Fall from grace
“There are two sentences inscribed upon the Delphic oracle, hugely accommodated to the usages of man’s life; ‘Know Thyself,’ and ‘Nothing too much’: and upon these all other precepts depend.”
- Plutarch, Greek philosopher
“A man’s got to know his limitations.”
- Clint Eastwood as “Dirty Harry” Callahan, Magnum Force
“All glory is fleeting.”
- George C. Scott, Patton
The Mets’ World Series share was $18,000 per man. After winning the Series on Thursday, the whole team appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday. Ron Swoboda lived off his appearance fees. Donn Clendenon received a Dodge Challenger for being MVP. Little Al Weis was given a Volkswagen called “Mighty Mite.” Boswell, Garrett and Gaspar appeared on The Dating Game. The girl picked Gaspar and they went to Europe, but “nothing happened.” Seaver was offered $70,000 by a Florida producer to act in a stock road show touring Florida for seven weeks. He declined. Gil Hodges received a raise to $70,000 for the 1970 season. General manager Johnny Murphy tragically suffered a heart attack and died in January of 1970.
“More trouble has started per square inch in Las Vegas, the gambling capital, than in any city since Sodom,” wrote John Devaney in Tom Seaver: Portrait of a Pitcher. “Trouble began for the 1970 Mets on a Las Vegas stage in the fall of 1969.”
Shamsky, Seaver, Koosman, Clendenon, Jones, Agee and Kranepool went to Vegas. They did two shows per evening, dinner and midnight, with comedian Phil Foster. They sang “The Imposible Dream,” the theme of Man From La Mancha. Each made $10,000 for the two weeks.
“We were stars wherever we went,” said Koosman.
Things began to fray in Vegas. They had been asked not to include their wives; to make it just about the players. Nancy came along anyway, annoying some of the guys who probably wanted to let their hair down and “let boys be boys.” The faithful wife and the faithful husband were, to them, prying eyes looking over their shoulders. They had to answer to their own spouses who asked, “If Nancy Seaver was there how come I was not invited?” Nancy was always around the TV cameras, “honing in on their glory,” according to John Devaney. Criticism of her was not relegated to this group. Baltimore’s Pete Richert said that her carrying that banner in Baltimore had been “bush,” and that his wife stopped that stuff as a high school cheerleader.
“It went to our heads,” said Swoboda. “Some stars thought they were superstars, some fringe guys thought they were stars, nobody worked hard, nobody really cared.
“Those guys <who performed at the Las Vegas club> made some extra dough, but they created jealousies. We won because we had been a one-for-all and all-for-one team. Now we were cashing in separately. That created problems. It even created problems among that group. Seaver wanted more money than the others got and don’t forget they had to play together again a few months later.”
Most of the big money offers came to Seaver, who was identified as the symbol of the team. The “all-for-one, one-for-all” concept of the season was lost in the glare of Seaver’s larger-than-life persona. At 24, he was the youngest winner of the Cy Young award, and the youngest to win 25 games since Dizzy Dean 34 years earlier.
Seaver won the S. Rae Hickock Belt as the Professional Athlete of the Year. The Sporting News named him Man of the Year. Sports Illustrated chose him as the Sportsman of the Year. The two publications featured flowery, overly flattering portrayals of the Mets’ superstar. Glowing terminology describing Seaver, his pitching prowess and his wife filled these pages and more. The build-up of his personality, intelligence, charm; it was over the top. He was a fictional character come to life, too good to be true.
Baseball Stars of 1970 had Seaver on its cover and as its feature story. Editor Ray Robinson repeated the Seaver quote that he was “not an All-American,” that he could not be one because he drank beer and swore, but with a wink the pitcher added, “But I do keep my hair short, so I guess you could say I am an All-American boy.”
“Tom is the greatest guy in the world,” said Buddy Harrelson.
“Tom is as nice as everyone says he is . . . he’s not just the product of an advertising campaign,” said Dick Schaap.
Seaver, Robinson wrote, “contributed to the restoration of baseball glory in the battered, but unbowed, city of New York.” He was a “Huck Finn of a pitcher.”
