When I heard Wednesday night that Tom Seaver had died, I found myself thinking about New York a lot. That happens often these days.
I love this city — born, raised, still live here. I am a child of the 1970s and I hear so many comparisons to those times re-emerging. About financial shortfalls, rising crime, flight to the suburbs. New York had a reputation then as a scary place, one in decay, one that could be scoffed at by outsiders, one that could be told to Drop Dead by our president.
We were graffiti and chain snatching. We were a national shorthand for urban decay. We had little to hold onto that made us feel special. But we had Tom Seaver.
If you were a kid then, you had Seaver and Clyde Frazier and Joe Namath. So you dropped and drove when you pitched, wore suede Pumas to the hoop and faked a limp if you were playing quarterback. I wasn’t even a Mets or Jets fan and still Seaver and Namath belonged to me growing up in the Bayview Projects in Brooklyn. The rest of the country could sneer, but we had the best pitcher and the coolest quarterback and guard.
Seaver showed up every few days on Channel 9, somehow combining regality with brute force. He and his wife, Nancy, were our Kennedys. They were the first family of the City and they weren’t even from here.
So imagine how I felt when Seaver got traded to the team that I did root for, the Reds. Imagine how I felt the day I played center field and Seaver pitched. Imagine how I felt, when he knew my name and answered my questions and confided in me. After all, I loved growing up in that New York for all that was wrong with it and when I think about it, I don’t think about the stereotypes of the time. I think about Seaver.
When the Reds obtained Seaver in June of 1977, a City wept. And I understood it. But for me it was a great day — think of it like finding out your favorite team acquired Patrick Mahomes. Seaver was that great. When almost a year to the day later he threw the no-hitter for the Reds that he never could quite complete as a Met, I remember being shunned by my friends who were Met fans. How could that not happen in New York?
I became the Yankee beat writer for this paper in 1989, the same year that Seaver joined the WPIX broadcast booth. In May of 1990, then Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan, who also owned WFAN, organized a media game at the Kingdome. Seaver pitched for us and Phil Rizzuto was our manager — literally the first time he was on the field at the Kingdome, which had been opened for more than a decade. I stood in center field and watched Seaver pitch. Can you imagine how many times I imagined that as a kid? The opposing team had a bunch of guys from the Seattle front office not far out of the minors and they were hitting Seaver around a bit. You could suddenly see Seaver, 45 at that point, not like it. He struck out three in a row, walked to the dugout, walked up the tunnel and he was gone.
Later in that season when it became obvious George Steinbrenner, on his way into a suspension, was going to name a new general manager, Seaver was interested. And one day that August in the press room at a Yankee Stadium that doesn’t exist any longer, Seaver sat for 20 minutes with me talking about why the job that ultimately wouldn’t go to him intrigued his baseball intellect. Yep, part of that interview was me looking and thinking Tom Seaver is confiding in me.
Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, Thursday afternoon,…
The last time I spoke to Seaver was March 2015 and it is such a sad memory now because of all of the parties that stirred me to call the greatest player in Met history. The Mets and Marlins were playing a spring game. Matt Harvey was starting. Jose Fernandez watched the game as he was going through the same Tommy John rehab that Harvey already had completed.
I wondered within the NL East if the two young power pitchers might become what Seaver and Bob Gibson once were. When they were the aces of the whole sport, Gibson and Seaver faced each other 11 times — more against each other than anyone else in their Hall of Fame careers.
So I reached out to Seaver. By then, his memory was already iffy and he wasn’t doing much if any media. It meant a lot that he would take my call. First, one of his daughters just asked that I be kind to him should he forget details — of course, I was going to do that. And Seaver was a bit cloudy. But there were moments when it was the 1970s again.
“I don’t remember any starts against No. 4 starters,” Seaver said over the phone that day from his Seaver Vineyards in northern California. “What you remember are the games against Gibson.”
Seaver chuckled that he hated Gibson when they competed against each other, but that in retirement they had become such good friends that “Bob shows up on my doorstep to drink my wine and I can’t get him to leave.”
Seaver talked about needing to be operating at peak efficiency against Gibson. He said, “It is a real test of what you can do. Those starts are the special little corner of your career that you share with someone else who is a master of the craft.” He talked about not hanging one because Gibson wasn’t going to and the game was going to be low scoring and decided by a run or two. And all of a sudden I could see it on WOR on the first color TV my parents saved up to buy and I didn’t care about graffiti or who was fleeing the city. Let them run. We had Seaver.
If you are of a certain age, you’ll always have Seaver.