On May 23, 1963, Gil Hodges took over the managerial reins of the lowly Washington Senators. On October 28, 2011, Tony La Russa guided the St. Louis Cardinals to a world championship. And in between, there was never a day that somebody who had managed, was managing or was destined to manage Tom Seaver wasn’t a major league manager.
Unless somebody makes a decision more surprising than La Russa did today in announcing his retirement, that streak ends on Opening Day 2012.
Seaver’s managers in the big leagues: Wes Westrum, Salty Parker, Hodges, Yogi Berra, Roy McMillan, Joe Frazier, Joe Torre, Sparky Anderson, John McNamara, Russ Nixon, George Bamberger, Frank Howard, La Russa, Jim Fregosi and McNamara a second time. Seven of those skippers are filling out lineup cards in the great beyond. Six of the others managed their last game between 1983 (Howard) and 2010 (Torre). La Russa was managing as of three days ago. He’d been managing almost without interruption since August 2, 1979, the day Thurman Munson died. In his first job, with the White Sox, he had the honor of filling in “Seaver” on his lineup card from 1984 until his forced departure in the midst of the 1986 season. Tom migrated to the Red Sox only a week before Tony landed in Oakland. Seaver’s career ended soon enough, but La Russa, no longer so obscure that Nipsey Russell couldn’t recognize him, kept going.
Theoretically (and I’d like to believe it happened), La Russa could tell his pitchers for the rest of the time he managed, “Well, I had Tom Seaver, and Tom Seaver put up with me…so if Tom Seaver could put up with me, so can you.” I didn’t really think of it this way until now, but it kind of kept Seaver’s active big league career alive from his last pitch for Boston in 1986 through Jason Motte’s last pitch last Friday.
Not that Seaver’s career isn’t immortal. And not that there’s not an asterisk floating about on the subject of Seaver managers and the current day. When Tom was still on the 40-man roster as a pitcher for the Mets in October of 1983, shortly after that season ended, the Mets elevated their Triple-A skipper Davey Johnson to lead them for 1984. For three months, Johnson was technically Seaver’s manager, though there were no games to manage at the time. Come January, there’d be a public relations fiasco to manage, but that was another matter altogether. The Mets let Seaver go to the White Sox, where he fell into the acquaintance of La Russa and — like Ron Darling in Oakland — found fodder to fondly recall as a broadcaster much later in life, when in the midst of calling Mets games, he’d now and then refer to his time with La Russa approvingly. It usually came up during Mets-Cardinals games, because there was La Russa in the opposing dugout, still managing, often winning.
One could stretch the asterisk to June of 1987 when Seaver put on a Mets uniform once more to test his 42-year-old body and see if it could help a pitching-strapped staff defend a world title that appeared to be slipping away from Met grasp. Davey was the manager then and even penciled in “Seaver” on an exhibition game lineup card at Norfolk. But Seaver got hit hard and gave up his comeback attempt soon after. On the other hand, the Washington Nationals have just officially picked up the option on the contract of their manager, Davey Johnson, for 2012. Davey can inspire his Nats with stories of having managed greats like Carter, Hernandez, Strawberry and Gooden, to name four, but he can’t really say he managed Tom Seaver.
For the first time since Tom Seaver threw a pitch in the major leagues in 1967, no manager can…though Frank Howard is still available.