If you set your DVR to record Seaver on Sunday or early Monday, you may think your unit was manufactured by M. Donald Grant, for neither the scheduled 4:30 PM showing on Channel 5 in New York nor the 1:00 AM airing on FS1 went off hitchless. That’s the danger in saying something will run immediately after a live sports telecast window when it is widely understood that live sports telecasts run long — and unnecessary postgame shows run longer. Fortunately, Fox and FS1 eventually got around to showing Seaver. Channel 5 switched to Tom at 5:11 PM…41 minutes late, which one could smile about once it became clear the documentary wouldn’t be joined in progress or cut off before it ended. The overnight airing came on at 2:55 AM Eastern Time. No poetry in that, but insomniac types still buzzing from the Astros’ eleven-inning victory in ALCS Game Two had to be satisfied.
Seaver, in case you didn’t keep up with the intermittent announcements that it was in production, is a film directed and narrated by the actor Ed Burns and produced by, among others, Bill Madden, who still contributes a weekly “what’s wrong with baseball today” column to the remnants of the Daily News. Madden, however, has something going for him that other baseball writers don’t. He’s maintained a relationship with Seaver, and thanks to that, we as viewers got a visit with Tom Terrific at his home and vineyard in California. It’s one we’ve never had and one we’ll never have again. For bringing us inside, we have to say thank you, Mr. Madden. Thank you, too, Mr. Burns, for putting together a loving, knowing tribute to the greatest Met there’s ever been or ever will be. It is a necessary tribute for the ages, thoughtfully rendered evidence in one neat sixty-minute package (including commercials) of who Tom Seaver was and what he meant. Thanks Fox and FS1 for eventually getting it on the air.
If you’re a lifelong Mets fan whose life extends back to the time defined by Tom Seaver’s excellence, the basis of the film — that you can’t understand the Mets without understanding Seaver — is Metsiana 101. Still, you like to see it. You like to be told it and retold it. Most history about things we cherish is like that. Tell us the story we know, tell it well and maybe tell us or show us a little something we didn’t already have covered. Seaver does that. Up front it’s very good with still photos we couldn’t have seen unless we were thumbing through the Seavers’ family albums. Tom and Nancy were certainly generous in that regard, and it’s fun to see them as they were before a large Metropolitan area realized they were both Terrific. Good to hear from Tom’s childhood friends as well.
And you don’t have to be a looky-loo to get a kick out of spying Seaver Vineyards or the gracious home accompanying it. So this is where the Franchise sleeps. It’s a nice spread. Good. They earned it. From his walk with Madden among the grapes, it’s clear Tom has kept earning it. The man’s love of wine seeps through just as his affection for pitching has been apparent since 1967.
The part of the story that you know — Mets are a horror show before Seaver; Seaver comes along; Gil Hodges comes along; the Mets are champions — is treated appropriately. The footage won’t shock you if you’ve spent the equivalent of months watching Mets Yearbook and such, but who can get enough of watching Seaver fan a generation of would-be batters or Shea tremble with delight as he does? You and I already know this part of the story coming out of the windup, but are you tired of hearing about 1969? It’s fifty years later, and I’m not. Much of 2019 has been devoted to retelling 1969. It’s been a year well spent.
Burns, Madden and everybody else involved keep the momentum aloft post-1969, which might loom as a challenge, because once you’ve retold The Greatest Story, everything after is bound to be a little anticlimactic. Unless you’re a Mets fan, that is — then every year has its own climaxes. Seaver’s first decade pitching was nothing but climax, really, so 1970 and 1971 (strikeout and ERA titles) are properly admired. In 1972, we pause to mourn the passing of Hodges and all that could have been. Nineteen Seventy-Three is its own thing, of course. This is where we get a little something we didn’t already know, or at least not in the terms it is offered. In framing the 1973 World Series, at the juncture the Mets are up three games to two, Sal Marchiano, longtime New York sportscaster, suggests Tom wanted the ball in Game Six on short rest because it bothered him to have not been on the mound when the Mets won it all in 1969. That Tom was intensely competitive is not news. That Tom basically insisted to Yogi Berra that he pitch is also well understood; it wasn’t aberrant back in the day for an undisputed ace to go in a World Series as soon as soon as he could lift his pitching arm high enough to comb his hair.
