Tom Seaver and Me
The publishing info:
Post Hill Press/Simon & Schuster
Released May 26, 2020
The review in 90 feet or less
When you’ve come to trust the honest, reflective storytelling of Pat Jordan – his 1975 bio “A False Spring,” followed by the 1999 “A Nice Tuesday” would be a general baseline — it’s an easy sell when a book of his somewhat pops up with little advanced notice on the subject of his relationship with a Hall of Fame pitcher.
For us, it’s his 1973 book, “The Suitors of Spring,” that we pick up once and awhile and can easily enjoy again — character studies Jordan, a self-proclaimed free-lancer had been selling to Sports Illustrated about some of the game’s famous pitchers. There’s a chapter on Tom Seaver called “To Fly Like The Gulls” amidst profiles that try to figure out Bo Belinski, Steve Dalkowski, Johnny Sain, Sam McDowell and others of interest during that time frame.
The Seaver profile is directly connected to a July 24, 1972 issue of Sports Illustrated that allowed Jordan six pages of valued space for him to size up Seaver. In “Tom Terrific and his Mystic Talent,” Jordan pulls from two extensive interviews he did with Seaver at his home in the fall of ’71 and during spring training of ’72. He sizes up Seaver as a deep thinker, one whose talents did not come naturally, who learned the value of hard work from growing up in Fresno, who figured out what made him happy, what he could control, and what he didn’t care about controlling. A lot of it was counter to what Jordan was experiencing.
(Two years later, when Jordan wrote another SI profile, this time on Bert Blyleven, the fact that he couldn’t help but compare him to Seaver kind of showed how much an impact was made from the previous bio).
Connecting more dots, it can be deducted that Jordan’s granular examinations of what makes major-league pitchers sail or fail is born from his own trajectory of a pitching career — a rising star from his Little League and high school days, where people would come from miles away just to watch him, then signing a $50,000 bonus in 1958 with the Milwaukee Braves based on the belief his remarkable fastball could get him places, only to lose it after just more than three years in the low minor leagues.
“A False Spring” is his account of how that pro journey went for him. “A Nice Tuesday” is his attempt to make a comeback at age 56 in such a Bouton-esque way.
With this, “Tom Seaver and Me” allows the 79-year-old Jordan to reflect on how and why he and Seaver connected in the first place some 50 years ago, and why there is now a disconnect by neither of their choices.
In March of 2019, the Seaver’s family disclosed publicly what Jordan had sensed first hand for the last few years prior. Seaver, who will turn 76 in November, was suffering from dementia and would not be making any more public appearances. They had been said before that the effects of Lyme disease that was causing him to have memory problems. With that announcement it was clear Seaver would not be participating in any 50-year reunions of the 1969 Mets’ World Championship team. (However, in June of ’19, a group of Mets that included Art Shamsky, Ron Swoboda, Bud Harrelson and Jerry Koosman went to Calistoga to visit Seaver).
Jordan, whose work over the years have made it into the Best American Sports Writing, Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Essays and Norton Anthology of World Literature, pulls on all his visits to pull together what reads like another of his gloriously extended magazine pieces. They have this gruff, loving relationship of two men who realize their talents took them in opposite trajectories, but it’s really Jordan who bests sizes up Seaver rather than the other way around.
They met for the first time to do that SI piece, pounding on each other in a pick-up basketball at a local YMCA. Jordan knew better than to play too hard, not wanting to be responsible for an injury that could have derailed this Hall of Fame career of the New York Mets’ franchise player who somehow ended up with that team after his one year at USC and a complicated mess of his being drafted by the Atlanta Braves becoming null and void.
Jordan’s chapters mark their re-connections in 1974, ’77 (traded to the Reds), ’82, ’84 (chasing his 300th win) and then in 2013, a profile for USA Today that led Jordan to Seaver’s vineyard in Callistoga.
There are many juicy side notes revealed along the way — more on the despicable sportswriter Dick Young, the reveal that Dodgers scout Tommy Lasorda once tried to sign Seaver out of Fresno City College with a $3,000 offer versus Seaver’s counter offer of $50,000, and his eventual journey to USC where Seaver says he procured a journalism degree.
It’s too easy to give away too much of the precious banter these two have, and what makes the book special. Just a couple of excerpts from Jordan:
“The more I watched Tom pitch, the more I appreciated the talent he had created through intelligence and discipline and hard work … Nothing wasted, nothing extraneous for effect or beauty. It was just technically perfect, a tract house in Levittown designed by a pedestrian architect, every house the same, without an artist’s flair or imagination. … Tom’s motion was earthbound, the charge of a raging bison. My motion aspired to the sun, on the feathered wings of Icarus.”
“There is something about Tom Seaver that gives rise to envy in the rest of us. But that envy is not for his success, or his talent or his money or his fame or his lifestyle. It is envy for the obvious satisfaction he derives from those things. He too glibly articulates that satisfaction in a world of inarticulate people. He is too content in a world of discontented people.”
“Ever since I left baseball, I’ve spent my life thinking about … innocence. Guilt. Anger. Despair. My failure as a pitcher. As a man. All that ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’ shit wears a man down, is detrimental to a happy life. But still necessary to have a life, the right kind of life. Tom doesn’t think about such things because they are not as significant a part of his life as they are mine. He has spent his life thinking about and doing what makes him happy. Physical work, pitching, gardening, sweating, his hands caked with dirt. It’s how we’re different … except in some ways, we’re not different. I’m a blue-collar guy, too, who just happens to be doing a white-collar job. Tom’s a blue-collar guy who hid his very considerable intellect as if embarrassed by it.”
“No wonder Tom and I get along. We have that same reclusive nature to be along that finds its only outlet in an infrequent and distant friendship of like-minded men who never want to get too close.”
How it goes in the scorebook
Terrifically poignant. Therapeutic territory for Jordan. Heartwarming and heart breaking.
More from Jordan
From from a Q&A with Jordan about this book on NextAvenue.org:
Q: Is the Seaver family aware of the book?
A: I have no idea. I tried to reach him before I knew he had dementia and I tried to reach him after and I got no response. I wrote him a letter, I emailed, I called … nothing.
Q: How does that make you feel?
A: On one level, after he had dementia, I almost didn’t want to see him or talk to him. I didn’t want to know him as that person. I wanted to know the person I knew. But I knew I had to call him. Nancy [Seaver’s wife] said it was going to be private and she wasn’t going to honor any requests, anyway. So it was pro-forma. That’s it. And besides: It was my book.
It is a total memoir. The guy I’m writing about, my experiences with him, is from my point of view, not from the public’s point of view.
One person said, ‘You didn’t include how much he meant to The Mets when they won the first World Series.’ We never talked about that. We talked about his pitching in an intellectual way all the time, but we never talked about anything concrete. I wasn’t interested in his record. The world knows what his record is. I wrote about we talked about when we were together. Period.
People will say, ‘Well you left out the bad stuff about Tom.’ You wanna know the truth? There was no bad stuff. I would have been the first one to put it in. I criticized Tom a lot of times in the book for flaws, like being so egocentric he never asking how you were doing, because he was a famous athlete who was used to answering questions. But if there was something negative, I would have written it.
I wanted you to get as close as you could to knowing Tom Seaver as a person without having met him.
== Another recent Q&A with Jordan from Writermag.com last December:
Q: Did you ever lose that love of writing?
A: Never. If I don’t write, I’d die. I understood Hemingway completely when he blew his brains out because he couldn’t write anymore. I’m not gonna do that; I’m a good Catholic boy, so I don’t believe in suicide. But once I can’t write, that’s when I’ll get old.
Q: After going freelance, did you ever think about joining a magazine or newspaper full time?
A: Turning down Sports Illustrated, the biggest financial loss in my life, was the smartest thing I ever did in my life. My father told me to never work for anybody. He said they’d own you. Sports Illustrated, after the first year I wrote for them in ’70, they offered me a contract. They were going to give me a column, I was going to make three times what I was making as a freelance writer. I was going to have an expense account, which I could essentially live off of, because it was a fixed amount. Whatever you didn’t spend at the end of the year, you kept. Plus, I had stock options. They did health care. The whole thing, right? I told them no. I said, “I will never work for anybody.” And I never have. If you work for somebody, you’ve got to kiss ass, you’ve got to do what they tell you, you can’t say no.
More on Jordan
== “The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan” in 2008. Included is his 1980 Inside Sports profile of Steve and Cindy Garvey that led to Jordan being served an $11.2 million lawsuit because, as the Garveys claimed in court papers, they had consented to be interviewed for a “favorable, positively written” story about the “special challenges” in their marriage, and allege instead the story was “replete with falsehoods, half-truths and innuendo” and a “misrepresentation of enormous magnitude.” The case never went to court after Garvey spent nearly a half-million in legal fees. Then the Garveys divorced. Here is a 2008 Q&Awith Jordan and this book’s compiler, Alex Belth.
== The fantastic 1971 book, “Black Coach,” about how Jerome Evans replaced C. A. Frye, as football coach at Walter Williams High School in Burlington, North Carolina to become the first black head coach “at a major, predominantly white high school in the South.” It came out long before “Remember The Titans” as pointed out in this remembrance.
== Jordan re-tells his life story again for Men’s Journal: “How a Teenage Baseball Prodigy Fell from Glory to Face an Unfortuate Flameout”
Other books by and about Seaver
* “Pitching with Tom Seaver” with Steve Jacobson (1973)
* “The Art of Pitching” with Lee Lowerfish (1984)
* “Beanball: Murder at the World Series” (1989 with Herb Resniow)
* “The Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times” by Steven Travers (2011)
* “Tom Seaver: Portrait of A Pitcher” by Malka Drucker with Tom Seaver (1974)
* “The Perfect Game: Tom Seaver and the Mets” with Dick Schaap (1970)
- “Tom Seaver: A Terrific Life,” by Bill Maddon (Simon & Schuster, 352 pages, $28) is due to come out in April, 2021. This blurb is already offered by Bob Costas: “Tom Seaver is among the greatest pitchers of all time. He is also one of the most thoughtful and perceptive athletes I have ever known. Sadly, this deeply interesting man is now unable to provide us with a memoir of his own. The closest we will ever come is found here, from the Hall of Fame baseball writer who was exceptionally close to Tom and chronicled his entire career. Bill Madden renders Tom Seaver’s story with the detail, insight and care it deserves.”
Seaver by the numbers
As Jordan points out in his book, Seaver negotiated his own contracts with the Mets and became the the first MLB pitcher to make $100,000 (’72) and $200,000 (’76) in a season. But it wasn’t until his final two seasons, at age 40 and 41 with the Chicago White Sox, where he went past $1 million a season.
== In 20 seasons, Seaver’s 311 wins broke down: 198 for the Mets (1967-’77, ’83), 75 for the Reds (’77-’82), 33 for the White Sox (’84-’86) and 5 for the Red Sox (’86).
== Seaver won three Cy Young Awards (1969, ’73 and ’75, but said his ’71 season was his best — 20-10 with a league-best 1.76 ERA, finishing second in the voting to Ferguson Jenkins). In Seaver’s ’81 season — the one memorable for a strike in between — he had an NL best 14 wins against two losses and finished second to Fernando Valenzuela for the Cy Young Award.
== Seaver sits No. 6 all-time with 3,640 strike outs, going over 200 nine years in a row, 10 times overall, and leading the league five times, with 13 seasons in the Top 10. He once held the single-game record with 19 Ks in a game at San Diego in April, 1970. As his Hall of Fame plaque also reads, he had the most career strikeouts by a right-handed pitcher in NL history with 3,272.
== A 12-time All-Star, Seaver threw 61 career shutouts, seventh all time. His career WAR of 106.0 is also seventh all time.
More on the Seaver family winery
== From a bio of the “proprietors” of the Seaver Vineyards in Calistoga (not open to the public for visits, tours or tastings):
Seaver Vineyards produces Cabernet Sauvignon in limited production of 400 – 550 cases per year. Our wines are made from four different Cabernet Sauvignon clones grown on a 3.5 acre vineyard on a south facing slope of Diamond Mountain.
We released our inaugural vintage in the spring of 2008 with the 2005 GTS and 2005 Nancy’s Fancy (now known as NLS). The decision to offer two bottlings allowed us the ability to showcase the clonal differences in the two main blocks of the vineyard and let them shine. However, by 2008 the vineyard had completed its seventh growing season and we noticed the clones had matured in such a way as to invite blending them together into one bottling for the first time. Each clone complemented the other beautifully and the result was the outstanding 2008 GTS.
(Note: GTS stands for his George Thomas Seaver).
At some point in the middle of his Hall of Fame baseball career, Tom Seaver’s brother-in-law asked him what he was going to do after he retired from baseball. Immediately, and without a second thought, Tom answered, “I’m going back to California to raise grapes.” Tom was born and raised in Fresno, California, his father was in the raisin business, and Tom had long been a collector of wine but the answer surprised even him. Fast forward to 1998, when Tom and Nancy stumble upon 116 acres on Diamond Mountain in Calistoga and that prescient moment becomes manifest.