Friday, January 10, 2014

"Tom Really Was Terrific" by Dad

     It’s not the 311 wins, or the 3 Cy Youngs, or 3,640 Ks, or career 2.86 ERA, as amazing as those numbers are. 

     It’s not the 1.121 career WHIP, or the incredible 11 Wins Against Replacement (WAR) in 1973 – stats that didn’t even exist back then, and wouldn’t for another two decades.
     It’s just that at a certain time and place in my life, sports fandom was all about Tom Seaver. Walt Frazier was awesome, and Joe Namath completely cool, but if you were a junior high baseball fanatic in Connecticut in the late 60s, and a basically straight arrow, high achieving kid, Tom Seaver was your go-to sports hero.
     Mr. Clean Guy from California, living in Greenwich, CT with a knockout blonde wife always referred to by reporters and announcers as “the lovely Nancy Seaver,” he was the guy we all would have preferred to be instead of the acne-challenged wiener tweeners (another word that didn’t exist then) we knew ourselves to be.
     Tom Seaver simply showed up at Shea in ’67, won the Rookie of the Year award, and then spearheaded the Mets quick climb to a 1969 World Series championship.  No one who watched that ’69 season will ever forget it, especially the night an obscure Cub named Jimmy Qualls broke up a Seaver perfect game in the 9th inning.  Your uncle, my kid brother, who watched that game with me on our single color TV, will never get over it.
     As nearly perfect as that game was, what Tom and the lovely Nancy did after the Mets won the Series struck my young soul as actually perfect.  They took out an ad in the New York Times saying something to the effect that, “If the Mets can win the World Series, why can’t we find a way to get out of Viet Nam?” As much as our dads hated that ad… that’s exactly how much we loved it.
     And as Tom Terrific and I have aged, he’s never let me down.  In a joint interview with Johann Santana a few years ago, he said something like this to Santana, ”I love the way you fight for wins.  I’m don’t like the way today’s pitchers say that their job is just to keep their teams in the game.  No, your job as a pitcher is to win.  If your team scores three runs, you give up two.  If your guys score two, you give up one.  And if your guys score one, it’s your job to pitch a shutout.”
     I really like that.
     There’s another Seaver story I love.  In 1968, the year of the pitcher, Bob Gibson finished the season with an incredible 1.12 ERA, which was one of the prime factors in baseball lowering the pitcher’s mound from 15 inches to ten in order to make a pitcher’s life harder.
     Every summer, for decades now, Seaver and Gibson meet for a drink at Cooperstown during induction weekend.  And every time, the first thing Seaver says to Gibson is, “It was all your effing fault.”
     So that’s Tom Seaver, one of the few idols I still have.