May 26, 2008


Tom Terrific And His Mystic Talent: The pitching wonders he works did not come swiftly or naturally to Seaver; in fact, the modesty of his skill was the making of the man (Pat Jordan, July 24, 1972, Sports Illustrated)

I don't ever think about it," he says. "Philosophically, that is. Why do I do it? What does it all mean? That doesn't interest me. I only know it excites me. It's the one thing I do in my life that excites me." Tom Seaver, untanned, wearing a gray T shirt and baggy Bermuda shorts, is standing on the sand in Madeira Beach, Fla. He is holding a piece of string to which is attached a kite that is only a speck far off in a cloudless sky. The sky is aswarm with the flap and caw of sea gulls. Big, grayish, heavy-breasted birds, they must beat their wings furiously, stomachs heaving, necks straining forward, so that for one brief moment they can level off and glide with a hard-earned and uncommon grace.

"Aren't they fascinating!" says Seaver. "The way they work at it! I could watch them for hours. I'd love to fly like the gulls. But I can't. So I pitch. If I couldn't pitch I'd do something else. It wouldn't bother me much. But if I could pitch and I wasn't, that would bother me. That would bother me a lot.

"Pitching is what makes me happy. I've devoted my life to it. I live my life around the four days between starts. It determines what I eat, when I go to bed, what I do when I'm awake. It determines how I spend my life when I'm not pitching. If it means I have to come to Florida and can't get tanned because I might get a burn that would keep me from throwing for a few days, then I never go shirtless in the sun. If it means when I get up in the morning I have to read the box scores to see who got two hits off Bill Singer last night instead of reading a novel, then I do it. If it means I have to remind myself to pet dogs with my left hand or throw logs on the fire with my left hand, then I do that, too. If it means in the winter I eat cottage cheese instead of chocolate chip cookies in order to keep my weight down, then I eat cottage cheese. I might want those cookies but I won't ever eat them. That might bother some people but it doesn't bother me. I enjoy the cottage cheese. I enjoy it more than I would those cookies because I know it will help me do what makes me happy.

"Life isn't very heavy for me. I've made up my mind what I want to do. I'm happy when I pitch well so I only do those things that help me be happy. I wouldn't be able to dedicate myself like this for money or glory, although they are certainly considerations. If I pitch well for 15 years I'll be able to give my family security. But that isn't what motivates me. What motivates some pitchers is to be known as the fastest who ever lived. Some want to have the greatest season ever. All I want is to do the best I possibly can day after day, year after year. Pitching is the whole thing for me. I want to prove I'm the best ever."

Tom Seaver is the youngest pitcher in the history of baseball to sign a contract for more than $100,000 a season. He has averaged 19 victories a year for the New York Mets. At the age of 27, after five full seasons in the major leagues, he had won 95 ball games. Walter Johnson, who won more games than any pitcher in this century, won only 80 in his first five seasons. Grover Cleveland Alexander, second to Johnson, won 70 games by the time he reached his 27th birthday; Sandy Koufax, 68; Bob Gibson, 34; Warren Spahn, 29.

Thomas George Seaver has one of those smooth, boyish. Middle American faces that would be a burden to some men. He possesses the handsomeness so prized in the 1950s of Pat Boone and Tab Hunter. It is a temptation to describe his face as having too little character when you would more rightly mean too few characteristics. It is a face of undistinguished parts, which are subordinate only to a single clear impression of uncluttered good looks.

Seaver stands 6'½" and weighs 210 pounds from November to February when he indulges himself with an occasional breakfast of fried eggs and beer, and he weighs 205 pounds from March to October when he allows himself no fried eggs and beer. He has a squarish, heavy-chested body that tends to fat but is deceptively muscled. His arms, shoulders, chest and thighs are thick with muscles acquired from years of lifting weights. He believes, unlike most pitchers and coaches, that a selective program of weight lifting will add speed to a pitcher's fastball. As a high school senior in Fresno, Calif. he stood 5'9" and weighed 160 pounds. He was the third-hardest thrower on his team. He did not pick up speed until he began lifting weights in college and had grown three inches and put on 30 pounds. Because he has worked so diligently in developing those parts of his body that relate to his talent, Seaver is highly critical—one might almost say contemptuous—of less conscientious players. He will say of a teammate whose chest is noticeably undeveloped, "Do you know he hit 20 balls to the warning track last year! Twenty! Another 10 feet and they would have been home runs. I know I'd find the strength to hit those balls another 10 feet."

Although he is not conscious of it, Seaver shows his disdain for men who he feels have not fulfilled their potential. For Seaver, a man's talent is not just a part of the man. It is the whole man, or at the very least a mirror of the whole man. Treating one's talent carelessly is indicative of a weakness in character. He once said of a former pitcher who was reputed to have dissipated a promising career, "What a fool he must be. To throw it all away like that. If you don't think baseball is a big deal, don't play it. But if you do, play it right." Seaver avoids such men, as if their weakness were a contagious disease. He prefers the company of people like Bud Harrelson and Jerry Grote, fellow Mets who have made the fullest use of their talents, no matter how meager.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 26, 2008 10:39 PM

I came of age as a baseball fan at the very start of Seaver's career. When I was 9, my Dad kept me home from school and took me to see Seaver pitch an afternoon game against San Diego, where he struck out a then-record 19 batters (the last 10 in a row!). About 15 years later, I bought the tickets and took my Dad to see Tom Terrific win his 300th game against the Yankees. Seaver iced that game by striking out Dave Winfield with runners in scoring position on a change up that probably was no more than 60 mph. Winfield could have swung at it 3 times in during its flight to the plate (like Bugs Bunny's famous slow ball).

A boy of OJ's and my generation could have hardly had a better baseball hero than Tom Seaver.

Posted by: Foos at May 28, 2008 9:35 AM