a 19-7 record and a 2.87 ERA for the sixth-place Indians. He would have certainly won 20 games that year were it not for missing almost a month with another injury. He finished third in Cy Young Award balloting that year.
Blyleven was just as good in 1985 (again finishing third in Cy Young voting) and he made his second All-Star Game that year. But the Indians would go on to lose 102 games that year so Blyleven was traded back to the marginally-better Twins in August.
With the Twins, Blyleven became known for giving up a ton of home runs. In 1986, he gave up 50 home runs, which is still a major-league record. He cut that down to 46 home runs in 1987. But most of those home runs didn’t hurt too bad. For one, Blyleven rarely walked anyone in those days, so most of those home runs were solo home runs.
Blyleven was the No. 2 pitcher for the Twins in their World-Series winning 1987 season. He won both of his starts in the ALCS against the Tigers and split his two starts in the Series, winning Game 2 and losing Game 5.
After a bad 1988 season in Minnesota, Blyleven was allowed to leave as a free agent. At age 38, he finally got a chance to pitch at home, signing with the Angels. He had a terrific bounce back season in 1989, going 17-5 with a 2.73 ERA in Anaheim. He finished fourth in Cy Young voting that year. But he was poor in 1990 and his season ended early with an injury, that was eventually revealed to be a torn rotator cuff. He missed all of the 1991 season and while he came back and pitched 133 innings in 1992, he wasn’t any good. He tried to catch on with the Twins in the 1993 season so that he could get to 300 wins, but he was poor in Spring Training and retired.
In Blyleven’s 22-year career, he posted a record of 287-250 with a 3.31 ERA. He retired with 3701 strikeouts, which was third on the all-time list then. (It’s now the fifth-highest total.) He made 685 starts and threw 242 complete games. Blyleven had 60 shutouts. Despite pitching for poor teams throughout most of his career, he still managed to collect two World Series rings.
It’s fair to say that few thought Blyleven was a Hall-of-Famer when he retired. The sportswriters who covered him remembered him more for his suspension and the two times he was fined for making rude gestures to booing fans than they did for his strikeout totals. No one considered him to be among the best pitchers in the game when he was active. The stats people said it wasn’t Blyleven’s fault that they didn’t appreciate his greatness. He did try to tell them that, after all.
The debate ended when Blyleven was elected to Cooperstown by the writers in 2011.
Blyleven has been broadcasting Twins games since 1995 and has become everyone’s “Uncle Bert” and a Twins Cities icon. He’s famous for his “Circle Me Bert” schtick where he uses a Telestrator to circle fans in the stands. He’s no longer angry, he’s just “crotchety” in a more-lovable way.
- Mike Schmidt. Philadelphia Phillies. WAR: 106.8
Every generation has a Cubs-killer. For the veteran Cubs fan, it was Willie Mays. For the young Cubs fan, it’s Albert Pujols. For those of us in the middle, it was (Harry Kalas voice) Michael Jack Schmidt. But that’s OK. The Cubs weren’t the only team that Schmidt destroyed.
Mike Schmidt was the Phillies second-round draft choice out of Ohio University in 1971. (He was taken one pick after George Brett, and that is likely the greatest back-to-back picks in MLB history.) Schmidt reached the major leagues with a September call-up in 1972.
Schmidt became the starting third baseman for the Phillies in the 1973 season and he was mediocre, hitting 18 home runs and putting up a .196 batting average. But he had a good glove and the Phillies were awful and didn’t have anyone better, so they kept sticking him out there. What went unnoticed was that Schmidt drew enough walks to put up a .324 OBP.
Schmidt’s career took off in 1974. He led the NL in home runs the next three seasons. He also led the NL in strikeouts the next three seasons. He made the All-Star Game in 1974 and finished sixth in MVP voting. He made his second All-Star Game in ’76 and his third in ’77.
But Schmidt had his critics. This article in Sports Illustrated lumped Schmidt in with Dave Kingman as the new generation of hitters who either hit a home run or struck out. While that may have been true in the case of Kingman, it completely missed the mark on Schmidt. Schmidt also walked 100 times a year, giving him a terrific on-base percentage as well as power numbers. But that was lost on the public in the 1970s who knew only batting average, home runs and RBI.
The Phillies got good in the late-seventies, winning three straight NL East titles from 1976 to 1978. They lost the NLCS each time. In 1980, Schmidt hit a career-high 48 home runs as the Phillies won their first ever World Series title. Schmidt hit .381/.462/.714 with two home runs in the seven-game series. Schmidt was named the Series MVP. He also won his first NL MVP that year.
Schmidt won his second MVP award in 1981. The “Wheeze Kids” Phillies (so named because most of the team was over 30), won the NL Pennant again in 1983, but lost the World Series to the Orioles in five games. That Schmidt went 1 for 20 in the Series was a big reason they lost.
Schmidt won a third MVP Award in 1986 at the age of 36. He had one more good season in 1987, hitting 35 home runs, including his 500th home run.
The end came quickly for Schmidt. He missed a couple of months in 1988 with a rotator cuff injury and didn’t play well when he returned. He only hit 12 home runs in 108 games. When things didn’t get much better in 1989, Schmidt retired at the end of May. The fans still voted for him to start the All-Star Game. Schmidt declined to play, but he did participate in the opening ceremonies in Anaheim.
Mike Schmidt played 2404 games over 18 seasons. He hit .267/.380/.527 with 548 home runs and 1595 RBI. He was selected to play in 12 All-Star Games and won three MVP Awards. He led the NL in home runs eight times. He was one of the greatest defensive third baseman of all time and won ten Gold Gloves. (The modern stats back up his reputation.) His 106.8 WAR is the 26th-best of all-time.
Against the Cubs, Schmidt hit .292/.387/.598 with 78 home runs and 207 RBI in 269 games. Fifty of those home runs were hit at Wrigley Field. Schmidt hit more home runs against the Cubs than any other team.
All of this makes Mike Schmidt the best ballplayer among all the local TV broadcasters working today. (Alex Rodriguez would have him beat if we included national broadcasters.) On the flip side, Schmidt probably calls fewer games than anyone, joining the booth only for Phillies Sunday home games.