Was Tom Seaver too sullen in 1970?

Tom SeaverI found an old Baseball News article written between the 1970 and 1971 seasons. The premise of the article, “The Mets Under A Microscope” is that Tom Seaver’s diminished level of performance following his superlative 1969 season was a major factor in leading to a third place finish by the New York Mets.

In 1969, Seaver went 25-7 with a 2.21 ERA; in 1970, he went 18-12 with a 2.82 ERA. Collectively, as a team, the Mets went 100-62 in 1969 and only 83-79 in 1970. Even Seaver himself is quoted in the article as saying, “We should have won. We had all the opportunities. We just didn’t take advantage of them. We have ourselves to blame.”

To be fair, the article points out that the team’s other two main issues were batting woes (for instance, Joe Foy and Cleon Jones both endured disappointing offensive output) and unnecessary reliance on platoons by Gil Hodges (Donn Clendenon obtaining only 396 ABs despite being arguably the best offensive player on the squad is an example).

In early August 1970, Seaver’s record stood at 16-5. But between then and the end of the season, he only won two more games. As Seaver endured this slump, it appeared to some that he became so deeply engrossed in his own troubles, that he stopped paying attention to the performance of his team and teammates. He was always courteous and intelligent when speaking to the media but he ceased being a vocal leader in the dugout. He is quoted in the article as saying, “you can’t give advice and lead the cheers when you’re not doing anything yourself. How could I give advice when I couldn’t win a game myself?”.

In retrospect, most of the team’s pitching staff endured issues during the same time-frame. Gary Gentry went 0-3 with a 5.82 ERA after August 18th. Nolan Ryan went 1-5 with a 4.12 ERA after August 4th. Ray Sadecki only won one game after July 8th. Jerry Koosman had dealt with a shaky start to the season, failing to earn a victory in his first six starts. He then developed a stiff elbow toward the end of May. Then, Koosman got hit by a Gary Gentry line drive in batting practice which broke his jaw. When Koosman did pitch, he did not display his previous All-Star form; he was averaging only 4.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Toward the end of the season, the front office dealt for Ron Herbal and Dean Chance. In 12 games, Herbal went 2-2 with a 1.38 ERA but in three games, Chance went 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA.

In a crucial four game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates towards the end of September, Seaver faced the Bucs in a second game of a doubleheader. Koosman had won the first game on a two-hitter and brought the Mets back to 2 ½ games behind the first place Pirates. Seaver started the second game. However, he was removed in the sixth inning with the Pirates leading 5-2 and the fans booed him for the first time ever. The Pirates won the game, 9-5.

In the end, the Pirates won the division with their 89-73 record. The Mets finished in third place with an 83-79 record (the Cubs took second place). The Mets lost 17 more games in 1970 than they did in 1969. As the Mets faltered down the stretch, Seaver lost six games and won only once. He said, “my problem in the last two months of the season was mechanical at first. Then it became physical and mental.”

Instead of playing loosely and enjoying the game, the Mets experienced pressure. Seaver and the Mets learned that winning is one thing, winning when you are expected to win is another. In 2008, Koosman was quoted as saying, “You’d go to a lot of sport dinners…you’re traveling…and it wasn’t like you’d go to spring training and you were glad to see everybody. You’d seen everybody all winter long. You’re still kind of hung over from a tough winter on the ‘circuit’. We went to spring training not feeling as hungry and rested (as we might have) had we not won the world series.”

So by 1970, Seaver was an established star. He also proved that he was human. He helped lead the team to its first world championship the year before and he had to learn to deal with the subsequent disappointment when the team couldn’t repeat its success the following year.

7 comments for “Was Tom Seaver too sullen in 1970?

  1. March 29, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    I enjoyed this piece.

    One thing that should be pointed out is that the Mets exceeded their Pythagorean record by 8 games in 1969 and came up 5 games short in 1970.

    They were great down the stretch in ’69 but went 28-33 from August 1st through the end of the year in ’70.

  2. Chris F
    March 29, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    Great article Jim. Yes the end of the 69 season was just unreal. And it went right through the WS. I highly recommend every fan watch the 69 series (all on YouTube).

  3. Jim OMalley
    March 30, 2014 at 6:58 am

    Thanks …. I love reading these old news articles because they talk about events when they are current and not thirty or forty years later.

  4. Metsense
    March 30, 2014 at 8:15 am

    Very nice research Jim and a very enjoyable read. Thanks.

  5. Patrick Albanesius
    March 30, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Excellent article! Great recommendation Chris F.

  6. JOHN PILEGGI
    April 24, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Very good piece. I remember back in 1970 (I was 11 years old) feeling that Seaver was not “happy”, and certainly not the same guy mentally as he was in 1969. He started the All Star Game and had some good early games, but he was missing the spring in the step and the bounce that he had previously. Perhaps it was the evolution from young star to consummate professional, but 1970 was certainly morose.

  7. Carmine
    May 6, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    There was a game in mid August 1970 at Atlanta, Seaver was 17-6 (Better record than at the same point in 1969) Mets were ahead 2-1, bottom of the ninth, Atlanta had the bases loaded, one out?. Seaver struck out Tillman on the Braves and some how……. it was a wild pitch or passed ball by Grote on the strikeout,that allowed 2 runs to score and Atlanta won the game. He never recovered from that and only won 1 more game that whole season. That was the turning point for the Mets in 1970.

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