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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Happy Murphday, Tom

To properly commemorate what would have been the 79th birthday of Tom Seaver on Friday, the New York Mets made a gift of Daniel Vogelbach’s availability to anybody who wants him. Technically, it was a non-tendering, but a gift is a gift. Vogelbach’s status as beloved Met who could deliver a hit on demand was brief. He definitely wasn’t as good as we thought in the wake of his 2022 arrival, probably not as bad as we collectively decided by the time 2023 went to hell. He very much rates a live-and-be-well farewell, at least until he goes all Travis d’Arnaud on our ass.

Joining Vogey in the land of fresh opportunity is Luis Guillorme, whose six-season tenure as a utilityman outlasted its utility by roughly a year. When he and the Mets peaked together, in the first half of ’22, Luis was Buck Showalter’s “regular irregular,” catching every ball hit near him and hitting plenty of the balls pitched to him. With defensive dexterity that earned him the nickname Los Manos, Guillorme casually nabbed a flying bat (the wooden kind) while standing in the dugout one Spring Training, and worked an at-bat as epic as his beard in another Spring Training. Perhaps Luis would prefer a stream of impressive black-ink statistics to show off to prospective employers this winter, but there’s something to be said for being enough of a legend that fans will warmly remember who you were long after they’ve forgotten what numbers you didn’t post.

Also enveloped in the non-tendering agate type are three relief pitchers — Jeff Brigham, Sam Coonrod and Trevor Gott — who call to mind the Wolf’s description of the body that needs to be disposed of ASAP in Pulp Fiction: nobody who’ll be missed. This troupe of freshly minted free agents joins a slew of other 2023 Mets who’ve been brushed aside by recent roster machinations. For those who haven’t been paying utmost attention to minute detail, Anthony Kay and Vinny Nittoli were grabbed by the vagabonding/Vegas A’s in October, while out on the open market just in time for holiday shopping are (deep breath) Rafael Ortega, Jose Araúz, Michael Perez, Danny Mendick, John Curtiss, Denyi Reyes and Tim Locastro. Carlos Carrasco left of his own expired-contract volition and Adam Ottavino declined his player option, citing a surfeit of Met uncertainty. Player churn happens every fall. Factor in new management, and the the exit velocity where old players are concerned is bound to be accelerated.

For all we know, one or more of the above will be back with the Mets sooner or later. We didn’t know Tom Seaver would be back with the Mets when he was traded on June 15, 1977, but there he was, striding in from the bullpen on April 5, 1983. We didn’t know Tom would be back with the Mets when he was swallowed up in the ill-fated compensation pool on January 20, 1984, but there he was yet again on the morning of June 6, 1987, putting on a Mets uniform and talking to Bob Murphy.

Could a comeback be any more official?

I recently stumbled across an audio gem. It’s from the Mets radio pregame show that bridged Mets Extra and Mets baseball from the first Saturday in June 36 years ago. Murphy hosted, Seaver guested. Tom was in orange and blue not for ceremonial purposes, but to take one more shot at pitching…and because the Mets weren’t giving up on contending.

Sometimes everything is about context. That morning in Flushing, the New York Mets were defending world champions, but their title defense hadn’t been going so swell. They were a fourth-place team, one game above .500 and six games from the top of their division. Yet there was hope. The night before marked the return of Dr. K. Dwight Gooden missed the first two months of the 1987 season after being directed to rehabilitation after testing positive for cocaine late in Spring Traning. One month in drug rehab at the Smithers faciity in Manhattan, one month in what amounted to pitching rehab, getting his arm back into shape in the minors. The former may not have been enough for a person with an addiction, but the latter seemed to have its intended effect. On June 5, 1987, Doc was on the mound again at Shea Stadium, holding the Pirates to four hits, four walks and one run over six-and-two-thirds innings in a 5-1 win. If Doc was back, hope was back.

Problem was, Bobby Ojeda, Rick Aguilera and David Cone were all out with injuries, and the Mets were vamping in the starting pitching department two out of every five games. That’s where an available right arm idling in Connecticut came into play. Four days before their reigning ace’s 1987 debut, Jack Lang broke a story in the Daily News that the Mets were in touch with their old ace. “Old” may have been the operative phrase, for even if Tom Seaver was and would always be The Franchise — and even if he had pitched effectively for the Red Sox in 1986 before a knee ailment eliminated him from their postseason rotation (and saved Mets fans from at least a sliver of emotional tug of war) — he was still a 42-year-old pitcher who hadn’t pitched in nearly nine months.

News you might figure would have been greeted with more huzzahs.

Individual Mets from the club’s 1980s imperial phase were never shy about issuing opinions. Some players were conditionally supportive of the possible signing. “He may not be the Tom Seaver of old,” Wally Backman allowed, “but he knows how to pitch. If he’s healthy, he could help us.” Keith Hernandez countered, “We need immediate help. I don’t know how long it’d take him to get ready, and we need help right now.” Mex guessed Seaver would require a month to prepare, or roughly what the much younger Gooden spent tuning up. Gary Carter caught Seaver in January as part of a video shoot. “I can tell you that he could pitch in the majors today if he throws the way he did in the video,” Kid said. “He could give us a boost.” As an added endorsement, Carter noted, “Mickey Mantle took a few cuts against him and couldn’t hit him.” Mantle, however, hadn’t batted for real since 1968.

Less willing to see the Seaver glass as half-full was Lenny Dykstra. “I know we need another pitcher,” Nails assessed, “but I’m not sure he’s the one we need.” To Rafael Santana, one inactive pitcher profiled pretty much like another. “Maybe we should sign Pedro Borbon,” the shortstop said, referring to the Reds reliever of the ’70s. “He hasn’t pitched in six years.” One Met unwilling to put his name to his words threw this knockdown pitch at the prospective reunion: “He wasn’t the most popular guy in the clubhouse when he was here in ’83. I guess this shows we’re really desperate.”

Three years after the passing of the greatest Met who ever lived, the barely audible huzzahs for Seaver, let alone the thumbs-down reaction to the whole idea, come across as blasphemy. But in the moment, a pitcher who turned 42 the previous November and hadn’t fired a pitch in competition since he was 41 — never mind that this was 41 being talked about — may not have appeared an obvious plug to fill a gaping hole. Then again, he was Tom Seaver. He was 41 and all that implied. “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Phil Pepe wrote in the News, labeling Tom Terrific “chicken soup for the Mets: he may not help, but he couldn’t hurt.”

Tom Seaver didn’t have to be the Tom Seaver of 1969 in 1987. Being better than the Tom Edens of 1987 (a fill-in starter who wasn’t closing the rotational gap) would suffice. As chicken soup for the staff, Seaver’s presence loomed as mmm, mmm, good enough. Thus, Seaver was back at Shea the morning after the night Gooden was back at Shea, and maybe the world was as it was supposed to be, the only two Met Cy Young winners to date aligning like the stars they were in our galaxy. GM Frank Cashen was clear there was “no sentiment involved” in the move, but the Bow Tie’s business implored him to be all business. Of course there was sentiment involved. Tom Seaver was no Pedro Borbon, no standard-issue retread. Doc Gooden was only 22, but he understood and respected the bona fides of his new teammate.

“Being on the same club with Tom Seaver is a tremendous thrill. It’s going to be great having him around. I’m sure he’s going to be a big help. I grew up following his career, him and other guys like Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard and Steve Carlton — all the power pitchers. I was a power pitcher in high school so, naturally, I followed them. It’s going to mean a great deal knowing you got him behind you. I look forward to getting to know him better.”

Doc did everything but quote from Hello, Dolly!. That flourish was left to Bob Murphy, who told Tom on the pregame show, “It’s nice to have you back where you belong.” In the audio clip that runs about ten minutes, you can hear the friendship between Seaver and Murphy, two avatars of everything beautiful about Mets baseball. In the moment, the news is the story. All these decades later, we can savor the interaction as a precious meeting of Met icons.

You can also hear…

• the “Let’s Do It Again!” theme that scored Mets baseball in 1987;

• a reminder that we were listening to “Sportsradio 1050 WHN,” the country station positioning itself to radically alter its format and its medium a few weeks hence;

• a smidge of Howie Rose not yet losing patience with the kind of call that a rabid (and later reformed) WFAN listener would not blame him for growing sick of in the years to come;

• rolfing talk, with invocations of Craig Swan and Tim Leary;

• Seaver acknowledging “I’ve been on vacation for seven months” and balancing his contentment with life after baseball with the fact that “I love to pitch”;

• Tom, still using the third-person to refer to the Mets, saying “these guys have a really good ballclub” and “they would love to repeat,” and you realize nobody has been able to use the second sentiment to express the Mets’ goal since that season;

• Murph shifting from referring to Seaver in the third person to talking to Seaver in the second person, a subtle pivot from addressing the audience to addressing his interview subject, but with Bob doing it, it’s so wonderfully familiar and graceful;

• that though he didn’t necessarily miss the routine of baseball, what really “got some juices flowing” for Seaver was playing catch, which may not sound like much, unless you’ve heard or read Bill Simmons tell the story of how fate led him, as a teenager, to be involved in one of those games of catch;

• Tom’s evergreen pitching philosophy: “Fastball, curveball, slider and changeup, high and tight, low and away, don’t throw ’em down the middle and don’t walk ’em — some things about pitching never change”;

• an estimate that in a normal Spring Training, Tom would need three starts to get up to five innings, though he would need longer to produce five “good” innings;

• a timetable that would have Tom throwing as soon as he’s done talking to Bob and pitching for the Mets in their visit to Tidewater later in the week;

• Tom’s answer of “I’m gonna have to work real hard on that” to Murph’s gentle nudge that after three years where the DH rule was installed, “you’ll have to start working on your hitting again”;

• Bob reiterating the target date that was floated for Seaver’s return during Tom’s press conference that morning: “around June the Twentieth, he’ll be back into action in the National League,” a lovely if distant echo of the Mets’ reason for being, namely the void New York fans felt once the Giants and Dodgers left town;

