Mondays With Murray: Two columns on Tom Terrific . . . Enjoy!

Tom Seaver passed away on Aug. 31. He was 75. The cause of death was complications of Lewy body dementia and COVID-19, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Here are two Jim Murray columns on the pitcher known as Tom Terrific.





Seaver Deserves Better

  NEW YORK — Usually when a pitcher is a veteran who has a series of 20-win seasons and has pitched his team into two World Series in four years, he is a mondaysmurray2grizzled old party who spits tobacco and you could scratch matches on his beard. He talks in four-letter words and comes from coon-hunting country and never reads anything that doesn’t have pictures in it and his favorite actor is John Wayne.

  But George Thomas Seaver looks as if he just stepped out of the pages of a Ralph Henry Barbour novel or is one of the Merriwell brothers.

  He looks as if he might go around helping old ladies across the street or rescuing babies from drowning. As if he had just two more knots to tie or fires to start rubbing sticks together to get his Eagle Scout badge. He is Mr. Cleancut; as wholesome as a Saturday Evening Post cover, or a Disney movie, the kind of guy who would put splints on broken cats, the sort of fellow who would help his mother with the dishes and bring home all A’s on his report card.

  You’d want your daughter to marry someone like Tom Seaver. You’d want your son to grow up like that. They call him “Tom Terrific.” He looks as if his name should be “Roger Trueheart” or “Peter Pluck.” He’s the kind of guy who might spend more time in museums than bar rooms. He’s concerned, was one of the few baseball uniforms to take a stand on the Vietnam war.

  His fastball makes baseball men drool and hitters slobber with rage. He could throw the proverbial strawberry through a battleship. His control is uncanny. Tommy Strikethree has as much control of his pitches as he has of himself.

  Without him, the Mets are a .380 club. He pitches nearly 300 flawless innings a year. He’s such a competitor, he would bite a lion or pull a bear out of a tree.

  You would think, if God were paying attention, Tommy Strikethree, by now, would be working on his fifth or sixth World Series win. I mean, guys who would be lifted by the fifth inning pitching against him have won that many.

  But George Thomas Seaver’s record in World Series is about what you would expect from a crooked-armed junk thrower with a hitch in his delivery and a bad habit of tipping his pitches.

  The Mets get him runs in clumps of one. They send about 28 men to bat the night he pitches.

  Take Tuesday night. In a gelid Shea Stadium amid an Arctic front moving through Queens, Seaver, sporting a 19-win year and an earned-run average you would need Palomar to read, struck out the side twice. He had the feared Reggie Jackson, a 117-runs-batted-in MVP candidate looking like a revolving door. He struck out 12, walked none and was — well — Terrific.

  His team gave him a one-inning attack. They didn’t really need bats for the other eight. Seaver was in there.

  Over on the other mound, Catfish Hunter who is not “Mr. Terrific” or Walter Wonderful and is more of a pitcher who nibbles around the outside and wears out the corners of the plate, had given up a homer, a double, assorted singles, a wild pitch, several walks and even threw in an error for good measure and wasn’t around for the seventh inning. But he got exactly what Tommy Strikethree got — a standoff. His World Series record is still 1.000. Seaver’s is still .500.

  I’m glad to see God has better things to do than see justice served in baseball games but, the point is, Tom Seaver joins some distinguished company. Walter Johnson was .500 for his six Series decisions.

  Tom Seaver is nine decisions behind Whitey Ford who won 10 World Series games but look at some of the company he’s chasing besides Ford. Shucks, Orval Overall won three and only lost one. Bill Hallahan (surely you remember Bill Hallahan? “Wild” Bill Hallahan?) won three. Ernest G. Shore was 3-1. Guys like Harry Brecheen and Lew Burdette and Mickey Lolich won three in ONE Series.

  Great pitchers like Christy Mathewson were .500 for World Series. But they did get five victories.

  Lefty Gomez never lost a World Series game. He was in some real cliff-hangers. He won one 18-4 in 1936. That’s more runs than the Mets get Tom Seaver a season.

  For Seaver, it’s like someone painting a masterpiece and having somebody use it for a doorstop or to hang in the garage at work. He’s their bad luck charm.

  It was a foregone conclusion the Mets would lose for Seaver. On a passed ball, at that. They’re not much of a ball team when you move off the mound. They have to hoard runs. Never have so many done so little for so few. The pitching staff consists of five guys with their fingers in the dike.

  But I have a feeling somewhere there’s a ghostly crew looking on and nodding safely — Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson and a lot of other guys who pitched 300 innings or 400 victories and then got in World Series only to see journeymen win the car or the plaudits.





The Other Seaver

  If they were caught in a hotel fire, lots of people would try to throw their jewels or stocks or money out the burning window. Tom Seaver would want to throw his right arm.

  As ex-teammate Tug McGraw once said, “Seaver is exploring the possibility of keeping his right arm at Ft. Knox over the winter.”

  He won’t sleep on it, open car doors with it, cut meat with it, drink beer with it. He won’t hang it out the car window, let it get sunburned. He treats his arm as if it had a life of its own. He won’t pat dogs with it, play tennis with it, cut wood with it or comb his hair with it.

  He treats it the way a captain treats a ship, a gunman his gun, or a cowboy his horse. He pampers it, worries about it. He trots it out only every fifth day.


  Most pitchers pitch every fourth day, but Seaver’s arm lets him know it needed an extra day’s rest, and Seaver never contradicts his arm.

  No Hope diamond, no Rembrandt, no British Guiana stamp ever recorded the tender loving care of Seaver’s right arm. He does everything but keep it under glass. He takes better care of it than a bank takes care of money — and for the same reason. It is probably the most expensive parcel of fleshy real estate in the game — $250,000 a front foot.

  It is a one-purpose appendage. It throws strikes. It has no other function. That is all Seaver asks of it.

  Any manager in the big leagues can tell you it is valuable only because it comes with Seaver attached. But Seaver is not persuaded. He lets the rest of Tom Seaver shift for itself. He will even open beer cans with his left arm, slice bread, let it hang out the window, comb hair, shave whiskers, and do all the things God intended an arm to do. It is an orphan. Cinderella. Tom makes it do all the work he wouldn’t dream of asking its brother to do.


  Tom sat in the dugout at the ballpark the other night and watched, fascinated, as two Dodgers pitchers, Mike Marshall and Andy Messersmith, practised double plays around first and second base. “Isn’t that swell?!” he said, not unsarcastically. “They’ve got the double play down pat. Shouldn’t they be working on getting guys to hit into them?” The lesson was clear: Seaver would never ask his arm to complete a double play. Start one, perhaps, but there were other arms to take it from there: arms that couldn’t sneak a fastball part Henry Aaron.

  “You can transplant organs — kidneys, hearts, livers,” Tom said, “but you can’t transplant shoulders and elbows. Or arms. You get one to a customer.” Even in casual conversation, Seaver tends to forget his poor, sit-by-the-fire left arm.

  There have probably been purer arms in the major leagues — although I don’t make that even money, by any means. But there’s never been one more consistent. Seaver can trust his arm. And vice versa. Every year, it delivers 200 strikeouts, some 280 innings pitched, 18 to 20 complete games and the occasional pennant. The pennant borders on a miracle. Because the New York Mets are a one-armed team.

  The Arm delivers a rising fastball, a sinking curveball, a slider so deceptive it looks like both of them at once. It puts the ball where Seaver wants it to — usually where the hitter least expects it.

  With It in there, the Mets are armed and dangerous. Without It, they’re just a good Triple A club. And maybe not so good, at that.

  It is never erratic, rebellious, temperamental. It doesn’t win one game, 1-0, and lose the next, 10-2. It has allowed 652 runs in 312 games in nine years, which comes out to two runs per game. If the Mets score three, they win.

  Seaver knows every muscle, tendon, bone or capillary in it. But to the Mets, it is not full of trapeziuses, triceps, adductors or whatever else comes in ordinary arms, it is full of dollar bills.

  Some men send their gloves to the Hall of Fame when they get elected. Others send bats, shoes, mitts, masks or caps. Seaver may just cut off his arm and send it on. After all, Roy Rogers stuffed his horse. And, by that time, Tom won’t need it anymore. Tom’s other arm will have long since learned how to take care of him now that It is no longer needed to keep that funny little team from falling through the bottom of the league anymore.

Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation P.O. Box 661532, Arcadia, CA 91066



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