Tom Seaver is dead. Another leaf of my youth falls away. I grew up as a Yankees fan because my uncle was an announcer for the team. But I always harbored a fondness for the Mets, both in their early sixties incarnation of lovable ineptitude and their surge to an improbable world championship in 1969.
In July of that summer, on a warm, humid evening made for baseball, I and my high school friends Jon Jucovy and Peter Applebome got tickets to see the Mets play the Chicago Cubs, their rivals for the NL pennant. Seaver was pitching that night, and from our seats high up in the upper tier in left field of the sold-out, now-vanished Shea Stadium, we witnessed Seaver merely take a perfect game into the ninth inning, brushing away the Cubs batters like so many presumptuous gnats. All the while we three observed the ancient baseball superstition of never mentioning the momentous event-in-progress—the closest call was Peter’s observation, in the eighth inning, that “it’s a perfect night for a ballgame.”
With one out in the ninth, a young nonentity named Jamie Qualls stroked a Seaver fastball into an unoccupied stretch of left-centerfield greensward—I can still see the ominous arc of that line drive as it streaked towards us—and the entire vast concrete structure seemed to deflate. But we knew we were witnessing the birth of a Hall of Famer and an inevitable march to the World Series.
My next major experience of Seaver came decades later, during his stint as an expert, amiable foil to the daft Phil Rizzuto in the Yankees’ TV booth during the early nineties, parrying Rizzuto’s clown act with consistently compelling strategic insights into the game.
The accolades “class act” and “gentleman” are invariably overworked in posthumous tributes, but I can think of no better way to describe Tom Terrific, who embodied so much of the youthful energy and elan of the late sixties, right down to his courageous denunciations of the Vietnam War in a milieu notable for its crass groupthink of militarist chauvinism and flag-waving.
With Tom Seaver’s death we lose not only a remnant of the heady hopes and exuberance of the sixties, but also an embodiment of the intelligence, grace, and pride in excellence that have gradually seeped out of American life. We will miss you, Tom, and go in peace.
William Kaufman is a writer and editor who lives in New York City. He can be reached at email@example.com.