“There are two things of primary importance to me, and they’re both in this room – my marriage and baseball,” Tom Seaver told the audience at the Sports Illustrated luncheon honoring him as Sportsman of the Year. The audience included Joan Payson and Bowie Kuhn. “I would not do anything to jeopardize either of them.” Glancing towards Nancy, he said, “I wouldn’t have had the success I’ve had without Nancy’s help. I wish you’d thank her for me.”
Hearing the applause, Nancy cried.
“Gee, I told you not to cry,” said Seaver.
Seaver took out an ad in the New York Times: “Now available: Tom Seaver, America’s top athlete and sports personality, plus Nancy Seaver, Tom’s lovely wife, for those situations that call for Young Mrs. America or husband and wife sales appeal.”
Some of his friends and teammates said it was in bad taste. His mother was “horrified.” Tom spun it: “I won’t take any offer that would interfere with my career.”
Tom did not enroll in USC that fall. Instead, the Seavers bought a 90-year old farmhouse in Greenwich, Connecticut, a suburban “bedroom community” of Manhattan business executives and socialites, located some 45 minutes from New York City. The choice of Greenwich was telling. It was and still is one of the wealthiest communities in the world, but not wealthy in the nouveau riche, Malibu sense of the term. It is the ultimate “old money, blue blood” town. President George Herbert Walker Bush, the nephew of Mets part owner Herbert Walker, grew up in its tony oceanside surroundings. Ethel Skakel, the wife of Senator Edward Kennedy, was from a prominent Greenwich family. Her nephew murdered a neighbor girl but got away with it for years until the case was re-opened and he was convicted. The scandal was depicted in a movie called Murder in Greenwich. By making themselves residents of Greenwich, the Seavers made a statement; about their pursuit of wealth and status, their desire for privacy, and their politics.
Manufacturers offered free furnishings for the home if Tom would make a sales pitch. He built a winery, cultivating a lifelong love of the vintner’s art. He was constantly on TV that winter and began to think about a broadcasting career. Seaver appeared on the Kraft Music Hall, enduring a pie in his face. He appeared on many talk shows, including Allan Burke’s. A pilot of his own show was discussed. He chatted with boxer Rocky Graziano.
“Would you believe this – here I am, an ex-middleweight champion of the world and a great actor, but it’s dis kid and his wife who own their own TV show,” said Graziano.
“That’s because I’m better looking than you and I’ve got a lovely wife,” Seaver joked.
“Oh, Tom,” Nancy cooed.
“Visually, you appear to be the storybook version of Mr. and Mrs. America,” said Burke. “Nancy, do you feel jealous about Tom’s adoring female fans?”
“No, I want everybody to love him as much as I do,” she replied.
“What is the most inspiring thing that’s ever happened in your life?” Burke asked Tom.
“My wife,” was the answer.
“Is that the key to your success?” he was asked.
“She gives me a reason for striving,” said Seaver. “Without her, I wouldn’t have been as successful in baseball.”
The Tom and Nancy Show became, like the pilot discussed by Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules in Pulp Fiction, one of those shows “that become nothin’.” Away from the cameras, the Seavers were “very tight,” according to one writer. “They just want to be alone and walk on the beach.”
Sara Davidson of McCall’s did a feature on them at their new home. In that article, which was based on several interviews with both Seavers in various locations, Tom’s reputation for not bedding women on the road was first made public, at least in a wide-scale manner. This caused more than a little problem for other players. First their wives asked why Nancy Seaver could be in Las Vegas when they could not? If Tom Seaver enjoyed his wife’s company in Sin City, why did their husbands prefer . . . somebody else’s? They wanted to know what they did in Las Vegas, a question that often leads to such time-honored lines as:
· “What happens in Vegas stays in . . . Vegas, baby.”
· “Don’t you ask me, no stupid questions, and I won’t tell you no lies,” in the immortal words of Lynyrd Skynrd.
· “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.”
Tom Seaver’s faithfulness towards Nancy could not help but imply that it was an exception to the rule; an exception to what?
