The first minute you lay your eyes on Tommy Hanson at work, you know you're looking at a pitcher. Not just any pitcher, but one staking out his place in the history of the Braves. He got a late start, but that wasn't his fault. He had to hang around with the new farm club at Gwinnett while the Braves came to grips with what to do about Tommy Glavine.
It was a tenuous stretch. Glavine had been shipped to Gwinnett, Mississippi and Rome for test runs, and had not been impressive, so to speak. His departure made space for Hanson at Turner Field, and in early June, Hanson finally made his appearance. He is a patient young fellow and had ruffled no feathers.
His turn came, he picked up the ball and he pitched. If he had arrived earlier, the Braves might have made the playoffs, for after the middle of July, they had one of the best records in the league. One major reason was Hanson, who checked in and never missed a beat. As it was, he still finished third in "Rookie of the Year" balloting with his record of 11-4.
"I'm sorry about Tom (Glavine), but I was just following orders," he said, cooling off after one of those days at the preseason preview session, appropriately named Camp Roger for the pitching coach Roger McDowell.
"His best trait is his competitiveness," McDowell said. "He competes like a veteran."
His best pitch? "All of them," he said. "Fastball, slider, anything he sets his mind to he can throw it. He's working at developing a change-up now."
He's a beauty to watch at work. He takes his place on the mound, squares off to face the batter and delivers the pitch with no wasted body movement, takes his stance again and repeats.
Let it be said, without being cruel, he's a picture of grace against the wriggling, squirming, pawing action of the now departed Mike Gonzalez.
Hanson is a product of lower California, from Redlands, situated between San Bernardino and the San Gabriel Mountains. He was signed out of Redlands Community College, apparently sniffed out by a "bird-dog" scout named Tony Batista. He survived until the 22nd round of the draft, but the Braves saw enough in him to invest a $325,000 bonus.
He strikes an imposing figure when he takes to the mound, rising to a height of 6 feet, 6 inches, slender as a Georgia pine and as deliberately composed as a veteran. When the cap comes off, a topping of rust red hair punctuates his stature. Then he goes to work with professional maturity.
The last price on a jersey with his name on the back wasn't too high. Better get to the market in a hurry. That price won't be lasting long.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The long-time Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures likes Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.