I picked up a 1971 copy of this book written by George Sullivan and published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons at auction a couple of weeks ago. The book is geared towards young adults and is part of a series of biographies written on America’s baseball heroes. Some other athletes in the series are Willie Mays (“Coast to Coast Giant”), Juan Marichal (“Mr. Strike”), and Stan Musial (“Baseball’s Durable ‘Man’”). Although the book was written relatively early in Tom Seaver’s career, there is a very interesting section devoted to Seaver’s even earlier appearance in Fairbanks, Alaska.
In 1964, before Seaver was a New York Met, he played a season of summer ball with the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks. The team was run by the city’s mayor, Red Boucher. Seaver was one of 18 players on the team’s roster and, in fact, upon his arrival in Fairbanks, was picked up at the airport by Boucher’s wife, handed his uniform, driven to the ballpark, and entered into a live game as a relief pitcher. He was introduced to his catcher, Bud Holowell on the mound. After retiring the side in order, Seaver walked back into the dugout and finished introducing himself to the rest of his teammates. Seaver pitched for the Goldpanners that year in the annual Midnight Sun Game on June 21, 1964 against USC. The game, played on the summer solstice, begins at 10:30 at night and is played without the benefit of any spotlights. During the season, Seaver lived with the Boucher family. Boucher is quoted as saying, “I don’t teach the boys who come to Fairbanks how to throw a curve or field a bunt…I try to work on the psychological side of the their game…Young pitchers today are overly concerned with the techniques of baseball. They’re too concerned with the game from a physical standpoint. They forget it’s an emotional game too…You have to concentrate. To be successful, you must think you are successful. We had a lot of players who could throw the ball harder than Tom. His fast ball moved well but he was no Sandy Koufax. His greatest asset was his tremendous will to win…and he had this super concentration.”
Seaver says that his association with Boucher is “one of the highlights of my life”. After the regular summer season in Alaska, Boucher’s All-Star team traveled to Wichita, Kansas for the National Baseball’s Congress of America’s annual championship tournament. Seaver was one of sixteen players chosen to be on the team’s roster. Boucher chose Seaver over future major league pitcher, Ken Holtzman for the team’s final roster spot. Two future stars who did the make the roster along with Seaver were Don Sutton and Graig Nettles. Seaver’s first appearance in the tournament was as a relief pitcher against the Wichita Glassmen. In the bottom of the eighth inning he batted for himself and hit a grand slam home run to help cement a victory. In total, Seaver pitched in five games and ended the tournament with a 2-0 record. He was subsequently named to both NBC’s All America Team and the All-National Tournament Team.
Seaver returned to pitch for Boucher and the Alaska Goldpanners in 1965 as well. By the end of his second stint with Boucher’s team, most scouts pegged Seaver as a “can’t miss prospect”. We all know that Seaver was originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves and that his contract was voided. The Mets won the Seaver re-draft lottery and by 1967, he was appearing on the team’s opening day roster.
That’s another story, or rather, another chapter though.