“I met Nancy for lunch on a day of incessant gray rain,” wrote Davidson. “She was wearing a turtleneck sweater, a brown leather vest and mini-skirt, a scarf, cap, and chains, and Slider <their pet dog> was huddled at her feet. On television she appears hard and confident, but face to face she looks terribly young, trusting, all smiles and glistening eyelashes. We stood on a corner, shivering, trying to figure where to go, when Nancy called with childlike gaiety to a man passing by, as if he were on Main Street in Fresno, ‘Where’s a good restaurant?’ The man recognized the face under the beige tam o’ shanter, beamed and suggested Slate’s, a block away.”
Nancy ordered a half bottle of rose wine and a Caesar salad, chattering in a California accent.
“He doesn’t fool around on the road because he doesn’t have to prove anything about himself,” she told Davidson. “He’s so honorable. We were both raised with the idea that you get married because that’s the one person you want to spend your life with.”
Athletes, she said “usually have good physiques. They’re all male, well proportioned, they don’t look like a librarian. When I was dating, I would usually go with guys on the swimming team or football or basketball team. We had common interests because I liked swimming, diving, gymnastics, and always cheerleading. I was a cheerleader seven years straight. Now I’m a professional cheerleader.”
She said the players who chase on the road are the ones who get married too young, grow up in small towns and cannot handle the big city. “You can’t exactly blame them for that,” she rationalized. “I’m not prudish about people going to bed with each other. It doesn’t bother me at all. Just don’t rain on my parade.” Nancy said now that they had bought a house, “the baby’s going to come next.”
When Tom was on the road she “gets together with the wives” for pizza or movies. She said she liked all the Mets’ wives, “and you would, too.” Davidson felt she was a little flighty, waving good bye to her salad, using words like “baloney . . . zilch . . . icky,” and talking to inanimate objects like the camera.
“I love to talk,” Nancy continued. “Don’t you love to climb in bed at night and just visit? Tom’s trying to sleep and I’m talking. Weird. I got that from my old-day slumber parties.”
When the writer sat down with the husband, she found him to be cautious, wary of journalists. He was “guarded and suspicious.” Dismissing questions with a shrug, Seaver told her, “Shall we go round and round? I took journalism courses in college, so I know what most reporters are up to.”
“Then he stood up abruptly, went to get a beer, read some papers, then dropped to all fours and crawled across the rug toward Slider,” wrote Davidson.
He told her he was upset about the anti-war pamphlets because he been “taken advantage of . . . I am against the war and want us to get out as quickly as possible without endangering lives,” an interesting side comment especially in light of what we now about “The Killings Field,” in which 1.5 million humans were murdered by the Communists after the U.S. finally did pull out. Seaver said he and Nancy were part of “The Silent Majority” that Nixon identified with so much success during the 1968 campaign: family people, Christians, patriots, traditionalists opposed to protest and immorality. He and his wife would never attend an anti-war rally, be “anti-President,” or criticize Nixon. “You just don’t get along that way.” Seaver now more resembled Johnny Cash’s famed description of himself as “a dove . . . with claws.”
It was an era of changing moral codes reflected in entertainment at that time: the nude Broadway musical Hair, the homosexual-themed Midnight Cowboy, and the wife swapping soft porn film Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. In March of 1969, Doors lead singer Jim Morrison had been arrested for exposing himself at a concert in Miami. X-rated films were becoming popular. A few years later, Deep Throat became all the rage. The wife-swapping theme did not escape baseball. Athletes were always notorious for “sharing” girls, but Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich took it another step when they scandalously exchanged wives. Seaver said he did not approve of X-rated movies or wife swapping. “I just could never live that way,” he stated.
His success was based on “hard work, dedication, concentration, and God-given natural talents.” He was charming and diplomatic with a “warm, hearty, sexy laugh.” The couple was just overwhelmingly happy. “Nancy doesn’t want to be treated as an equal, she wants to be treated as a woman,” said Seaver. Nancy admitted to being “dominated,” that “It’s a man’s world. I don’t want to see Tom with an apron on. He’s considerate and helps me when I need it. I’m not that enslaved. And as a woman I like being treated special – like I’m soft and round and shouldn’t be knocked around.”
“I like my wife,” Tom said simply.
A few weeks later Davidson met the Seavers at Top of the Sixes for an event honoring Cliff Robertson and his socialite/actress wife Dina Merrill (of the Merrill Lynch brokerage dynasty). “I don’t know any of these people,” Nancy whispered to the writer before being introduced to George Plimpton, Paul Anka, Estee Lauder, and assorted press agents.
