“I heard the news last night, oh boy,”(paraphrasing the great John Lennon) and I was in tears. The “lucky man who made the grade,” passed away. I was scoring last night’s Yankee game from home when the awful news broke. I admit, I got emotional and had to compose myself to continue doing my job. I grew up a Yankee fan and did not root for Seaver and the Mets, but I knew greatness when I saw it and it was a great view.
You don’t need me to tell you how great Tom Seaver was. There will be tributes and lots of reminiscing about the great games and the great moments that “the Franchise” provided for the passionate Mets’ fans, and baseball fans alike. I can tell you that I never dreamed or imagined that I would ever meet and interact with the greatest player in Mets’ history, but I did.
I started my sports journalism career 40 years ago, so I was able to cover Seaver as a player in the latter part of his career.
In 1983, I was covering the Mets home opener when “Tom Terrific” made his return. Who could forget the tremendous standing ovation he got from the sellout crowd when he walked in from the bullpen after finishing his warm ups. I was in the press box down the first base line and got a bird’s eye view of that moment. I was in a very crowded Yankee Stadium press box in 1985, when Seaver won his 300th game.
Anyone that saw him knew he was an artiste on the mound. A pro’s pro who was not only physically gifted with that great right arm, but a pitching intellect that may be unequaled. Seaver left it all out on the field, but he was also a pro’s pro, when it came to his broadcasting career. That’s where I got the chance to meet and interact with one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.
Seaver already began his broadcasting career when he was still an active player. He worked for ABC Sports during the 1977 World Series and was very good at his role in the booth that he shared with Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell. Seaver did the Series for NBC in 1978, 1980 and 1982.
From 1989 to 1993, Seaver clicked with Phil Rizzuto on WPIX Yankee broadcasts. In 1999, Seaver returned to WPIX but this time, he came home to work Mets’ broadcasts with Ralph Kiner, Fran Healy and Keith Hernandez. It was during this time that my interaction with Seaver began.
I don’t exactly remember the first time we interacted. I started scoring Mets’ games in 2000 and it may have been that year. Anyway, during a game that I was working, Seaver came out of the booth to ask me a scoring question. I have to admit, I was in awe of the man at that moment, but I also felt great that he saw fit to come over and ask. That wasn’t the last time he would come by. There were a couple of times that Seaver came out of the booth to inquire about a scoring question.
On September 28th, 2008, I was fortunate to be the Official Scorer for the final game at Shea Stadium. Seaver was there as probably the most honored guest. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Mike Piazza and got the loudest ovation when the players that helped create Mets’ history were on the field after the game.
It was the final game of the season so it was customary for me to go downstairs to the clubhouse to say my goodbyes to the players that I personally knew. On my way to the Mets clubhouse, I didn’t realize that I would have two memorable moments.
The first was meeting the great Willie Mays. He was being ushered around in a golf cart and I was able to get his attention, introduce myself and shake his hand. What a thrill, but the best was yet to come.
Before I got to the clubhouse door, Seaver had come out and was walking in my direction. I was hoping to say goodbye to him but he was walking with an entourage of well wishers. I thought my chances were slim and none but Seaver, purposely made his way towards me to shake my hand and wish me well. I can’t tell you what that meant to me.
There was one more memorable interaction in 2010.
I was working on a book entitled, “162-0, Imagine a Mets Perfect Season.” It’s a book about memorable regular season games in Mets history and of course, Seaver provided many of those highlights. I interviewed a number of current and former players for the book but I really wanted to get a few minutes from Seaver to ask about some of his best games.
Thanks to Mets PR (thank you Ethan Wilson) and the relationship that I had developed with Seaver, I was able to snag a 15 minute phone call with “The Franchise.” Even back then, Seaver was dealing with memory loss. He remembered the near perfect game and the 19-strikeout game against the Padres, but there were a few games that I brought up that he had no recollection of. I was thrilled to land the interview but it saddened me to realize that Seaver was entering the twilight of his life. A life that touched so many, including myself.
(photo courtesy of twitter)