Tom Seaver starred as ace of baseball champions 50 years ago, but he was no better than ‘B’ player in family better-ball golf games
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the improbable triumph of the Miracle Mets in the ’69 World Series. Among the commemorations of this event is a book by New York Mets outfielder Art Shamsky called “After the Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood of the ’69 Mets.” It recounts the memorable victory of the Mets over the favored Baltimore Orioles. The star of the Mets that season, as in so many more to come, was Tom Seaver. This young pitcher had garnered the nickname “Tom Terrific,” after a cartoon character of that era.
The Mets won exactly 100 games that season against 62 losses. Seaver won a quarter of those games against just seven losses. These results earned him the National League Cy Young Award as the best pitcher. His career would extend nearly 20 years, with 311 victories, a lifetime earned-run average of 2.86 and 3,640 strikeouts. Ultimately, enshrinement came for Seaver in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. My father, an avid baseball fan who customarily claimed that the stars of yesteryear were superior to their contemporaries, raved about Seaver, his accomplishments and his longevity. My dad ranked him alongside his beloved Warren Spahn, whom he had seen pitch many times while growing up in Boston when Spahn played for the old Boston Braves.
Shamsky’s book recounts a trip made earlier this year by four teammates from the Miracle Mets to California’s Napa Valley. They sought to visit with their teammate Seaver, who will turn 75 on Nov. 17, and lives there with his long-time wife, Nancy, where they operate a winery. Rumors swirled around the visit, hinting that Seaver’s health had deteriorated. Together these Mets enjoyed a wonderful time together while catching up. Seaver’s family later announced, though, that he would make no more public appearances because of the ravages of dementia.
Why am I writing about Tom Seaver in a golf publication? Well, you see, I came to know him once because of golf. During my tenure as senior director of communications for the U.S. Golf Association, I worked the 1997 Walker Cup Match at Quaker Ridge in Westchester County, north of New York City. Special ceremonies were held that year because it was the 75th anniversary of the match. All former Walker Cup players were invited to attend. One was a distinguished amateur from California from the 1932 team named Charlie Seaver. His many lifetime accomplishments included serving as Tom’s dad.
On a Friday evening during the Walker Cup ceremonies at Quaker Ridge, I heard the master of ceremonies introduce Charlie Seaver to the crowd. Nearby stood a solitary figure with dark sunglasses. Closer inspection revealed that it was Tom Seaver. I knew that, at that time, he lived in nearby Greenwich, Conn. The hall-of-famer seemed content and determined to avoid the limelight and let it shine instead on his dad.
I waited until the ceremonies concluded and the crowd filed away. No one else seemed to take note of the superstar in our midst. I discreetly approached him and introduced myself. I asked if I could help him in any way. Somewhat reluctantly, Tom told me that his dad had trouble walking, but he would love to see some of the matches the next day. Could I help arrange that?
I handed Tom a media parking pass so he could leave his car near our tent. I asked him to meet me in the media dining tent at noon the next day. I would commandeer a golf cart and escort him and his dad around the golf course. I could sense his hesitation because he did not want to interfere in my routine. I assured him that it would be a pleasure and not a problem for me.
Working for the USGA in the Communications Department at that time was Saul Keeton, a great young guy fresh from graduate school. He had played college baseball at Trinity University in San Antonio. Tom Seaver, he had told me on numerous occasions, was a personal favorite. I confided to Saul that he should be around the media tent at noon the next day to meet his idol. He scoffed and ridiculed the notion that I would deliver Tom Seaver to him. I knowingly smiled and counted the hours. I already had told Tom about Saul and asked if he would speak with him and provide an autograph when they met.
The next day at noon, I sat at a round table in the media dining area, facing the door. Saul sat across the table, with his back to the door. Tom walked in, saw me, and proceeded behind Saul as I walked around the table to greet him. I tapped Saul on the shoulder and asked him to rise and meet our visitor. He spun around and saw Tom’s face as Seaver removed his sunglasses. Saul looked as if he were in the presence of a ghost.
Saul stuttered and stammered, sounding as articulate as Ralph Kramden in the old “Honeymooners” TV show. Tom didn’t hesitate. He removed Saul’s white USGA baseball cap from his head, took the black Sharpie that I extended to him, signed his name in large letters across its front bill and placed the cap back atop Saul’s head. Saul, by this time, had regained control of his tongue. All these years later, Saul occasionally will reach out to me and tell me that he still clutches that hat. He concedes that his wife and children would be his top priority if a fire ever broke out at his house, but he would retrieve that hat as well.
That afternoon, I spent a couple of pleasant hours with Charlie and Tom cruising around Quaker Ridge while watching matches. I eventually confided that I had seen Tom pitch only once in person. It was at Shea Stadium, not long after the triumph of the Miracle Mets. Tom got shelled by the Houston Astros, lasting only into the second or third inning. He thanked me for never coming to see him pitch in person again.
Tom contentedly remained in the background throughout those hours as I prodded his father to recount his storied amateur career and interactions with the great golfers of his day, including Bob Jones. When we approached the Quaker Ridge clubhouse, Charlie asked if he could examine the Walker Cup trophy up close. I utilized my USGA credentials to enter the clubhouse so that we could examine the cup. Charlie noted a dent in its backside. He claimed that indentation resulted from some revelry after the victory of his 1932 squad over the team from Great Britain & Ireland. I never could independently verify Charlie’s story, but it provided a hearty laugh for his son, who obviously had not heard the tale, either.
Once back in the golf cart, the Seaver mission seemed complete. Charlie told Tom and me that he was content, tired, and wished to leave Quaker Ridge. I drove them to their car and helped Charlie climb into the passenger seat. I walked around to the driver’s side to say goodbye. Tom looked intently into my face and thanked me warmly for all that I had done to provide a pleasant afternoon for his elderly dad. I had come to admire Tom by this juncture for the obvious kindness he demonstrated for his father, who died in 2004, as well as the humility he exhibited by remaining in the background and shining the spotlight instead on his father – a role reversal, no doubt, of what normally transpired when the two were together in public.
I heard Tom call my name after I had started to walk back to the golf cart. I turned around and approached him. Seaver expressed regret that he had done nothing for me that weekend as he had done for others. Tom had overlooked the positive memories he had provided that would endure for decades to come.
These memories drifted back recently when the recounting of the Miracle Mets appeared in the media, followed by the sad news about Tom Seaver. Even the greatest of athletes are not immune from the challenges of old age, it seems. In this age of celebrity worship, social media and continuous news cycles, it was refreshing to meet a superstar athlete who was humble, concerned primarily with the feelings of others and determined not to let his presence detract from the rightful stars of the day. There is only one way to summarize my impressions of Tom Seaver from that day: Truly, he was terrific.