Wednesday, August 05, 2015

30 years ago this week: The forces that heal and Tom Seaver's 300th win

I've been blessed to witness in person some amazing baseball games -- and partake in some incredible experiences with great friends at the ballpark. But one game stands above all the others, Tom Seaver won game No. 300 30 years ago this week. Mets Guy in Michigan was a new blog when the 20th anniversary came around, and the post from that day is still a favorite. So we're reaching back into the archives to tell that story again.

You just know there are cosmic forces at work in baseball.

Usually the forces show their hands with a foul ball to Steve Bartman or a slow roller to Bill Buckner, keeping ancient storylines alive.

But sometimes the forces work to heal. I submit Aug. 4, 1985, twenty years ago this month, as proof.

If M. Donald Grant stabbed Mets fans in the heart by trading Tom Seaver to the Reds in 1977, losing him a second time in 1984 was like taking the wounded pump and throwing it out on the tracks in front of the No. 7 train.

Back then, teams that lost a player through free agency were allowed to compensate by selecting from a pool of unprotected players from each of the other teams.

The Mets, with a rotation of decent starters and Dwight Gooden on the horizon, figured no one would take an icon with a 9-14 record.

Wrong. The White Sox lost pitcher Dennis Lamp to the Blue Jays, they picked Seaver from the pool.

I didn’t take this well.

Just a hunch, but I think I was the only community college newspaper editor in the country to direct his cartoonist to take general manager Frank Cashen to task.

Tom pitched well in Chicago over the next season and a half and I closely followed his march toward 300 wins. He aimed at No. 299 against the Red Sox on July 30, and a win there would mean he’d get to go for the historic milestone in New York, where he never should have left.

Here’s were cosmic forces come into play. Seaver pitched nine innings in a 4-4 tie. But the Chisox threw three runs on the board atop the tenth to get Tom the win.

The next day, my dad bought tickets so the entire family could make our first trip to Yankee Stadium. I was beyond thrilled, and it was appropriate that we could experience it together. Lord knows my folks suffered through my devotion to the Mets and Seaver over the years. And I was leaving for the University of Missouri in a couple weeks, and this would be a meaningful send-off.

Sadly for the Yankees, the team had selected that day to honor Phil Rizzuto, retire his number and throw another plaque up in Memorial Park. Because you know, Ruth, Gehrig and the Scooter…all cut from the same cloth. Whatever.

Rizzuto never had a chance. As he was being showered in trips and golf balls, Tom tried to slip down to the bullpen to get warmed up. That’s when the chanting shouted, “SEA-VER…SEA-VER” cascading down from the upper deck.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Seaver, but you’re going to have to get your win in another city,” Rizzuto said in his remarks. Whatever. Phil then got stepped on by a real cow with a fake halo. 

The game went by like a blur. The Yanks stepped out to an early lead. Several times, “Let’s go Mets” chants broke out -- probably for the first time ever in that yard. The White Sox sent four across in the top of the sixth. The Yanks threatened in the eighth and the ninth, but the baseball forces were clearly determined to right a wrong.

The stadium erupted as Don Baylor, the home team’s slugger, flied out to Reid Nichols, just below our seats out in left. I can still see Seaver jumping into the arms of fellow future Hall-of-Famer Carlton Fisk, then running to the stands to his family while I hugged members of mine.

I’ll never forget the chills and the tears of that sunny afternoon. The uniform might have read SOX, but I didn’t see it. For a day, M. Donald Grant’s spiteful banishing to Cincinnati didn’t happen. For a day, the front office didn’t make the mistake of not protecting “The Franchise.” For a day, he never left and claimed his historic win before the fans who would enjoy seeing it the most.

Do you believe? The final score that day was 4-1, the same as the uniform number that would eventually be retired at Shea. Over in Chicago the Mets were playing the Cubs and Dwight Gooden won his 11th straight game. The score in that game: 4-1.

And give Tom credit for taking care of business, pitching a complete game. Will, me and the rest of the Executive Board were in Detroit the day Roger Clemens made an attempt at his 300th win. He was pulled in the sixth with a 7-1 lead, only to have the Yankee infield kick the ball around and allow an historically bad Tigers team to tie the game. He lost his next game to the Cubs, and only lasted 6.2 innings in the game against the Cardinals when he eventually reached the milestone.

Perhaps it wasn’t Clemens’ fault. He didn’t have the cosmic forces on hand to mend wounded hearts.