“What’s wrong with a backyard barbecue?” Seaver said to Davidson.
“At that moment, my heart went out to Tom Seaver,” she wrote.
“We don’t socialize much at all,” Nancy said. “We don’t like parties, they’re too impersonal.” Nancy liked books by Pearl Buck. Tom read about sports, politics or the TV industry. At a signing in Manhattan, Seaver told somebody baseball “clings to the values of the past. I find myself very gun-shy watching football these days. Football has all the elements that certain segments of our society frown upon – violence, pain, collision. People go to football for ripping and things like that. Even the terminology upsets me. But baseball has maintained some of the principles that parts of our society have lost. Baseball has a sense of fair play; it’s non-violent, wholesome, a clean-cut and clean-played game.”
Seaver said he would not use his name to protest the war. His experience with the Moratorium Day organizers had soured him on the protest crowd. Suddenly rich and hoping to get much richer, he had more to lose and was cautious. Perhaps he now understood more, not just about his image but also what America stood for and protected. “Advertising Wheaties is not denouncing the war in Vietnam,” he stated, clarifying why he pitched products but not political ideology.
17-year old Vicki Curran, standing in a long line of people waiting to get Seaver’s autograph, said the pitcher “typifies the youth of today. Not everybody our age has long hair. He seems interested in this country and he works hard for what he wants.”
On December 31, 1969, Tom and Nancy Seaver placed an ad in the New York Times: “On the eve of 1970, please join us in a prayer for peace.”
At some point, players started to complain that Seaver had become a “different guy . . . aloof,” more concerned with outside things and TV appearances. The endorsements and attention lavished on all the Mets in the immediate aftermath of the glorious victory started to fade for most, but not for Seaver.
“He was somewhat more verbally polished than Jerry Koosman, his pitching partner, and considerably whiter than Donn Clendenon, the batting hero of the Series,” wrote Robert Lipsyte in the New York Times.
Seaver signed a new contract for $80,000 and made it clear that his goal would be to some day be the first “$200,000 ball player,” which was seen as money hungry.
“No one roots for Goliath,” Wilt Chamberlain said, and as the Orioles could attest. Seaver was no longer the peppy leader of a hungry band of underdogs. He was a superstar with all the trappings. “The cheering fades and the envy grows the nearer one is to the top,” wrote Devaney.
Seaver told writer Milton Grossman that he was trying to keep his “feet on the ground,” admitting he was more “introverted.” Every day situations, restaurants, places where it was “fun to be recognized” were now problems. He had become a true New York Sports Icon. The things that made Joe DiMaggio a pain, Mickey Mantle prickly, now effected Seaver. This was the Apple, not Pittsburgh. He began to question whether people saw “a human being and not just a baseball player,” adding that while he owed the fans full effort, off the field it was a two-way street.
In the spring of 1970, Ron Swoboda had a blow up with Tom Seaver. The players took up a collection for a clubhouse guy. Swoboda was not there so somebody told Seaver to, “Get the money out of Ron’s pants pockets.” Swoboda had planned to give money to the man at Miller Huggins Field anyway. Seaver announced he had taken it out of Swoboda’s pants, which were hanging in his cubicle. He implied that otherwise Ron would not have contributed. When Swoboda found out, the two had a screaming match in front of the writers.
“Then he was an apple guy,” Maury Allen said, referring to Seaver. “Very bright, articulate, honest, if a little dull with his detailed description of pitching mechanics. From 1970 on Seaver really has been a different guy. He is bright, articulate, easy to talk to but still aloof . . .”
“Following the winter of his great content, writers covering the Mets – and they are the closest that anyone could be outside of his own teammates – detected a certain aloofness in Seaver very early in Spring Training,” wrote Jack Lang in The Sporting News. “Tom frequently did not have time to sit through long periods of questioning like he formerly did and there were many times he was in a hurry to get out of the club house.”
Seaver set 30 victories as his goal for 1970. Denny McLain had done it pitching on a four-day rotation in 1968. It was not an outlandish prospect. Seaver had always been a late bloomer: non-prospect at Fresno High, coming into his own at Southern California, steady improvement in New York. He was one of the first to benefit from weight lifting. From his first year at triple-A Jacksonville until the 1970 season, he got better every year. He seemed to improve every month.
A look at photographs of the pitcher reveals distinct body changes over the years. He turned 25 in November of 1969, and by 1970 was finally losing his baby fat, the source of Donn Clendenon’s humorous “chubby right-hander” remarks. His face hardened from its original boyishness. His work ethic was such that he simply continued to get better.
As good as Seaver was in 1969, he had not yet reached his full potential! It was a frightening, awe-inspiring notion that the best was still yet to come. Seaver probably did not reach his full, mature physical peak until 1970-71.
Some time between 1968 and 1969, Seaver morphed from a hard sinkerball artist to a fast ball/slider pitcher. In the first four-and-a-half months of 1970, Seaver threw much harder than he had in 1969. His fast ball just exploded. Like Sandy Koufax in his prime, he was unhittable. Big league hitters feast on fast balls but Seaver threw with such blazing speed that, even knowing it was coming, the best batsmen in the National League could not catch up to it. He had reached the point where very few hurlers in the game’s long and hallowed history ever were. Today, radar guns routinely read “100 MPH.” It is a sham, as much for show and fan entertainment as any. In Seaver’s day, the radar gun was much more accurate, if not reading a little slow. He was consistently in the high 90s, occasionally around 100. The idea that any number of modern hurlers throw as hard now as Seaver did then is a joke.
Nolan Ryan threw as hard. Randy Johnson and perhaps Roger Clemens in the 1980s threw as hard. The list is that short, regardless of the oohs and aahs of fans reading inflated radar readings in the 2000s.
In 1970, Seaver’s display had fans, writers and opponents in awe, realizing that they were observing a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Between April of 1970 and August of that year, Seaver was an untouchable as any pitcher could be. He was on pace to have one of if not the best season any pitcher had ever achieved. He struck out 19 vs. San Diego on April 22 at Shea Stadium. That tied the big league record set by Steve Carlton in a 4-3 loss to the Mets in 1969. Seaver won his game, 2-1.
He began the year 6-0, running his regular season winning streak to 16 straight games. Seaver finally lost to Montreal, 3-0 on May 11. Later he lost again to Expos pitcher Carl Morton, 2-0 on May 20.
“We beat Seaver last week and maybe he was trying too hard to make up for it,” Morton said,
“Is that what he said?” Seaver spouted when told in the heat of a post-game defeat. “It just shows how stupid he is.”
“Losing appear to be getting to Seaver,” Lang wrote in a biting Sporting News piece, shocking readers whose expectations of Seaver as a pitcher and man were sky high. Only perfection was expected of him, on and off the field. “He is not reacting to adversity as well as he did to success. He appeared in his first three seasons to be impervious to faults, but in his fourth season he is showing another side of Tom, a not-so-pleasant side.”
Lang theorized he was on a pursuit of perfection since the imperfect Cubs game of July 9, 1969. Now he immediately became annoyed after walking his first hitter or giving up the first hit of a game. Still, losing two games in which he gave up an average of 2.5 runs in games his team was shut out certainly did not constitute any lack of effectiveness or “adversity.”
But this was New York; the media swirl. He was an icon, “public property,” living in a fish bowl at the height of his fame. It was a tabloid existence. Seaver gave the press none of the scandals they salivated over; drunk driving, strip club infidelities, criminality. They had to nit-pick, which certainly did not endear them to Seaver. Writers made caustic note of his reading material. Milton Grossman mentioned that he publicly read The Agony and the Ecstasy, as if to insinuate that he took to such high brow material in order to impress people.
Seaver’s expectation level was impossible to maintain. He would strike out 15 but kick himself over a walk. He would pitch a shutout and call it an average game, what he expected. In his mind, he was not supposed to issue any walks or allow any hard-hit balls. He expected no-hitters and perfect games. Anything less was cause for self-analysis, a desire for improvement. Naturally, Seaver’s drive for perfection wore on teammates, because they could not relate to it nor come close to performing it themselves. Opponents were irritated that Seaver seemed to view them as bit players on a stage he starred on, as if any hit or run scored against the great Seaver was not the result of their skill, but Seaver’s own temporary lack of concentration, or a rare mistake.
