The last time Tom Glavine walked off the mound, in the final, crucial game of the Mets' season, he departed in failure, enveloped in the booing of 50,000 New Yorkers who sounded like 50 million. He had surrendered five runs in a first inning that wasn't even over yet, in a loss that completed the Mets' stunning September collapse.
Why, then, should Glavine's name be part of a Sportsman of the Year discussion? Because the truest sportsman isn't always the ultimate winner. Because for every conqueror, throwing his glove skyward in celebration, there is the conquered, left to cope with defeat. Sometimes the fairy tale ends not with a champagne shower but with a bad loss in a big game, and who are you then?
Glavine was the man he has always been -- honest, professional, a stand-up guy. Other pitchers might have been in a cab on the way to the airport by the time the press arrived after the game for the postmortems, especially because in the 41-year-old Glavine's case, he knew his Mets career was probably over. But he stayed and answered every question, re-lived his nightmare again and again, because a sportsman deals with failure with the same dignity with which he accepts success.
And it's not as if Glavine and success were strangers in 2007. He won his 300th game in August, becoming only the 23rd pitcher in baseball history to reach that milestone, and, given the way the game has changed in the 20 years since his major league debut, perhaps the last. At his advanced age, he still had enough left to be a 13-game winner and the most durable member of a contending team's pitching staff. More importantly, he did it without a hint of the suspicion that hovers over so many of his colleagues. There was no fear that tomorrow's headlines would link him to the sport's steroid cloud, since his strengths -- his pitching intellect and control -- can't be chemically enhanced, and his mid-80s fastball clearly wasn't. Glavine was that rare big leaguer for whom fans could root unreservedly, and in 2007, that is no small thing.
There were other athletes who were bigger winners than Glavine, and if we were searching for an Athlete of the Year or a Most Valuable Player, his name would be far down the list, but a great sportsman possesses subtler qualities. Tom Glavine had no small measure of success in 2007, but beyond that, there was a grace, even a certain nobility to his effort, both in the best of times and the worst. What more can we ask of a sportsman, of any man, than that?
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