But Tom looked at Jerry Koosman having been The Man in Game Five four years earlier and let that supersede whatever good might have come from him getting an extra day for a potential Game Seven, when George Stone was available to start against the A’s in Oakland? That’s kind of heavy to think about. It goes unchallenged. Marchiano is a talking head. Seaver’s in Calistoga. This isn’t an FS1 shout show. There’s no back-and-forth. It’s just put on the table and left to linger as we learn the A’s beat Seaver, 3-1, setting up an equally unsuccessful Game Seven. Audio from 46 years ago has Reggie Jackson explain, almost apologetically, that we didn’t see the real Tom Seaver today.
By the way, Seaver’s short-rest Game Six line was seven innings, two runs. Below his standards for 1973, perhaps — but above pretty much everybody’s in this century. It goes unremarked that the Mets didn’t hit Catfish Hunter. He’s also in the Hall of Fame.
Seaver’s Mets career goes on brilliantly until 1977, when there is no editing, no narration, no CGI wizardry to prevent what we know is coming. Just as I reflexively pumped a fist whenever Tom and the Mets were shown winning games, I angered and saddened all over again at the sight of Dick Young and the mention of M. Donald Grant. The documentary was obviously doing its job, even if it’s one we wish hadn’t been needed. In the rest of the film, Seaver goes on as a Red (no-hitter), a Met a second time (until plucked from a sloppy unprotected list ), a White Sock (300th win) and a Red Sock (inactive 1986 World Series opponent). He retires, he comes back to Flushing now and then and…well, he won’t be coming back again. The reason is made explicit, and it hits us all over again that the Mets without Tom in 2019 is as wrong as the Mets without Tom was at any previous juncture in their history.
Contemporary Tom on camera is basically the Tom you saw when he did games for WPIX between 1999 and 2005 or visited as a VIP from 2006 to 2013. Maybe one scene has you pulling for him to keep his train of thought on track because you understand why it appears to be derailing; you’re glad his thoughts were captured on what must have been some relatively good days for a man suffering from dementia. You’re thankful Nancy is there. Nancy is every bit the Franchise as Tom in the Seaver story. They will always reign as the king and queen of Queens, whether in California or memory.
Now to be Comic Book Guy’s cousin Media Guide Guy about the production…
Twice in the film it is mentioned the Braves illegally signed from the draft — and the Mets serendipitously drew from a hat — Seaver in 1965. No, it was 1966.
In the segment devoted to the 1973 NLCS versus the Reds, we see Seaver throwing a strike to his catcher John Stearns. That happened in 1975.
Fred Wilpon sits for an interview; he vouches that Brooklyn Dodgers fans missed baseball, but says nothing about the title subject of the film.
We hear from some press people who covered Seaver, and some who came along later but grew up as fans of his, yet we don’t hear at all from Howie Rose or Gary Cohen, who only know everything about the Mets.
We hear from two teammates associated with Seaver’s Met prime — Koosman and Ron Swoboda — and are moved to wonder where some other voices intimately attached to that era are.
Several Hall of Famers who attempted to hit against Seaver weigh in. We would have welcomed a longer procession.
There can always be more. We always want more. If it were an hour-and-a-half long, we’d want two hours. If it were two, we’d demand the kind of length we get from Ken rather than Ed Burns. For an hour, though, the film tells its story well, whether to an audience eternally immersed in it or altogether new to it. Seaver on short rest, delays and all, is as good a bet as you’ll find this October.
FS1 has a passel of reairings scheduled between October 20 and October 24, fortunately none that seem to follow live sports programming, so they should actually be shown as slated. Check your cable listings and set your DVRs to include extra time just in case.
An opportunity to hear from four other members of the 1969 Mets is at hand, Monday night, October 21. It will be presented by FANS for the CURE  and hosted by Ed Randall, of WFAN’s Talkin’ Baseball, at the SVA Theatre (School of Visual Arts) on West 23rd St. between Eighth and Ninth Avenues in Manhattan. The four World Champions taking the stage will be Art Shamsky, Ed Kranepool, Ron Swoboda and Cleon Jones. Edgardo Alfonzo joins in as special guest. It looms as a great Mets evening and, as Ed notes, it’s the night before the World Series, so it’s not like you have to miss a ballgame to attend.
The event itself begins at 7:15 PM, with a reception at six o’clock. Details are here . For further ticket info, please call 212.625.1025, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. FANS for the CURE, Ed’s great cause, promotes the early detection and treatment of prostate cancer and supporting research against the insidious disease.