SCOUT'S HONOR: Tommy Greene Interview

In his new book, "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team," Bill Shanks talks about how "The Young Guns" were all the rage in the late 80's. The Braves were not a very good team then, but they had five young pitchers who were the shining light in the organization. Tommy Greene was one of those five pitchers, but he did not stick around, going to the Philadelphia Phillies in the Dale Murphy trade on August 2, 1985. Shanks talks with Greene about his time with the Braves.

SHANKS: Do you remember when you were drafted in 1985?
GREENE: I was a first round pick in the June draft of 85 out of high school. It was something I wanted to happen. I wanted to play pro ball. I spent probably the last two years of my high school career knowing that I might have the opportunity, especially during my senior year. I dedicated myself for that possibility. But I also wanted to earn a college scholarship, to earn my own way since my parents couldn't afford to pay it. When I was a sophomore, we had a second round pick with the Angels. He was a centerfielder by the name of George Threadgill. Then also we had a shortstop drafted by the Baltimore Orioles organization in the 20th round. He decided to go to Clemson. His name was Chuck Baldwin. He was an All-ACC. That's sort of the way scouting goes. You go see one kid and find another one.

SHANKS: When you got to Pulaski – your rookie year – was their any pressure being a first round pick?
GREENE: Well people look at you as a bonus baby. But I was completely worn out. I probably threw more innings than most of those guys threw all year except maybe for maybe a couple of guys. I threw 125 innings in my senior year of high school. Then I threw like 70 more in rookie ball and 35 more in the Instructional League. So I threw over 230 innings as an 18-year-old, which was a lot for a kid, especially when you haven't gotten on a program.

SHANKS: When did you get with Leo?
GREENE: The following year. 1986. They sent him down to work with some of the young guys since we had some good arms there between me and Kevin Coffman and Gary Eave. They had some young talent there.

SHANKS: What was Leo like before he was Leo Mazzone?
GREENE: Leo was a dear friend of mine, especially back then. He didn't cut corners or sugarcoat it whatsoever. They were trying to get that fire out of me. A controlled aggression was what I needed. With young guys, some guys get it and some don't. They didn't know if I was ever going to get that aggression. Jim Beauchamp was trying to get me that way too, to light a fire in me so I wouldn't back down from situations.

SHANKS: So were you just a laid-back country boy from North Carolina?
GREENE: Yea just a big ole country boy. There's nothing wrong with that, but to play pro ball you've got to have that fire. Tom Glavine is the epitome of that. Watching him over the years, he never shows it but he pitches with a fire and an aggression. It's that hockey mentality. You've got to be willing to not give in. Some people come quicker. Some guys never get it. That was a big part of my development.

SHANKS: The 1987 season in Greenville was a special season. A lot of players on that team got to Atlanta to win in 1991.
GREENE: In 1986 Pete Smith was there with Glavine, but he was also there with me in 1987. He got to mix with the guys that were a year older, and then the guys that were behind like Kevin Coffman, Gary Eave, and me. Mercker was drafted in 86. Gary pitched a little in Atlanta at one time. Kevin and I came up together. Then up in Richmond, Mercker and Lilliquist was there. Glavine was always a step ahead of me. Justice and I broke in together. He was my roommate in 88. As a matter of fact, he introduced me to my wife. He said, "I got somebody you need to meet." He knew me just about as well as anybody. He knew the type of person I was. We've always had that common bond.

SHANKS: That Greenville team had a big part of the core.
GREENE: Drew Denson was there. Lemke was there. Blauser went up with Glavine. He might have come down at one time. Ed Whited, Alex Smith, and Dennis Hood were all there. Greg Tubbs and Gant were at second. I don't think Lemke was there yet. See I bypassed the Carolina League. They didn't want to put me in that ballpark in Durham. They wanted me to stay with Leo. They wanted him to be with the young guys.

SHANKS: Was it an honor that they did feel that strongly about you guys to promote you as a young gun?
GREENE: Yea but you sort of knew that they were heading toward a youth movement. You almost knew they were going to use one or two of us in a trade to get some quality everyday big league players to better their team. Now that I look back at it, they had us stockpiled where they could do that. Most of their talent is coming from within, but you don't see that too much anymore.

