Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times

The Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times by Steven Travers
Published by Taylor Trade Publishing ISBN 978-1-58979-660-7 
Hardcover, $24.95
Tom Seaver is the quintessential New York Met. The Mets were a hapless team, a joke in baseball when Seaver was signed in 1966. Steven Travers' new book, The Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times takes you back to those days.

Seaver was a Southern California boy, raised in a conservative family in a conservative community. He was not the best baseball player, but he loved the game. He became a real student of the game, studying the history of it and mechanics of pitching.

He was one of the first major league players to use a weight training program, after discovering that working in a loading dock at a factory made him stronger and improved his stamina and pitching.

I learned many things from this interesting book. I had heard of the Cape Cod league for up and coming players, but I had no idea that what Cape Cod was to east coast baseball, Alaska was the western equivalent. Who would have thought that? Seaver's days playing for a great coach in Alaska help make him the great player he became.

The Vietnam War was raging, and I never knew how many players were in the reserves, and missed games to serve their weekends. I can't imagine that happening today.

Seaver was an intelligent guy, and during the off-season, he went back to USC to take classes to finish his degree. Not many athletes then or now would do that, although back in the 1960s, the contracts were not that lucrative.

Winning was important to Seaver, and he had a strong work ethic. It annoyed him that many of the players on the Mets did not take the job of baseball seriously. Some of his teammates did not like Seaver, thinking that he believed himself to be better than they were. He had a reputation for being faithful to his wife on the road, and this bugged some players, while others tried to live up to Seaver's high standards.

Growing up in a conservative white community, thoughts on race were different then, something from which the author doesn't shy away. Jackie Robinson had opened the door to black major leaguers, and men like Seaver found their views on race challenged.

The season of 1969, when things really jelled for the Mets, is detailed here. Seaver led this team, which had great pitching but lacked hitting. He consistently posted annual ERAs of under 2.00, yet he lost many games 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 because his team did not score enough runs. They seemed to save their runs for pitchers like Jerry Koosman.

Seaver dominated the game, winning the Cy Young Award three times, yet he never won the league MVP, though many people thought he deserved it. He won more games than any other Mets pitcher, led the league numerous times in strikeouts, wins and ERA.

The author did not get to interview Seaver for this book. He culls many other books and magazine articles, including many that Seaver himself has written, though Seaver has not written the definitive autobiography he has said he would one day write. (Reportedly his management has said that not enough money has been offered.)

The Last Icon is a must-read for any Mets fan, and for any baseball fan for that matter. Travers not only gives you a look at this fascinating man, but he evokes a time in baseball when baseball was the American past time. I was taken back to a magical time in my life, when I couldn't wait to watch the Saturday afternoon game on TV with my father and siblings.  If you have a baseball fan on your Christmas list, this is a fantastic gift.

rating 4 of 5

2 comments:

  1. I'm so glad to hear that this one is good. I just bought it for my husband for his birthday!

    ReplyDelete