Longtime New York Daily News sportswriter Bill Madden knew Tom Seaver well.
For forty years their paths crossed professionally as well as personally. Three months back, on August 31, Seaver passed, after a long battle with Lewy body dementia and complications caused by COVID-19. More than a year ago, it was Seaver's family that announced at age 75, the hall of fame pitcher was retiring from public life.
For 20 Major League Baseball seasons, beginning back in 1967, Seaver was the franchise face of New York City's National League club. His pitching prowess became legendary. Winning Cy Young Awards, leading the league in strikeouts, tossing a no-hitter (and a couple one-hitters, as well), and leading the most unlikely team in the game's history to a World Series championship in 1969, molded an icon.
How Seaver arrived in the pro ball, his time playing for the University of Southern California, becoming a United States Marine, becoming a better, more confident pitcher by spending a summer playing in Fairbanks, Alaska, and in retirement becoming an all-star in the wine growing industry makes for a wonderful life.
Madden has packaged Seaver's magnificent life in his new book - Tom Seaver - A Terrific Life (simonandschuster.com).
There are questions and answers delivered in A Terrific Life that even some of Seaver's most dedicated followers might be in the dark about, until now.
Who knew the Mets, as the 1976 season was about to start, were in very serious talks of sending Seaver to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a straight up trade for future hall of famer Don Sutton? There was another trade with the Dodgers that had Seaver going to Chavez Ravine for Sutton, Pedro Guerrero and Rick Sutcliffe.
Then, there was a phone call from Seaver to Madden, asking if he could place a call to New York Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner, wondering if he could finish his playing days in the Bronx.
When the Mets failed to protect Seaver in January 1984's free-agency compensation draft, the 12-time all-star was unexpectedly selected by the Chicago White Sox. Madden was among a very few who knew of this, and was the first to inform the soon-to-be ex-Met.
Then, details are dished of what has become known in Flushing, Queens simply as the "Midnight Massacre" of 1977, when on June 15, at the trading deadline, Seaver was shipped to the Cincinnati Reds.
A Terrific Life is as close to an authorized autobiography on Seaver as there ever will be.
" The Book was finished, and originally was to be distributed next April," says Madden, a 2010 recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spinks Award (the highest award given by the Baseball Writers' Association of America). Then, it was moved up to November."
Originally, Madden had no plans to write A Terrific Life.
Working on a documentary on Seaver's life and times with the News' former editor-in-chief Martin Dunn, Madden made two visits to the hall of famer's home in Calistoga, California in 2016 and '17. The documentary would change hands from Dunn to FOX, and would first air in October 2019.
Madden thankfully takes Seaver fans deep into his childhood. Growing up in Fresno, readers are introduced to Seaver's friends, and how they remained an important pillar of strength to him up until his passing.
Being at Seaver's home, Madden recalls his time as if he were receiving a tutorial on grapes and wine making. Through their friendship and conversations in recent years, Madden tells of Seaver's memory beginning to slip.
"I would ask Tom during our telephone conversations, when planning our trip to Calistoga, to make sure Nancy (Tom's wife) was on the phone, too," said Madden.
Madden, who covered the Yankees for the News, didn't have a lot of time around the pitching great through most of his career. But, when left unprotected by the Mets in January 1984 in the free-agency compensation draft, this was when Madden earned a lasting bond with Seaver.
"I was tipped off by a friend (Art Berke) that the Mets left Seaver unprotected, and that the Chicago White Sox were going to select him," Madden explained during a recent telephone conversation. "I couldn't believe I had this huge story laid on my lap. (Seaver) was 39-years-old at the time. There were hundreds of players available. The Mets didn't think anyone would take him."
After calling Mets' general manager Frank Cashen to confirm Seaver's being left unprotected, Madden felt an obligation to call the pitcher at his Connecticut home, to get his reaction. As it turned out, Seaver knew nothing of his impending move to Chicago.
"He (Seaver) thanked me for the heads-up."
Madden and the News sat on the story for eight hours. The presses ran the News' last edition at around 1:30 AM, and Madden's exclusive was out for delivery. Madden looks back and marvels over the enormity of the story, and how it was able to be kept under wraps.
"This is when Seaver looked at me more than a sportswriter. We had a special relationship," Madden offers.
Three years later, during the '86 season, Seaver wanted out of Chicago. His first choice to finish his incredible career that was ticketed for Cooperstown was the Mets. Apparently, on the front office side, Frank Cashen was open to a Seaver return to Shea Stadium. However, as Madden explains in A Terric Life, manager Davey Johnson wanted no part of such proposal.
" (Seaver) asked me if I would call Steinbrenner, and let him know that I'd like to finish my career with the Yankees. So, I called George. I couldn't imagine him not up for it. Upstaging the Mets who were heading to the World Series, but George was lukewarm about the idea," reveals Madden.
"George said he'd have to talk to his baseball people about this. And in the middle of all this, all the White Sox wanted in return was a 6'6" shortstop prospect - Carlos Martinez. The bottom line, the trade was never done. So, Chicago traded Seaver to Boston for Steve Lyons (June 29,1986)."
Madden tells a saddening story of the difference of Seaver's physical and mental conditions in 2017, from being with him the previous year. Seaver no longer had memories of his playing days, and talked in generalities.
Having covered all Hall of Fame inductions for the News since Willie Mays joined baseball's most cherished fraternity in 1979, when Madden entered the Hall's writer's wing in 2010 as a Spink recipient, his old pal Seaver welcomed him to the "club."
"Tom broke my chops. He wrote on one of his hall of fame cards to me, "Well, look what the cat drug in."
Extensive phone conversations, visits to Seaver's Napa County 116 acres at Diamond Mountain in Calistoga, mingling at award banquets, and locker room interviews, Madden and the hall of famer chose to have a friendship earned and maintained for decades. A Terrific Life is proof of this.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.
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