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Tom Seaver: In memoriam

Tom Seaver’s recent passing has occasioned a great outpouring of positive comment and remembrance about his career as well as his impact on the game, and deservedly so. For guys my age, declaring the closing of an era is a geriatric weakness, but the argument that we shall not soon see Seaver’s equal is as much about how the game has changed than it is about how pitchers are not what they once were.

Seaver was what we used to call a horse, a player the rest of the team could ride for not just a game, but for an entire season. The mind boggling stat is not just the 311 games won, or the 3,640 strike-outs, but the 231 complete games. This was a horse who expected to get you safely into the barn every time out. Amazing! Compare that to today’s pitchers who think six innings is a heavy day’s work, and you can see why horses are a non commodity in the game nowadays

Now it is true that Seaver was not a warm and fuzzy fellow. He was a competitor of the sort that would smile nicely at you while he walked off with your lunch, your homework and maybe your dog. All he wanted to do was win, and win and win. And he did.

He had a variety of pitches; more were added as he got older. Among them was a high powered four seam, rising fastball and a two seam, sinking fastball. Because his drop and drive technique put him down so low to the mound, his natural pitch was around the batter’s knees. He would throw one four seamer that would start below the knees, the batter would give up on it, and it would rise for a low strike. The next pitch might look the same, so the batter would think, “I’d better get on this.” When he did, it would sink out of sight, and the poor fellow would be left flailing at air.

The next time up, he would get another rising fastball, but this one up around the letters, good, at best, for a weak pop-up. And so it would go: batter after batter going back to the dugout, shaking their heads in disgust.

Seaver was a student of the game long before advanced analytics were anything but an unpopular college course. He knew the “cold spots” in every batter’s swing, and he knew just how to set them up. The batter never knew when or how Seaver would hit that spot, but hit it he would.

Later in his career he used the movement on his pitches to set up location. Something would look like it was coming down main street, but it would veer off to a corner of the plate or maybe down in the dirt. The batter might think he had a good shot at it, only to find that, once again, he had been out thought.

Some might point to some horses in today’s game, but compared to Tom Seaver, they are just ponies. Rest in Peace, Tom. You made it home to the barn.

 

Millerton resident Theodore Kneeland is a former teacher and coach — and athlete.

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