A 40-Year Friendship With Baseball Legend Tom Seaver
Author Pat Jordan tells how he and the late pitching ace learned from each other
(New York Mets pitching ace Tom Seaver, aka Tom Terrific, has died at age 75 of complications from Lewy body dementia and COVID-19. Below is the June 2020 Next Avenue story about him.)
Stats frame Tom Seaver as arguably the best pitcher of his generation: 311 wins and 3,640 strikeouts in a career that spanned from 1967 to 1986. So does the mantel: three Cy Young Awards (the highest honor a pitcher can receive) with The New York Mets. Then there is the ultimate sign of immortality: a Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“I’m not interested in facts,” author and journalist Pat Jordan says. “I’m interested in truth.”
The latter is Jordan’s forte as a writer. The 79-year-old’s two acclaimed baseball memoirs — A False Spring, about his flame-out as a Milwaukee Braves pitching prodigy, and A Nice Tuesday, about his return to the pitcher’s mound at age 56 — are defined by an eloquent, brutal honesty. You don’t have to like baseball, only great prose.
Jordan’s latest effort, Tom Seaver and Me (just published by Post Hill Press), is another frank character study. As the decades-long friendship unfolds, Jordan’s dealings with the pitching ace reveal volumes. Seaver, intelligent and insightful but guarded, first represents what Jordan could have achieved on the diamond and, finally, a reminder that life grounds all supermen.
"I didn't defer to him as 'Tom Seaver, the pitcher, the big deal,' you know?"
In March 2019, the Seaver family announced that Tom Seaver had dementia and would cease making public appearances.
Last month, Jordan talked from his Abbeville, S.C., home about his friendship with the baseball legend he has known as a man.
This interview has been edited for clarity and space.
Pete Croatto: Why do you think Tom gravitated to you all those years ago?
Pat Jordan: He read all my stories. He knew that I understood pitching. My early stories for Sports Illustrated were all about pitching. Secondly, he knew I had been a pitcher, and a serious one. So he was curious. Then, when he met me [in 1971], and we played basketball, he realized that we were both on the same wavelength as guys.
I didn't defer to him as 'Tom Seaver, the pitcher, the big deal,' you know? I kept jazzing him all the time that my fastball was better — and I was serious. He liked all of that stuff. We really were like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid: Two opposites who were really attracted to each other, because the flip side of both of our coins fascinated the other guy.
Describing Tom’s pitching, you wrote that discipline and perfection mattered to him. You quoted Tom as saying, 'When I tried to perfect everything, I perfected nothing.” That almost sounds like good writing advice. Did you become a better writer by being around Tom?
When I was thirty, yes, I learned from him. As I got older, he learned from me. At thirty years old, I was a much more undisciplined person. Looking at the way he lived his life, the way he approached pitching. Tom told me how hard it was when he was young and didn't have good stuff when he was in high school, to get bombed in the first inning and have to go out and start the second inning. Because you just want to quit, and he thought, 'I had to force myself not to quit.'
When I was thirty, that was stuck in my mind. When I was forty, it was all over. When I was forty-four and Susie [Jordan’s wife] and I were living in Fort Lauderdale and I lost a book contract and we had no money, we were [down on our luck]. Susan was working cleaning motel rooms, getting forty dollars a day, and we were broke. We lived off our credit card.
Every day, 8 o'clock in the morning, I went to the typewriter. I said, ‘I don't give a s*** what anybody says. I'm a writer.’ I sit at the typewriter from 8 to 12, to 1, whatever. I don't care if World War Three is happening; I'm still writing. That’s it.
That you and Tom were close, did that make you question your mortality?
Do you know what my big feeling was? I felt so bad that he did not have the kind of retirement that he wanted. When he first retired, he was frustrated with all of the bull**** jobs he was doing: signing autographs for money, being an announcer on TV, which he was never really that good at or liked. And he got his vineyard [Seaver Vineyards on Diamond Mountain in Calistoga, Calif.] which he was so excited about — and now he can't enjoy it.
He finally got to his retirement age, from seventy to whatever he has left [Seaver is now 75], he should have been enjoying the hell out of his life. And the idea that either he isn't, or doesn't know what's going on, I just don't think that was fair for a guy like him. I always think I'm so lucky that I'm still doing what I love to do, and I'm doing it at a certain level.
How do you see Tom now that you’re seventy-nine?
Tom was always boyish. Everything about him, even his flaws were his boyishness. But by that I mean he was enthusiastic about everything that he did. He was really fulfilled himself. He didn’t stretch his boundaries or his limits. But I think Tom was really close to the person he was. He was the same guy I met at seventy years old that I met when he was twenty-seven. He fulfilled his baseball career exactly as he wanted to. And then he was going to fulfill his wine thing the way he wanted to do it. That’s always the way he was.
Is the Seaver family aware of the book?
I have no idea. I tried to reach him before I knew he had dementia and I tried to reach him after and I got no response. I wrote him a letter, I emailed, I called...nothing.
How does that make you feel?
On one level, after he had dementia, I almost didn't want to see him or talk to him. I didn't want to know him as that person. I wanted to know the person I knew. But I knew I had to call him. Nancy [Seaver’s wife] said it was going to be private and she wasn't going to honor any requests, anyway. So it was pro-forma. That's it. And besides: It was my book.
It is a total memoir. The guy I'm writing about, my experiences with him, is from my point of view, not from the public's point of view.
One person said, 'You didn't include how much he meant to The Mets when they won the first World Series.' We never talked about that. We talked about his pitching in an intellectual way all the time, but we never talked about anything concrete. I wasn't interested in his record. The world knows what his record is. I wrote about we talked about when we were together. Period.
People will say, 'Well you left out the bad stuff about Tom.' You wanna know the truth? There was no bad stuff. I would have been the first one to put it in. I criticized Tom a lot of times in the book for flaws, like being so egocentric he never asking how you were doing, because he was a famous athlete who was used to answering questions. But if there was something negative, I would have written it.
I wanted you to get as close as you could to knowing Tom Seaver as a person without having met him.