• Tom Seaver’s honorarium for visiting with Bob Murphy will be gift certificates to Crazy Eddie…and if you haven’t heard it in a while, don’t deprive yourself of the sound of Bob Murphy informing everybody that “Crazy Eddie, his prices are insane”;

• and that, per Murph, all this is going on amid “a beautiful Saturday afternoon in New York”

I can attest to the last bullet point, if we make like the local football teams and include New Jersey in New York. I listened to this interview when it first aired over Sportsradio 1050 WHN, while pulling out of the parking lot of the Marriott in Saddle Brook, the site of my first overnight getaway with my girlfriend of then 26 days, if we’re counting back to May 11, 1987, the night she and I met. Our first actual date — at Shea Stadium (where else?) — was 22 days earlier, May 15. There’s a brick outside Citi Field inscribed with the pertinent details of that outing, so maybe that’s when the relationship picked up its requisite steam. By June 4, Stephanie and I were already talking about marriage as a done deal. It seemed most appropriate to cross state lines together on June 5, with Doc pitching on the car radio, and wake up June 6 to the news that Tom really was coming home.

When stars were briefly aligned.

Our 32nd wedding anniversary, by the way, was just over a week ago. As I said, that detail was a done deal by that first week in June of 1987. We had our little trip to Jersey, we crossed the George Washington Bridge back into Manhattan, and the Mets would go on to defeat the Pirates once more. A beautiful Saturday afternoon in New York, indeed.

Tom’s homecoming didn’t quite pan out. The exhibition game in Tidewater on June 11 wasn’t encouraging, nor were the simulated games Tom threw to Met reserves. Once he was lit up by the likes of Barry Lyons, Seaver knew he didn’t have any competitive pitches left in his right arm and wasn’t going to be able to help the Mets attempt to repeat. “I was looking forward to writing his name in the lineup,” Davey Johnson said as the comeback attempt concluded without the desired results. On June 22, the Mets held a press conference at Shea to announce Tom Seaver’s retirement, an occasion Cashen termed simultaneously sad for the ending and happy for the setting. Bench coach Bud Harrelson, Tom’s roommate on the road all those years, reasoned that even if Tom wouldn’t be going back to the mound, at least he was stepping aside in “our uniform”. No offense to Crazy Eddie, but that represented the greatest gift inherent within Seaver 3.0.

Not as epic as a Luis Guillorme at-bat in Port St. Lucie or a Bob Murphy interview of Tom Seaver in 1987, but perfectly enjoyable: this latest episode of National League town.

7 comments to Happy Murphday, Tom

  • eric1973

    “One Met unwilling to put his name to his words threw this knockdown pitch at the prospective reunion: “He wasn’t the most popular guy in the clubhouse when he was here in ’83. I guess this shows we’re really desperate.””

    Guarantee that was Ron Darling, who has had unkind words for Seaver in the past, as well as for Murphy in his book. Darling is pretty much a coward, and a very dull one at that.

    • Once Tom was back, Darling did go on the record with good humor about offering Tom back his locker, which Ron had inherited after 1983 (the way he’d been pitching, he could use the change, he joked), but Tom declined.

      The only other 1987 Mets from 1983 who weren’t quoted when the news broke were Mookie, Jesse and Sisk.

  • eric1973

    Thanks for that, Greg, and glad to hear, because I would like to know that Darling respected Tom.

    BTW, I actually met Darling in the street in Midtown around 10 years ago, near the Queensboro Bridge, where I guess he lived at the time. I said hello Mr. Darling, he said hello, and he could not have been nicer.

    BTW, I also saw Florence Henderson and Matt Lauer in the same neighborhood years ago, and also Randy Levine, and I wished him luck, which shows what a nice guy I am. :)

  • eric1973

    The Harrelson reference made me look this up, and it is just heartbreaking:

    “These days Harrelson, 78, is in an assisted living facility on Long Island, which he has called home since 2021. Harrelson cannot do the little things most people take for granted — he can’t put a sentence together or dress himself. He cannot be by himself for fear that he might fall and hurt himself, and he therefore has a companion with him 24 hours a day.”

    Thank Goodness his ex-wife Kim is still involved in taking care of him.

  • Ken K. in NJ.

    Thanks so much for this, and the link! I followed the Return of Tom as closely as I could back then. I, like many a Mets Fan, was delusional.

    Probably too much information about the Saddlebrook Marriott Inn, but it resonated. One of my initial assignations with my wife of 42 years was at the Wayne Motor Lodge, not far away, although we were both living in Brooklyn at the time (long story).

    Re: Vogelbach. I found it odd that when he finally started to hit this year, Buck stopped playing him. Understandable, the New Guys needed to play, but I’ve wondered who was calling those shots at that point.

  • Seth

    “I know we need another pitcher,” Nails assessed, “but I’m not sure he’s the one we need.”

    Wow — I’m amazed Lenny emitted something intelligible.

    I remember that time well. It would have been pretty cool if Tom could have pitched the last game in his career for the Mets.