"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Sticks and Stones

So, I know this is kind of a bummer way to end the year, but I was doing some research not so long ago and stumbled across the Dick Young article that effectively sent Tom Seaver packing from the Mets, the one where Young brought up Nolan Ryan and his wife. This is Dick Young at his absolute, mean-spirited, vicious worst, shilling for M Donald Grant:

June 15, 1977

Don: See Light…Reconsider

In a way, Tom Seaver is like Walter O’Malley. Both are very good at what they do. Both are very deceptive in what they say. Both are very greedy.

Greed is greed, whether it is manifested by an owner or a ballplayer. Walter O’Malley when he was setting up to move the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles laid down a smokescreen. He really was after more money, but how would it sound for a clubowner making a million dollars to say that he wants to make three million dollars?

So, Walter O’Malley said, “I am being driven out of Brooklyn by those nasty politicians who won’t give me land for a new ballpark. I cannot remain competitive here.” It was an obvious smokescreen that blinded very few.

Tom Seaver is after more money. He wants to break his contract with the Mets. “Renegotiate” is the pretty word he used for it in this time of pretty words.

So, Tom Seaver said, over and over, that the Mets were not competitive in the free agent field. He said the front office was not spending money the way it should. He made it appear that he wanted the money to be spent on others, but really he wanted it to be spent on him. He talked ideals, but actually he was talking hard cash.

Like O’Malley, Tom Seaver couldn’t say that out loud. How would it sound for Tom Terrific, All-American boy, to disavow a contract he had signed in good faith?

Seaver’s smokescreen was much more subtle than O’Malley’s, and it blinded many more, but in the end the smoke is cleared and Tom Seaver has revealed himself, and has betrayed those who supported him, those who had taken him at his idealistic word. In the end, Tom Seaver is willing to settle for cash.

It is all there, all so clearly in the conversation between him and Don Grant last Friday. The Mets were in Houston, Seaver decided to phone the Mets’ chairman, as Grant was hoping he would.

“I don’t know where to start,” Tom Seaver started, and so he started with the old smokescreen. He talked about how making Joe Torre manager was a good move, and the deal for Lenny Randle really helped the club, and it would be nice if they could get another hitter, like Dave Winfield of San Diego.

“Tom, I know that,” said Grant. “We have been talking about Winfield for you, and he haven’t been able to close that. It is very easy to say, let’s get a hitter.”

“What about free agents?” said Seaver. “Will go after them in the next time?”

“Our board will discuss it,” said Grant, “and appraise what good or bad it has done for other teams, and we will decide if that is the route we care to follow.”

Grant pointed out to Seaver that several clubs that didn’t participate in the spending spree are doing well, and that the Cubs traded off Rick Monday and Bill Madlock, their two best players, rather than have malcontents around. “The Cubs lead the pack because they have harmony,” Grant said to Seaver. “Even you can’t say they have a better team than we do. We could be in the same position if you had praise our young players instead of knocking them.”

Eventually Seaver got around to the real purpose of his call, more money for Tom Seaver. Renegotiation.

“Tom, we can’t do that,” said Grant. “I have a board of directors to account for. Were you happy when you signed your contract?”

“Yes, I was, but things have changed.”

“You asked for more money than had ever been paid to any pitcher, and you got it.”

“That’s not so anymore,” said Seaver.

“Who gets more?”

“Tiant, Ryan, Tanana.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Grant, “but it was you who opted for a three year contract. If we renegotiate for you, we would have every player on the team in the office. Please see the light of day. I beg you to reconsider and be the Tom Seaver happy to play with the Mets.”

“You want me to be happy at your terms.”

“Yes, and you want to be happy only on your terms, and that’s a standoff. I have told you 10 times we don’t want to trade you. Of the cities you prefer, we have our best offer from Cincinnati. If that can crystallize, we’ll make it.”

Tom Seaver’s base pay is $225,000, and he could do $250,000 with a good year. Luis Tiant does not make $225,000. Frank Tanana, by threatening to play out his option, received a $1 million signing bonus from Gene Autry, but his base salary of $200,000 is below Seaver’s. Nolan Ryan is getting more now than Seaver, and that galls Tom because Nancy Seaver and Ruth Ryan are very friendly and Tom Seaver long has treated Nolan Ryan like a little brother.

It comes down to this: Tom Seaver is jealous of those who had the guts to play out their option or used the threat of playing it out as leverage for a big raise—while he was snug behind a three-year contract of his choosing. He talks of being treated like a man. A man lives up to his contract.

There is one other conversation you should know of. It proves that money, not the team, was in Tom Seaver’s mind all along. Last January, Dave Kingman came into the Mets office to talk contract with the general manager. During the course of things, Dave Kingman said:

“Have you heard from Tom yet?”

“No, why?” said Joe McDonald.

“You will,” said Dave Kingman, enjoying it, like a little boy who knows something you don’t.

Seaaver and Kingman were traded later that day, one of the worst in team history. Grant was fired at the end of the 1978 season. Several years later, Young left the Daily News, where he had been since the 1940s, for the New York Post. He bailed on his contract, as fate would have it. But Young defended his actions. Though he had two years left on his contract, the News was up for sale at the time, and his money was not guarenteed. So, Young felt okay bolting.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver