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Remembering Tom Seaver (1945-2020)

There is too much cruel coincidence happening in the world these days. On August 28 Jackie Robinson Day turns out to be the day that actor Chadwick Boseman, 43, who played Robinson in the movie "42," died after a long secret battle with colon cancer.  (To keep his memory vividly alive, check out the YouTube video of Boseman's 2018 Howard University commencement speech). 

 

Then, a few days later on Wednesday Sept 2, moments after sitting in on a fascinating Zoom New York Giants Preservation Society interview with Fresno-based baseball writer Dan Taylor, word comes that Fresno native Tom Seaver, 75, had died after a long illness. 

 
It was in Fresno where Seaver grew up. After a nondescript high school baseball career, he enlisted in a six-month program in the Marines where he grew into his powerful body.

 

He enrolled at Fresno City College where his coach Len Bourdet, a veteran of Iwo Jima and still alive at 94, exclaimed, "He went in as a boy and came back as a man." Another Marine, Seaver's first Mets manager Gil Hodges, loomed as another great influence on him. 

 

(Many thanks to Dan Taylor for these insights - his book on the late great baseball scout George Genovese "A Scout's Report" is required reading for anyone who wants to understand baseball.) 

 
I didn't live in New York when Seaver rocketed to fame as the Mets' 24-year-old 25-game winner for the world champion 1969 Mets. But who didn't know about "Tom Terrific"? He was a crossover star writ large.  Even my mother and most non-baseball-loving mothers knew about Seaver.  

 
So I was thrilled in 1983 to get the assignment of working with him on the instructional book "The Art of Pitching".  I appreciate that Tyler Kepner quoted from it in his warm appreciation in the Sept 4 print NY Times (still available on nytimes.com)

 

1983 was the year Seaver came back to the Mets from the Cincinnati Reds where he had been traded in 1977.  Free agency had arrived in baseball after the 1976 season, and Met management didn't want to re-sign Seaver because . . . well, poor decisions by Mets management haven't changed much over the years. 

 
At 38, Seaver knew he was in the latter stages of his career but he still exuded professional pride and cared deeply about playing the game the right way. I also learned quickly that he could also be a world-class needler.  

 
The best example happened on a freezing late April night at Shea Stadium. Seaver was pitching in shirt sleeves - if his uni top were a buttoned variety (and not a grotesque polyester pullover), the top button would have been opened, his longtime homage to Willie Mays. 

 
In the stands behind home plate, yours truly was dressed for the Arctic - heavy winter coat, thick scarf, and knitted cap pulled down over most of my face. 

 
Seaver wound up throwing a three-hit shutout and I congratulated him after the game.  "I saw you," he said. "You looked like Nanook of Israel." Nanook was my nickname from then on.

 
I have another fond early memory from working on the book in spring training.  He rented a lovely beach house on the ocean near St. Petersburg. One afternoon he took me on a drive to a building I must see near Clearwater Beach. "It may be the largest structure in the world," he said.  

 
I was indeed impressed because it was two blocks long and two blocks wide.  Finding out the location of that house has become a kind of Rosebud sled for me.  If anyone knows, please use the contact form on this website. (And BTW I'm interested in who Sweet-Lou is who entered a wonderful comment on my last blog.)

 

Like most baseball fans, I was shocked when the Mets didn't protect him in the professional free agent compensation draft in the winter of 1983. There again Mets management shooting  itself in the leg.  

 
So Seaver wound up with the White Sox where he pitched creditably in 1984 and 1985. Which leads me to my last memorable experience with #41. 

 
I covered Phil Rizzuto Day in August 1985 for WBAI Radio at Yankee Stadium. It turned out to be Tom Seaver's 300th MLB victory - he earned it on his first try, another sign of his greatness under pressure.  

 
After the game I talked briefly to Tom's father, Charles Seaver, a great golfer in his day who also played football and basketball at Stanford. I saw first-hand that the athletic genes and love of competition ran deeply in the Seaver family.  

 
So did the love of art and architecture. Seaver's late brother, also named Charles, was a sculptor. And Tom often went to museums on the road, occasionally corralling a teammate or two to join him.  

 
I just read a wonderful reminiscence on line from a neighbor near the winery in Calistoga where he spent his happiest years after baseball as the proprietor of GTS Vineyards.  To his friends in northern California, he was simply "Tom who used to play baseball."  

 
I am glad that his suffering is over but he will certainly be missed. George Thomas Seaver will certainly not be forgotten. Though he took great pride in these numbers, he was far more than 311-205 .winning percentage .603, and remarkable walk-strikeout ratio 1390-3640.  