SHANKS: They knew all of you weren't going to make it at the same time?
GREENE: Not everybody develops at the same rate. Some people mature quicker than others. That was the big thing with me. I got it a little bit later, more so later than they were looking for. But there are other teams that can give you an opportunity who are willing to take a chance maybe on a good arm. Hopefully, you'll mature and turn into something special.

SHANKS: So were you surprised when they traded you in 1990?
GREENE: Not really. As a matter of fact, I sort of wanted it at the time. I knew that I was getting pushed back with Avery and Mercker around. They were the young guys coming and they were left-handed too. I was a right-hander who threw hard, but I just didn't have the consistency yet with my breaking ball. With the type of breaking ball Leo wanted me to throw, I just couldn't grasp it. You're not going to survive on just a fastball up there.

SHANKS: Did you have a chance in the spring of 1990 to make the Atlanta roster?
GREENE: I broke camp with the team in 90. Back in 1988, my first big league camp with Chuck Tanner, I was told basically through a conversation my agent had with them, that I had a chance to make that team. If I had a good spring, I possibly could have made the team then. I was coming off a season in Greenville when I was the most consistent pitcher on the team. I finished up pretty decent. I took that mentality into the spring and gave up only one run in 27 innings for the whole spring, walked one guy, and punched out twenty-something batters, and thought I had a chance to hold on and at least last through the last part of the spring with them, and I was one of the first players they sent down. I look back on that and it had a big effect on me mentally. I had my worst year in Richmond that year. I had a salty taste in my mouth. I thought I should have been someplace else.

SHANKS: Did they tell you why?
GREENE: Well I know why I just wasn't consistent enough. I just wasn't good enough. I just wasn't ready. But still as a young kid, you don't see stuff like that at that time. Leo was happy with me during the spring, but I just wasn't consistent enough. A lot of people play AAA that never get a shot at the big leagues that should. They get stuck behind people or rub people the wrong way and don't get the opportunity. It's a learning process you have to go through. I won every year coming up through the minor leagues except in AAA ball. I had success.

SHANKS: But your numbers in 89 in AAA were good.
GREENE: Yea I was at the top of the league in shutouts and strikeouts, but I had a losing record. That's indicative of pitching in tight ballgames a lot. I'd just come out on the short end of the deal.

SHANKS: Weren't there rumors at times of making you a closer?
GREENE: There was a possibility. I heard that. To me, there's a special breed that do that job. My mentality at that time wasn't made for that. The only relief appearance I ever made was when I was sent down in 1990. After I made the team I was sent back and then I went back up and I pitched and when they sent me back down they gave my number to Avery when they called him up. He and I switched spots. They gave him my number and that was my tail-tail sign that I had to do it my way. I had to do what was in my best interest. I learned a lot from Leo. He wanted me to throw that curve ball like Smoltz did back then. He had a good one. Duane Ward was one that threw that real hard curve ball. I couldn't ever grasp it. He wanted to teach me the theory behind throwing a slider, a little shorter breaking ball that I can control a little better off my fastball. He taught me the theory behind it, but he never would let me throw it. I did what they told me to do. I was a gullible guy. I didn't rock the boat, at least up until that time in 90 when they sent me down. I was going to do it my way then. Bedrock came in with his good slider when he came into the organization. It was a true slider. It broke box six inches left and right horizontal and six inches up and down vertically. So it breaks both planes when it breaks and gets off that hitting plane. That's what Bedrock had. Leo taught me the theory behind it, but he never wanted me to throw it. We kept working on the breaking ball to change speeds. I didn't throw a change that much. In high school, all I needed was a high school and I located well.

SHANKS: Did you need that trade to the Phillies to get you going?
GREENE: Yea. When I went down in 1990 back to Richmond, they had been rained out a few days. Leo had been called up to the big leagues and Dal Canton had been sent down to Richmond. I was working with Bruce. He was my big league pitching coach when I got there in 89. That's when I started throwing that slider. After my first big league start, I did ok. I pitched five innings or so and got a no decision. Bruce told me the next day when we went out there early, "Let's go out and play catch a little bit." It was just me and him in front of the dugout and he was talking to me. He said, "Tommy you really need a breaking ball that you can throw for a strike. You need to shorten up that breaking ball. Have you ever thrown a slider?" I said, "No but Leo's taught me the theory behind it." He said, "Well let's play catch and just try to make it go right to left and change the spin on the ball a little bit and make it cut. Let's play catch." So we worked on it. He said, "I don't want you to throw it in any games until I feel like you're ready to do it." So we worked on it a little bit, and the next start in L.A. against Ramon Martinez, we had a 0-0 ballgame and I ended up giving up three runs in the 7th. I pitched a good ballgame, but I didn't use it that night. Then the next time in Atlanta against Houston, Dal Canton said, "Ok why don't you break that out tonight? I don't want you to think about throwing it for a strike. I want you to think about bouncing it." So I did it. I used it in situations to throw it off my fastball. I pitched a three-hit shutout for my first big league win. The season ended and I thought I did ok at the end of the 89 season. I had a chance to break the season with them and then we had the lockout. I thought I had a chance to be one of the starters, but they put me in the pen in 1990. I had never had any experience in the pen. I didn't know how to do anything. The spring was so short with the lockout, and nobody worked with me on the mentality to get ready for it. I didn't know how to get myself loose. If you're up two or three times before you go, you can throw a full game in the pen. But when they sent me down to Richmond in 1990, I think we were playing the Clippers. Beach talked to me on the field. I had just got there late from Atlanta. He asked me if I was available to pitch tonight. I said, "Yea I haven't thrown in four days." He said, "How do you feel about throwing out of the pen?" I said, "Fine. Whatever you need me for, I'll be there." Then Bruce came up to me and said, "Well they wanted me to come tell you that they don't want you to throw the slider. They want you to throw the curveball." I said, "I'm going to make it easy on you Bruce. Tell them that I'm going to throw what the hell I want to throw." I don't know if he did or not, but I wanted to do what I wanted to do and what I wanted to throw.

SHANKS: Why didn't they want you to throw the slider?
GREENE: I never really spent time with Leo to ask him about that. Back then, especially being a young pitcher, they were scared of me hurting my elbow. But if you throw a slider right, your elbow doesn't come into play. I never had any elbow problems. My problems were always with the shoulder, which I wish to hell I had elbow problems. These days they rebuild the elbow and make them stronger and stronger to where you're like the Bionic Man throwing five miles harder. But that right there was the turning point. When I pitched that night, I pitched two innings and struck out five. I didn't give up anything out of the pen that night. Then I started starting. I had a 1-something ERA for the next month while I was there.

SHANKS: When you went to the Phillies, you needed somebody to hand you the chance.
GREENE: Well, yea, cause when I got traded over they didn't send me directly to Phily. They sent me to Scranton. I had to meet the team out in Oklahoma City. They were on that Oklahoma City – Denver trip. We had just made that trip with Richmond. I couldn't believe I had to pitch out there again. Jim Wright was the pitching coach, and I had met him when he'd come into town with the Phillies. I knew him. He was such a nice guy. He's a gentle giant. He's just one of the greatest guys I've met. We threw on the side. He said he had been keeping up with me. He said, "You're throwing the ball as well as you've ever thrown it." We worked a little bit. My first game in Denver I hit 94, 95 on the low gun.

SHANKS: Did they let you throw your slider?
GREENE: Yeah. I told Jim what I had done and what had happened. I was going to do what I thought I needed to do. I got where I could throw it behind in counts for strikes. It looked like my heater and then it would break. Then I got to the point where I could change speeds off of it a little bit. I got to where I could have thrown it in my sleep. They say if you throw both the curve and the slider, both will become mediocre. It didn't do that to me. If anything it taught me a little bit about how I should turn my curveball and how I should throw my curveball a little bit. I knew how to throw each pitch. My curveball got a little more consistent. I didn't have to use it to throw a strike. I could use it not to throw a strike with. I could bounce it. The key to pitching is pitching ahead. I started realizing that and I had a pitch I could throw for strikes. After that game, I got called up to Phily. Johnny Podres was my pitching coach in Phily. He told me he wanted me in his rotation. I just wanted to pitch in the big leagues. I had done enough.