His statistics piled up. He led the league in every category, dominating the N.L. with gaudy strikeout numbers on the way to the aforementioned 30-win plateau. He did it despite a disturbing trend; one that would, for the most part, dog his entire career in New York and, to a lesser extent, his years with the Cincinnati Reds. His team stopped scoring for him.
Many teammates have examined the psychology behind this phenomenon over the years. The Mets were never much of an offensive club in the Seaver years, not even in 1969, but they hit better for the rest of the staff than they did for him. The only explanation – Joe Morgan said as much in Cincinnati – was that with Seaver on the hill, they let down because, knowing he would give up zero or one run at the most, they did not need to score. The result was that they did not. In 1970, Seaver was such an inexorable force that he kept winning anyway.
Hodges selected him to start the All-Star Game at Cincinnati’s new Riverfront Stadium. The ace right-hander put on a power pitching display, dominating the best sluggers in the junior circuit with a scoreless three-inning, four-strikeout display. After the All-Star Game, Hodges made the kind of mistake he never made in 1969. With the team struggling but still in a heated pennant race against Pittsburgh and Chicago, he decided to revert back to a four-day rotation. He asked Seaver to pitch with one day less of rest for each of his remaining starts in the 1970 season. Seaver agreed, for the good of the team, and also because it would increase his opportunity to win 30 games. On August 14 his record stood at 17-6. He stood an excellent chance at winning those additional 13 games, and if so, the Mets would likely capture the East again.
On a hot, muggy night at Atlanta, Seaver led 2-1 in the ninth inning with two outs and runners at second and third. Jerry Grote called for a curveball against Bob Tillman, who could not touch breaking stuff. Seaver saw the sign and nodded, but his intensity level was such that, despite agreeing to the curve, his muscle memory told him to revert to the high, hard one. Seaver delivered an impossible-to-hit fast ball, a blur to Tillman for strike three. It was a blur to Grote, too. Expecting a curve, he was crossed up by the heat and it got away from him.
Seaver was so stunned and shocked at his own mental error, the strike-three-passed-ball, and the tying runner scoring from third, that he stood like a spectator on the mound. The runner from second alertly raced past third and scored, too. It was the dumbest move Seaver ever made in a career of rare dumb moves. It was a terrible double-whammy of defeat-snatched-from-the-jaws-of-victory; a sure 18-6 record on the road to 30 wins instead now a 17-7 mark; and perhaps worst of all, a brutal, debilitating loss in the middle of a desperate pennant race. Combined with the intense heat of Atlanta, the recriminations from jealous teammates who felt Seaver had become too full of himself, it spelled doom for the 1970 Mets.
It was the very opposite of all that had happened in 1969. Hodges, the “infallible genius” had embarked on a disastrous four-days-of-rest pitching rotation after his five-day strategy had worked so well in the past. Seaver was unable to recover, mentally or physically, from the Atlanta game. The pressures in the clubhouse and his own strained relations with teammates were too big a burden to carry.
Seaver won only once in his last 11 starts. His 17-6 record of August finished at 18-12 in October. He still led the league with a 2.83 earned run average, and his 283 strikeouts set the new league mark for right-handers. But the final symbolic indignity of the 1970 campaign came on the season’s last day. Out of the race, New York played the Cubs for second place. A few thousand dollars were at stake in an age when a few thousand dollars meant something to big league ball players. Seaver opted not to pitch, citing arm strain. The Mets lost to Ferguson Jenkins, 4-1. His teammates bitterly complained that had he pitched, they might have won and gotten the extra money. Seaver was seen as selfish. With his huge contract he already had his. Larry Merchant of the Post wrote that Seaver seemed more concerned with the “image of perfection that he has worked so hard to achieve in his professional and personal life” than he was concerned about the team. Many players were “disenchanted” with him.
“He has always tried hard, perhaps harder than most,” wrote Milton Grossman of the Post. “But things came so easily to him, within himself there may really have been the image of the perfect young man who finds it impossible to accept that he can be flawed with imperfection.”
