On May 23, 1991, Tommy Greene pitched a no-hitter against the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium. It was the quintessential Tommy Greene game – nine innings with 10 strikeouts and seven walks, 130 total pitches, a workhorse’s outing if there ever was. It just so happened that Greene pitched well enough to not surrender any hits. He nibbled and battled, but the Expos couldn’t get past him.
Just five days later, back at home against those same Expos, Greene tossed another shutout, this time surrendering just three hits in a 12-0 blowout. More impressively, he trimmed the walks from seven to zero while still striking out nine. In short he was superb, and for a 24-year-old making his career 24th and 25th starts, the sky was fast becoming the limit.
Greene, who the Phillies acquired along with Dale Murphy midway through 1990 from Atlanta, ended the 1991 season 13-7 with a 3.38 ERA, 154 strikeouts and 66 walks. He carried a sub-3.00 ERA throughout the dog days, inspiring substantial confidence and optimism from Phillies brass, teammates and fans heading in 1992. With staff ace Terry Mulholland, Greene headed into that season a key part of the club’s rotation and, consequently, its future.
Greene pitched well in his first 1992 start. Then, in his second at Shea Stadium, he left the game after three innings and 66 arduous pitches. His third start was a 100-pitch affair in just four innings. He battled to beat a bad Cubs team in his fourth start, then came back with an atrocious six-run, 10-hit outing in five innings against San Diego. Something was wrong.
“It was one of those times when you start having those issues,” said Greene. The issue was with his shoulder, hampering his ability to throw hard, leading to long outings of easy base hits and bad command. A shoulder strain led to a mandated week of rest. His next start against the Giants didn’t go well, either, so a bone scan was scheduled. Greene would hit the disabled list with rotator cuff tendinitis.
And it was a killer. At age 25 Greene was expected to reach a new plateau and contribute to a pitching staff that was becoming younger and stronger. That chance was shut down the moment Greene hit the disabled list. He could’ve taken it hard, but instead he began learning.
“You gotta find out what makes you tick,” he said. “I was just starting to find out what makes my arm tick when it happened. There was nothing I could do about it.”
Greene returned in September and put together six starts – most of them quality starts – receiving help from on-staff trainers. But when the season ended Greene returned home to Virginia and sought Bob Blanton, a certified strength and conditioning specialist. Blanton helped Greene improve his conditioning; more importantly, he helped the right-hander figure out how to stay conditioned through the rigors of a full major league season.
“I was a worker; the way I went about my work I’d come into the offseason wanting to keep in better shape,” Greene said. “I thought no one was going to outwork me. So I didn’t miss a day.”
The offseason paid off. So while 1992 was a lost season, one in which Greene made just 12 starts and made his greatest contributions during garbage time, it gave the pitcher greater clarity, allowed him an opportunity to re-establish his workload and set him up for a better future.
That future was 1993. He started the season strong, at one point throwing five-consecutive complete games. He hit a wall quickly after that, then injured his groin in late-July, but the conditioning help he received in the offseason again paid dividends. Finishing the year strong, Greene ended 1993 with a 16-4 record and 3.42 ERA. Best of all, he pitched 200 innings, establishing himself as the kind of workhorse the Phillies imagined he’d become.
What’s unfortunate is it wouldn’t last. The shoulder would continue to pose challenges for Greene, and he wouldn’t ever rebound, starting just 15 major league games for the rest of his career. He’d try to return but the shoulder kept acting up, serving as an ubiquitous obstacle.
“If you a pitch a lot while hurt, and you get to a point where you’re hurt all the time, you’re not having fun anymore,” he said.
Greene hung up his cleats after a failed tryout with Toronto in 2000. By then he had come to terms with his career. It didn’t work out exactly the way he or the Phillies wished. He didn’t become the staff workhorse over an extended period of time. But he had a no-hitter. He had a good 1991 season. And he had 1993.
And 1993 wouldn’t have happened if not for decisions he made in 1992.