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77th Birthday Thoughts As Mets Limp Home to Celebrate Golden Anniversary of 1969 Triumph

The disappointing Mets will stumble back to CitiField this weekend to face the surging first-place Braves. I, for one, didn't expect much of this year's Mets because of holes in the lineup, mediocre defense, and a bullpen that matches my Orioles for ineptitude (and that means trouble right here in East River City).    

 
Forgive me a little reference to "The Music Man" because I've just completed my trombone year of 76 and start walking 77 Sunset Strip as I type this blog.  (If any dear readers want to lend Kookie Kookie a comb, please do -and while you're at it, send along a tape of Efrem Zimbalist's Sr. great violin playing.)   

 
A golden anniversary year like the Mets are celebrating brings back many memories. Kudos to the Met organization for selling some tickets to the ESPN Sunday night game at 1969 prices.

 
I was still living in Baltimore on June 27, 1969 after one year of teaching at Goucher College, just north of Baltimore. For my first Baltimore birthday I treated myself to the Birds playing the defending World Series Tigers.  

 
It was a steamy Friday on Bethlehem Steel night.  The factories were still brimming in Charm City and the steelworkers brought along a contraption placed behind the outfield fence that blasted smoke into the stifling humid air every time the Orioles did something good.   

 
Funny how memory can be deceptive. I was sure that the Birds annihilated former Cy Young award-winner Denny McLain in a rout. And that damned boiler gizmo added more hot air into the already stifling atmosphere.  

 

Thanks to a glance at retrosheet.org - SABR's indispensable guide to virtually every box score ever -, the Orioles did take an early lead and beat Detroit 4-1 behind Dave McNally's complete-game 5-hitter. But it was hardly a rout.

 
McLain did pitch the next night in a loss and didn't get out of the 6th inning but that too wasn't exactly an annihilation.  The Tigers wound up winning 90 games in 1969 but still finished far behind the Orioles, winners of 109 games.


The Birds were fated to meet the Mets in the World Series and lose in five games after beating Tom Seaver in Game One in Baltimore.  I attended Game Two in the right field upper deck nosebleeds and I have to admit like most New Yorkers (except for those sullen Yankee fans living through a rare dark decade of non-contention), I was rooting for a Mets victory.   


I reasoned it would be a good thing for the city of New York and the country itself.  It was the height of anti-Vietnam war opposition amidst Richard Nixon's succession to the Presidency earlier in 1969. 

 
If you want to relive that time, I highly recommend Wayne Coffey's new book from Crown Archetype:  "They Said It Couldn't Be Done: The '69 Mets, New York City, And The Most Astounding Season In Baseball History."  

 

It recreates very well the magical year where the Mets scored only 15 runs more than their hapless maiden version of 1962 but wound up winning it all. Ace Tom Seaver was so exuberant that he even took out an ad saying that if Mets could win World Series, America could end Vietnam war.

 
Coffey is a veteran columnist and reporter for the New York "Daily News".  Among his prior books are "The Boys of Winter" (about the USA hockey team that upset the Russians at the 1980 Winter Olympics) and "Wherever I Wind Up," his collaboration with former Mets Cy Young award-winner R. A. Dickey on his memoir.  

 
I felt drawn into this book from the opening epigraphs, quotes from Booker T. Washington and St. Francis Assisi.  Some of the baseball material will not be new to ardent Mets fans. But Coffey has done new interviews with pitcher Jerry Koosman - Tom Seaver's too-often neglected second banana -, Ed Kranepool, and probably the last interview with the Mets' platoon-third baseman and poet in residence Ed Charles.

 

Too many other of the Mets' 1969 heroes are gone now, starting with manager Gil Hodges who left us so shockingly of a heart attack on the dawn of the strike-delayed 1972 season.  Tom Seaver's ongoing battle with dementia caused by lyme disease will keep him away from this weekend's festivities.

 

Of the quartet of key AfricanAmerican Mets core players, only Cleon Jones remains. He remains actively involved in restoring his Mobile, Alabama neighborhood of Africatown, the last port where slave ships arrived. His friend and neighbor Tommy Agee is gone as in the mid-1969 acquisition, slugging first baseman Donn Clendenon.

 

Happily, they all come back to life on Coffey's pages.  We learn such new details (new at least to me) that Clendenon turned down a bigtime college football scholarship to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta. A person serving as his unofficial big brother made the recommendation, . . . the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  

 

"They Said" is also enhanced by the still-vivid memories of Mets broadcasters Gary Cohen and Howie Rose both of whom like Coffey were teenagers in that special year of 1969.

 

My only criticism of Coffey's book is that there is no index.  A work of this quality needed one.

 

Well, that's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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