Grossman’s assessment had merit, and perhaps accurately reflected Seaver’s mindset by 1970. However, things had not come “so easily to him” in his life. His high school struggles, Marine training, tough test in Alaska just to earn a scholarship to USC, where Seaver said “I had to work hard just to be a starter,” did not reflect any sense of “ease.” On the other hand, the Tom Seaver of 1967 to August of 1970; in particular the Cooperstown level superstardom of July 1969 and the 12 months that followed; may well have engendered in his mind the false sense of invulnerability in a very, very vulnerable profession.
“The 1970 season taught me a lesson, and out of everything negative that ever happens to me, I try to find something positive,” he said to Jack Lang. “In this case I think I have. You shouldn’t expect too much from yourself. You should remember at all times that you are a human being with certain limitations . . .”
In the winter of 1970-71, Tom and Nancy traveled across America, re-creating the adventures from one of his favorite books, Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck. The author was, like the Seavers, a central Californian with an affinity for that rural, agrarian world.
“I realize now that all of America doesn’t live the way we do,” Seaver told Joe Durso. “To them money isn’t the biggest goal . . . I realize that there’s no need to push myself. Instead of flowing downriver with the current I must sit back and evaluate things and I think I have that ability.” He added, “You can’t be greedy. You can’t go out and beat everybody in the world pitching every other day.”
Seaver regenerated that off-season. He got back to lifting weights, one of the keys to his success not just in terms of physical strength, but for mental discipline as well. He signed a new $90,000 contract for 1971, and the couple’s first baby, daughter Sarah Lynn, was born that early spring.
Perhaps the greatest evidence that the 1969 New York Mets were indeed The Last Miracle came in examining the 1970 Mets. They were a pretty good baseball team. They were the natural progression of Gil Hodges’s club, which was making strides in 1968, expected to be a .500 club in 1969, and had enough youth for a bright future.
The 1969 Mets probably were an 81-81 club, maybe an 84- or 85-win team; the numbers bandied about during the hopeful fishing trips at St. Pete. If all had played to form, the 1970 Mets probably were an 85-to-93 win team. They finished 83-79. Inability to hit for Seaver; Seaver’s September slump; and the team’s personal failings after a winter of press clippings and idolatry; probably account for their finishing somewhere between five and 10 games below their best expectations. However, after the 1969 campaign, the 1970 Mets were one of the most disappointing baseball teams in the game’s history. The letdown could be heard from Long Beach, New York to Long Beach, California.
The East Division was up for grabs. Nobody ran away with it. Chicago lost 10 straight at one point but never fell out of contention. The Mets were still in the hunt in September, but in two home-and-home series with Pittsburgh lost six of seven games, stranding 59 runners in the combined defeats. Seaver failed in key games, which was their ultimate death knell. Pitching on the Saturday Game of the Week, the kind of spotlight that in the past had always brought out his best, he lost.
Koosman had arm problems and missed nearly two months. Gentry, like so many Arizona State pitchers who were overthrown in Tempe, experienced the arm troubles that would eventually sideline his career years before it should have. Tug McGraw had major emotional troubles and ultimately a disappointing season.
Cleon Jones stopped hitting. His average was below .250 until mid-August, and his late recovery was too little, too late. Agee had a good season but could not carry the Mets with his 24 home runs. Clendenon drove in 97 runs. New third baseman Joe Foy was a complete bust replacing Ed Charles, who was retired/released after the 1969 campaign.
New York, utterly and totally infatuated by the Mets in 1969, came out in droves, still watching meaningful pennant-contention baseball until the last few weeks. Their attendance of 2,697,479 was the second greatest in baseball history, just shy of the Dodger Stadium attendance mark of 1962.
Pittsburgh ultimately won the East with a pedestrian 89-73 record. Losing on the last day to Chicago allowed the Cubs to finish one game better, in second place with an 84-78 mark. The Pirates were swept by Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” in the play-offs. The Reds were then beaten in five games by Baltimore in the World Series.
The 1970 season was a cautionary tale about success and ego, but it also evened out the law of averages. If in 1969 the Mets were just lucky, over and over and over, then it stood to reason that in 1970 they could not continue to roll aces. If the 1969 team was a team of destiny, then the 1970 squad was God’s way of demonstrating that the Good Lord giveth, and He taketh away.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism