The following is a partial excerpt from the new book, Tom Seaver: A Terrific Life from Simon and Schuster. The book will be released on November 24.
Author Bill Madden has covered the Yankees and Major League Baseball as the national baseball columnist for the New York Daily News for 40 years. Madden has also authored the New York Times bestseller Steinbrenner, and has collaborated on memoirs by Lou Piniella and Don Zimmer. Madden was the 2010 recipient of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award and is a member of the Writers Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Madden began following Seaver’s career in the 1980s. Seaver came to trust Madden so completely that, eager to return to New York from Chicago, he asked Madden to explore a possible trade to the Yankees, which never materialized. Drawing in part on their long relationship, Madden offers a deeply personal and fascinating portrait of one of the greatest and most admired players of all time.
He had already won 273 games in the big leagues, along with a record-tying three Cy Young Awards, a no-hitter, and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year Award—not to mention having led the New York Mets to the most improbable World Series championship in baseball history—when Tom Seaver received the news that fateful morning of January 20 in 1984.
He was going to have to leave New York for the second time in his career.
Unlike the first time, 1977, when he was still in his prime, Seaver was thirty-nine now and coming off two successive losing seasons, which had already caused him to question privately whether it was time to start seriously considering life without baseball.
Other than miraculously regaining the lost two miles per hour on his fastball or winning the Sporting News’ Comeback Player of the Year Award, Seaver had nothing more to prove when the Chicago White Sox shocked the baseball world that day by selecting him as the number one pick in something called the free-agent compensation draft, passing over hundreds of far younger established players and prospects.
“I just don’t know if I want to do this,” Seaver said to his wife, Nancy, that morning in the kitchen of their home, a converted barn snuggled within a parcel of seven heavily wooded acres in Greenwich, Connecticut. Leave home again? With his two daughters growing up? Why?
In recounting that conversation years later, Nancy Seaver said her husband’s anger at the Mets for leaving him unprotected in the draft was tempered by his own self-doubt as to whether he had anything left in that durable right arm that had already logged more than four thousand innings across seventeen major-league seasons—and whether it was worth it to find out, in another city, in a different league with the designated hitter, halfway across the country from his home and family.
“I think he was questioning himself whether or not he needed to put himself out there again,” Nancy said during an interview at Seaver’s vineyard in Calistoga, California, north of San Francisco, in 2017. “Maybe it was time for him to come home and start to think about his future.” But Nancy said she suggested that he give it a try. Go to the new team. “I started thinking, ‘Well, we could live in the city. How fun that would be for the girls. We could actually live in a high-rise—we’d never done that before.’?”
Seaver pondered what she had said, still uncertain about how much he had left.
“Well,” he said, “maybe if I just get two hundred ninety wins. What’s so wrong with that? Maybe I could be content with that.”
Again, Nancy felt he was short-changing himself. What was twenty-seven more wins? He’d won twenty games in a season five times previously in his career and led the league with fourteen victories just three years earlier in the strike-shortened 1981 campaign.
“You have to go for the three hundred wins,” she said, firmly. “If you don’t at least try, it will always be in the back of your mind.”