.WHERE ARE THEY NOW
By Jessica Quiroli
When right-hander Tommy Greene was in the Atlanta Braves minor league system, the club’s higher-ups told him to concentrate on throwing his curve, and not the slider. “Leo Mazzone thought it was detrimental to the elbow. He’d tell me to get a handle of my off-speed stuff, that it was the key for me.”
Eventually, Greene decided to stand his ground. “I had to make a decision not to please everybody. The type of guy I was, I always wanted to please everyone else. I was a kid who didn’t cause trouble. But I saw my life as a player and knew I needed to make a decision.”
Greene remembers the moment and how he asserted himself to the men he respected so much. “I told them, ‘I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, but I’m gonna make it easy. Tell them I’m gonna throw what I wanna throw.’ From then on I led the league.”
Growing up in Lumberton, North Carolina, Greene had a very special coach - his grandmother. “She was the first person to catch me. I didn’t want to hurt her so what it did was made me go around the plate more. She caught me until I was thirteen.”
After being selected 14th in the first round of the 1985 draft, Greene spent several years developing in Atlanta farm system. In 1990, while playing for the Richmond Braves, he heard rumors that Dale Murphy might be traded. He didn’t believe it, but got a shock after a game when boarding the bus to Toledo. As the veteran on the team, he sat at the back of the bus, and was the last to get on that evening. Someone asked him if he’d heard about Murphy being traded, and that the trade included a player to be named later. Manager Jim Beachum told him, “Greenie, it’s you.”
“It was time for me to make a new start. I was pitching with fire and a little anger, and Leo really tried to get that out of me.” That fire would help him fit right in group of guys he was about to join - the Philadelphia Phillies.
Greene is quick to defend the Philly faithful, who are known to “boo Santa Claus.” “I always liked pitching in front of the hometown crowd. They are good sports fans. They aren’t gonna sugar-coat it for you. I’d stay and hang out with them for two or three hours, signing autographs…I wasn’t like [Darren] Daulton, [John] Kruk or [Lenny] Dykstra, who were more popular.”
In 1991 he finished the season with a 3.38 ERA, with three complete games in 207 innings pitched. Though he started 1992 with Reading, and wound up at Scranton due to an injury, he would return later that season. Injuries would be an issue throughout Greene’s career, but he would experience a remarkable season in 1993.
When Spring Training of 1993 began, the Phils immediately felt a connection. “We had that camaraderie. We had our spats, but what we did well was pick each other up. We just had a good bunch that jelled together. We had a good clubhouse and a good leader in Daulton.”
Greene, who started the regular season 10-0, finished 16-4, with a 3.42 ERA, and a career-high seven complete games. He started against his old Braves club, in the clinching game of the National League Championship Series.
Of winning that game, against eventual Cy Young winner Greg Maddux, Greene said it was, “a sweet thing...a real kidney punch to them.”
He describes the ’93 Philadelphia team as, “loose, but structured,” calling them “gypsies, tramps and thieves.” But he said the team worked hard to accomplish what they did: “People related to us. We had fun, but we also got there early and stayed late.”
The Toronto Blue Jays became champions, on a World Series Game Six, walk-off three-run home run for the ages by Joe Carter. The agony of the moment was intensified by the media and fan reaction that followed. Still questioned is Jim Fregosi’s decision to close with the struggling Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams.
“Mitch got the job done all year, with 43 saves,” says Greene. “He’ll be the first to tell you it wasn’t always pretty, but he was doing the best he could. It just didn’t work out the way we wanted. We should have won that thing. But you gotta tip your hat to the guys across the field from you.”
As for second-guessers, Greene says “[Fregosi] got a lot of flack for [using Williams]. We were all available. I was up in the pen. People asked him, ‘Why didn’t you get Greenie up?’ When they came to me I told them, ‘That’s not my job. That’s Mitch’s job.’ He was our closer, and that’s the way it should be.”
Looking back on that World Series, Greene is left with nothing but good memories, despite the outcome. “The whole United States was pulling for us.”
1994 would not be a repeat of success. “We lived hard and played hard, and we got punished in the end. We had a lot of injuries and things. We all paid a price.” The consistency, he said, was just not there. Over the next several seasons Greene struggled to stay healthy, as did many of the guys who made up that pennant-winning team.
In 1996, after signing as a free agent with the Astros, Greene started the season in AAA, and appeared in only two games for Houston, finishing the season with a 7.00 ERA.
Greene retired before the 10-year mark, something he wanted to avoid. “I tried to go the 10 years to get my pension. Unfortunately due to injuries, it just didn’t work out.”
In the years following, he went into the mortgage business and worked in his wife’s real estate agency. But, Greene said, “I’m a sports guy. Whatever I can do to help kids in this game, I want to do.” With that, Greene was tracked down by old friend Jim Beauchamp’s son, Kash, who wanted him for his the Northern League New Jersey Jackals club.
After coaching the young Jackals’ pitchers and doubling as the team’s designated hitter, Greene went back to working with his wife, investing in properties, and spending more time with their young son. “I really was trying to find my right niche. I regret not going to college, but I don’t think a degree is what it all comes down to. It also comes down to the right situation and the right people. It’s just like that in baseball.”
Always thinking in terms of baseball, and when the next opportunity was presented to him in 2005, Greene was ready. The job: General Manager the Monroe Channelcats, of the Southern Collegiate Baseball League. “I’ve added a new chapter,” Greene said. “I want to keep my name out there and I want to get with a major league club and be a pitching coach - whatever I can do to help kids in baseball.”
While his name is not the stuff of legends, Greene was part of one of the most popular teams in Philadelphia history, and for a very brief but glorious moment in team history, one that will never be forgetten.
Jessica Quiroli is a freelance baseball writer in Philadelphia, studying screenwriting and for her Bachelor's in English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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