Tom ‘ The Franchise’ Seaver – 1 of 2 of My Childhood Idols
By Ron Kuchler
This may be the most difficult column I have written in my life. It’s ‘The Morning After’ of the day when the news broke that Tom ‘The Franchise’ Seaver passed away Monday evening. As I sit here, on the outdoor living space at the Kandy Beach House in southern California, with a cup of coffee in my hand and my laptop propped in my lap, watching a hummingbird dance from one Birds of Paradise to another, I struggle to write the words to properly express my dismay at the passing of my childhood idol.
You may recall it was exactly a year ago, in the September 2019 issue of Kandy magazine, that I paid tribute to Tom Terrific Seaver in a column I wrote about baseball trading cards in the 1970s. The thought never crossed my mind that one year later that I would be writing about his death.
The year 2020 held so much promise for us all, probably because 2020 is the visual acuity for perfect vision. There has been nothing perfect about the year 2020 except the destruction it has brought to our lives. Little did we realize that within four weeks of the calendar turning over would our world begin to flip upside down and within 10 weeks it would come to a full stop.
The year 2020 has been catastrophic globally on so many levels. The pandemic has taken hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. When something awful would happen, we would just chalk it up to 2020. Well, the passing of my childhood idol, Tom Seaver may be the final nail in the coffin for attributing bad events to the year 2020.
I grew up in Sunnyside Queens, New York. My dad was a part-time usher at Shea Stadium where the New York Mets would play. I would collect UPC codes on the back of milk cartons so I could accumulate enough to send in for a free ticket to a Mets home game at Shea, even though my dad was an usher and the seats would be the last row in the mezzanine section. When I was 11 I would take the 7 train on the subway out to Shea to catch a day game with my close childhood friends, George Rafferty and John Dunbar. The 7 runs elevated above Queens Boulevard which may sound familiar to you if you are a fan of Entourage. No parent supervision was necessary when we took the 7 out to Shea. Games would last only two hours back then and we were always home by 5. I would hope that The Franchise was pitching on those days. Although, we were never disappointed if it turned out to be Jerry Koosman or Jon Matlack on the mound. We left early enough so we could catch batting practice and with the hope that a player or two would swing by and sign autographs. We were never so lucky to snag an autograph.
Back in the 1970s, it was very common for pitchers to take the mound on three days rest. So, the odds were good that we make it to a game when Tom Terrific took the mound. I was fortunate to see him pitch in person often. Over the course of his career, he won 311 games, threw over 3,500 strikeouts, completed 231 games, and shutout the opposing team 61 times. I was in attendance for a handful of those shutouts. I recall my dad breaking down his mechanics on the way home after games in which he threw a shutout. Dad would focus on the pitches when the opposing team got a hit and describe to me what was wrong with the location or the motion of the throw. My dad was pitcher in the Army during the Korean war. He loved to analyze flaws. Unfortunately, that trait passed down to his son.
The Mets won the World Series for the first time when I was 5. It is not a vivid memory of mine. They loss the World Series in 7 games to the Oakland A’s in 1973. I recall that series clearly. Willie Mays returned home to New York to retire where his Hall of Fame career commenced.
Tom Seaver pitched two games in the series, games 3 and 6. The Mets loss both games even though Tom Terrific only yielded two runs in each game. The Mets went into game 6, played in Oakland, with a 3 – 2 edge in the series. Instead of holding Tom off for a possible game 7, and on an extra day of rest, Yogi put him out there for game 6. We could not have asked for a gustier performance than what he showed. The New York beat writers were brutal. They blamed the series loss on Seaver even though he was practically unhittable. We expected perfection from Tom Terrific. The runs support Tom Seaver received in that series is akin to the runs support Jacob deGrom has received over his career for the Mets.
Fast forward a dozen years to August 4th, 1975 and Tom ‘The Franchise’ Seaver is pitching in Yankee Stadium for the Chicago White Sox against the New York Yankees. He is going for his 300th win. Sitting in the right field corner is a young twenty-something man with his father. Yes, that would be dad and I. Tom Terrific went the distance that day, as he had so often in his career, to win his 300th game. It is a lasting memory not only because Seaver won his 300th but because it was the last ballgame my dad and I ever attended together. I was attending college in Denver and would stay in Colorado after graduating from college. Eventually, I would settle in San Diego. The years would fly by and dad and I would never attend another baseball game together.
Rest in Peace dad and Rest in Peace Tom ‘The Franchise’ Seaver. My two idols gone forever but your inspiration lives on.