SHANKS: What was it like in 91 when Glavine and Pete and Smoltz were finally taking off?
GREENE: I let it be a fuel for me. When I got the opportunity to pitch against Atlanta, I wanted to pitch well. I wanted to be apart of that, but the one I really feel bad for is Murph. I would have rather seen Murphy there and for him to have an opportunity to get to the World Series again.

SHANKS: Could you tell it bothered him?
GREENE: I knew his heart was in Atlanta. That's where he had been for his entire career. But Murph's such a genuine, great guy. He's the nicest man in baseball. He knew what I was going through. When the 91 season rolled around I started the year in the pen. They geared me up to start all spring. They had stretched me out to start. They had a young staff with Pat Combs, Jose DeJesus, Jason Grimsley, and Terry Mulholland. They wanted to add a veteran and left-handed presence in there so they brought in Dave LaPoint. So they used me as a long guy in the pen in case somebody got in trouble. To my dismay, I had more innings in the first month that every starter. Fregosi had taken over. I ended up making a spot start for Jose DeJesus against the Giants. I gave up like 2 hits in 6 innings. We won that game and then they put me back in the pen. A couple of weeks later, Danny Cox, who ended up being a starter, pulled a groin. Fregosi came up to me and said, "You're going to have at least three starts." I said, "Whatever you need skip." Well my first game out is when I threw the no-hitter. Probably the game I'm most proud of was the next start against Montreal. I threw a three-hit shutout back in Phily and didn't walk anyone. I walked seven batters in the no-hitter. I probably took the Braves mentality in that I didn't give up anything to them. I didn't back down. I just didn't give in. Glavine and those guys don't give in either. They want to establish the outside part of the plate and go inside when they have to. To those guys, I wanted to pitch in. Calderon came out and said I was scared to pitch to him. I just wasn't giving in. I didn't care who they were. So that very next start, I punched nine out. I draw off everything I learned from Leo. I try to keep my kids that. The mentality, the fire, and it's all right to get a little pissed off out there but you've got to control it and try not to show it.

SHANKS: Sometimes it just takes a little longer for the light to come on.
GREENE: Yeah. After I started having some success, Fregosi told me that success breads confidence. He said he was going to give me the ball every five days. I had the opportunity in Atlanta but I couldn't quite keep my foot in the door. I just wasn't consistent enough. Next time around I was able to keep my foot in the door and not let it shut on me.

SHANKS: Was it in 92 when you had some arm troubles?
GREENE: Yea. It was tendonitis. It was indicative of my arm troubles later. After that year, I dedicated myself and got a personal trainer. I worked really hard in the offseason.

SHANKS: What was it like to play against the Braves in the playoffs?
GREENE: It was beautiful. It was an opportunity for them to look at and see what they missed out on. That was the mentality I had. I talked with Leo a little bit during the course of that season. He told me that he had told Bobby, "I wish we had kept him." But I needed it. It worked out best for me. It was a blessing. I would have loved to have stayed with the Braves since that's who I came up with, but how many players do that now? So for somebody like Smoltz to stay as long as he has done there is great. I hated to see Glavine leave. To me, they're Atlanta baseball. It was hard for me to go to the playoffs and World Series and me be in another organization. Mercker was in my wedding and I was in his wedding. He gave me tickets to go to the World Series. But when we played them in 93, the biggest thing to me was seeing 65,000 fans in Philadelphia doing the chop. Ben Rivera was with me too. We had the same fire about it. We wanted to do well against our old team. I think that's the way you need to take it as a player. It's fuel for the fire. If I stayed healthy, I would have gone back to pitch there because I loved the organization.

SHANKS: Didn't you sign with the Braves in 98?
GREENE: I went back to spring training with them. I called Leo and they talked to Bobby. I had surgery in 97. I went to Houston and got back to the big leagues with them. I was hurting though. I had lost like 10 miles an hour. I was throwing like 86-87. But I learned how to pitch even though I was hurting. It was all shoulder. The doctor was upset with what he found. They could have prevented it if they had seen it in my first surgery. That was my third surgery.

SHANKS: Are you doing anything in baseball now?
GREENE: I'm involved with my son a lot. He's 13-years old.

Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team is available online at amazon.com and at Barnes and Noble Bookstores throughout the country. Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com.


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