NEW YORK, NY – The text from Angry Ward was a blow. It was stunning and and cruel, as life can be sometimes. “Seaver has dementia. You can go ahead and start feeling old now.” It was not meant to be malicious, cavalier or insensitive. Ward may have a persona here, but that’s just what it is, a persona…See, George Thomas Seaver is more than just a baseball player for me, him and countless others. The news of his heartbreaking fate was a jolt. The unthinkable fate befalling him hit home as if it were a family member… someone dear. It hurts.
It was January of 1983. The Mets had just reacquired The Franchise, trying to undo the Midnight Massacre of 1977, when M. Donald Grant stopped time and let Seaver go to Cincinnati after using Dick Young to bury his classy star in the press. As a twelve year-old, this was something inexplicably unsettling. The disappointment was profound. Why would they trade Tom Seaver? How can this be? It was hard enough watching Rusty Staub go when I was even younger and even more naive. But this? This was all about innocence lost for me. Years later the real story behind deal the aforementioned Grant and Dick Young conspired on made it even tougher to digest. It was, and remains, disgusting.
But back to January of 1983. I was a freshman in college home on Christmas break and scored an internship for the month with Jay Horwitz in the Mets P.R. Department. And despite all of the above, the Mets were still my drug of choice. Not weed. No coke. The Mets. Suffice to say, I was in Heaven, sitting in cramped office organizing stats for the new yearbook. Jay pokes his head in and says, “Matt, come with me for a second.” He takes me through the glorious back office hallways of Shea in the dead of winter and into the locker-room. Just as we walk in, Tom Seaver walks out of the shower, wrapping a towel around himself. This just wasn’t my favorite baseball player. He wasn’t just my favorite Met. He was my favorite athlete. Period. And there he was, nude in front of me. In the recesses of my Walter Mitty mind, it was as though we were teammates. We were both with the Mets. It was cool.
“Tom, I’d like you to meet our intern, Matt McCarthy.” Seaver calmly secures his towel, extends his hand.
“Matt, nice to meet you. It’s about time you finally got another Irishman around here, Horwitz.“
“Hi Tom. Nice to meet you.“
I don’t really remember the small talk that followed verbatim, but it was about Seaver, the consummate professional, getting a workout in when there wasn’t another soul about – other than us Executive Office types. His calm, professional carriage is what I will always remember. Confident, but not in an intrusive way. It was relaxing. It may sound cliche but he had an aura about him, one that would definitely make you pick up your game. Being 39 and in the twilight of 311 Wins and a 20-year ERA of 2.86 might have had something to do with it. He was class personified, in an appealing way, and I can’t imagine how he felt after being publicly humiliated and betrayed by the organization he loved.
But in an eye-blink, we are here now. We are in this cold, cruel and unforgiving present. There will be no more visits to the booth when Gary, Kieth and Ron all show the respect and calm of soldiers around a war hero. There will be no more listening to Tom Seaver speak of his pitching as “his art.” There will be no growing old with most identifiable Met ever.
The worst part of it is that he is still with us, just now how we want him to be. And I’m feeling every bit sorry for myself typing this.
Full Disclosure: There are tears. I don’t care. You want to call me on my tears for George Thomas Seaver, go right ahead.
Mr. Seaver, I wish I could give you a hug and say “Thank you.”
You’ll always be Tom Terrific to me.