There were five Hall of Famers selected in the 1984 NHL Draft. Only four, however, ended up playing hockey. The fifth? That would be Tom Glavine, who went on the have a legendary baseball career with the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets.
Growing up in Billerica, Mass., hockey was Glavine’s first love. Born in 1966, the memories are still there of watching Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito play for the Boston Bruins. Growing up in a region that was a hot bed for the sport, it didn’t take long for him to tell his parents he wanted to learn how to skate.
As he got older, Glavine became a quality athlete in both sports, but hockey had an edge over baseball.
“It kicked in before baseball,” Glavine told NBC Sports during his weekend at the American Century Championship golf tournament in Lake Tahoe. “I was a better hockey player at that stage of my life. I had a good arm and I was a good baseball player, but I was a more polished hockey player. I think I had a little bit more interest from colleges for hockey.”
As Glavine reached high school, he was still playing both sports competitively. He went on hockey recruiting trips with schools hoping to lock in players before their senior year. Baseball remained an option. During games there would be dozens of scouts seated behind home plate with radar guns pointed his way, recording the speed of his pitches.
It was clear at that time that Glavine had options should he want to pursue either sport following high school. A decision would have to eventually be made.
Drafted in two sports days apart
Five days after the Braves selected Glavine in the second round of the 1984 Major League Baseball draft, the Los Angeles Kings picked the center, who had 47 goals and 94 points in 23 games his senior year, 69th overall ahead of future Hockey Hall of Famers Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull and longtime veterans Kirk McLean, Don Sweeney, Cliff Ronning, and Gary Suter.
Glavine had already committed to the University of Lowell because the school had both baseball and hockey. But phone calls from the Braves and Kings helped the decision-making process and shaped his athletic future.
Kings general manager Rogie Vachon rang Glavine and said that he understood his decision to go to college and that they would talk after his junior year. The Braves, meanwhile, were much more aggressive informing Glavine that a representative would be coming to his home in a few days to convince him to sign and play baseball.
“That was the difference,” Glavine said. “It really became an exercise in hearing the Braves out, hearing what they had to say, and see if they were going to ultimately give me enough of a signing bonus that was going to make it worth my while to walk away from a college scholarship.”
Almost a teammate with Gretzky
When news got out that Glavine had signed with the Braves for $80,000, Vachon called back and told him he wished he would have had the opportunity to present an offer if he knew baseball was going to be the path. That presents a What if? scenario. Had Glavine gone the hockey route and worked his way through the minors, he could have been teammates with Wayne Gretzky when The Great One made his way to Los Angeles in 1988.
“I could have been, yes,” Glavine said. “That was one of my running jokes. When he got traded to the Kings, I said it’s a good thing that I wasn’t there because he would have had to move to wing.”
The baseball route went pretty well, though. Glavine’s accomplishments include a World Series, World Series MVP, two Cy Young Awards, 10 All-Star appearances, 305 career wins, and induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
Even as Glavine rose through baseball’s minor leagues and made his Braves debut in 1987, his love of hockey never died. He never second-guessed his decision, but the thought does still creep into his mind all these years later.
“It was probably my first year of pro ball, that summer, I hurt my arm and I was on the shelf a little bit,” Glavine recalled. “I remember my thought process was obviously I wanted to get healthy, but if I didn’t then I still had time to go back to play hockey. That was part of my silver lining thought process so to speak.
“But I never felt like I made the wrong decision. It was hard for me to go home in the winter and go to a Bruins game and not miss playing hockey. That part was a little difficult. I knew I made the right decision, but there’s not many days that go by that I don’t wonder what would have happened I would have played hockey.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.