I don’t know if Jon Lester and Tom Glavine have ever had a conversation of any length, whether at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner Thursday night, around a pre-game batting cage, or at a super-secret Brotherhood of Southpaws meeting at Bill Lee‘s place in Vermont.
I do know that they never faced each other, their careers overlapping by three seasons, in different leagues and at opposite points of their professional evolution.
They do have Boston in common. Glavine is a son of Billerica (and a Globe All-Scholastic!) who played the brunt of his Hall of Fame career with the Atlanta Braves and never did quite fulfill that wish — probably more ours than his by the end — of pitching for the Red Sox someday.
(Remember all those trade rumors when he was struggling to make his name on TBS every fifth day with a lousy Braves team? Wonder how Sox history would be different had, say, Wade Boggs been traded for Glavine and Ron Gant, or however the rumors went.)
Lester is a Tacoma native (the rare and perhaps only Tacoma native with a southern drawl) who grew up professionally and personally here, something he is quick and seemingly proud to acknowledge as he stands a year away from free agency, with unfathomable riches within sight.
“I don’t want to leave that and leave this organization just for a few dollars to try something new. I don’t like new stuff. I don’t like areas, situations I can’t really control,” said Lester Thursday night.
“Since we left Boston [for their offseason home in Atlanta], all my son has talked about is going home to Boston. He says, ‘I want to go home to Boston.’ This is our home. This is what my family knows, this is what we’ve become comfortable with.”
Lester essentially said Thursday night that he knows he’d have to take a “hometown” discount to stay with the Red Sox, and all but acknowledged he’s glad to do it, to the point that I suspect something is done — say, five years and $115 million — before the first pitch of the regular season is delivered.
“These guys are my No. 1 priority,” said Lester. “I want to be here ’til they rip this jersey off my back.
It’s like Pedey [Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox second baseman]. He left a lot of money on the table to stay here. That’s what he wanted to do. I understand that. That’s my choice, that’s his choice.
“I understand that to stay here, you’re not going to get a free-agent deal. You’re not going to do it. You can’t. It’s not possible. You’re bidding against one team. I understand you’re going to take a discount to stay. Do I want to do that? Absolutely.”
Lester’s candid appreciation of his situation is admirable, especially if you’re a Sox fan who believes he’s worthy of an extensions through his mid-30s that might just make him a franchise lifer. (It’s also the kind of thing that makes an agent pull out his hair plugs in frustration.)
But Lester’s comments also make me think of his fellow dinner guest and how differently he handled a fairly similar situation in his career, albeit at a later point in his career. Glavine began and ended his 22-year career in Atlanta. But there was a five-season interlude with the Mets that probably never would have happened had he prioritized comfort over cash.
Maybe I’m putting it too bluntly. In December 2002, Glavine left the Braves for the Mets, signing a three-year, $35 million deal with an option for a fourth year based on an innings-pitched incentive that he met. He was 36, having been a Brave since 1987, when he was 21. It seemed strange that he would depart for New York (Philadelphia was another chief suitor), especially once the Braves agreed to go to a third year.
But there was a perception at the time that Glavine, a prominent figure in the players association, was obligated to take the richest deal no matter where it took him because it would set a bad precedent if he took less money to stay elsewhere.
Despite an ugly performance in his final Mets start, Glavine has always said he never regretted his time in New York, where he went 61-56 with a 3.97 ERA in five seasons. And he probably shouldn’t — he made a lot of money, got to return for one final hurrah in Atlanta in 2008, and cruised into Cooperstown.
But Jon Lester has a chance to do something rare in a time when the temptation of a massive contract — Clayton Kershaw will make $33 million in 2017, $2 million less than Glavine made in the first three years of his Mets’ deal — teeters on the irresistible.
He has a chance to build a permanent baseball home with one franchise for ridiculous money rather than moving elsewhere for slightly more ridiculous money.
It’ll be a different legacy than Glavine’s, a Hall of Famer who chose to wear two teams’ caps. Cooperstown probably isn’t in Lester’s future. But an uninterrupted and admired place in a lone franchise’s lore is a pretty fair consolation prize, and one he seems proud to accept.