SI Vault
Pat Jordan
July 24, 1972
The pitching wonders he works did not come swiftly or naturally to Seaver; in fact, the modesty of his skill was the making of the man
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July 24, 1972

Tom Terrific And His Mystic Talent

The pitching wonders he works did not come swiftly or naturally to Seaver; in fact, the modesty of his skill was the making of the man

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Because of such dedication to detail, it would seem the only thing that could prevent Seaver from reaching the goal he has determined for himself is an event beyond his control—such as the arm injury he experienced this past spring in St. Petersburg. It was a particularly frustrating injury for two reasons: it was the first sore arm of his career, and he could point to nothing as its cause. He had proceeded with his sixth spring training at the same pace he had proceeded with the previous five. "You have to control yourself during the first weeks so as not to get hurt," he said. When he felt sharp pain in his right shoulder, therefore, he was more than a little confused. He was constantly after the team physician, Dr. Peter La Motte. He would raise his right arm over his head, dig the fingers of his left hand into the place where his arm and shoulder met, and say in a high-pitched, almost whining, voice, "What is that?" The doctor, a relaxed man who always looks as if he just returned from nine holes of golf, would begin a lengthy clinical explanation about a bruised muscle. Seaver's face would immediately cloud with that exasperated look it so often has when he has no interest in the turn of a conversation. He would listen a few seconds and then restlessly interrupt the doctor. "But I want...I want it to feel..." and his voice would trail off in frustration.

After a few days, the shock of his injury diminished and Seaver's voice lost its panic. It became curt and passionless as he forced himself to approach his injury as he did all things relating to his talent—as an experience to be understood and absorbed for future use. His questions to the doctor became less pleas and more interrogations. "Which muscle is bruised? How did it get bruised? Will it get worse if I throw?" And finally, when it had healed and he had once again taken his place on the mound to pitch batting practice, he would be able to say: "I don't know many parts of my shoulder and arm, but I know this muscle, the teres major. It was bruised because I began throwing too hard too soon. I had not taken into consideration that I am getting older. I can't proceed during the spring at the same pace I did at 23. I have to expect my body to break down a little with each year. After all, I've pitched almost 1,400 innings in five years. I can't go on forever without a sore arm. I just have to be more careful in the future."

Seaver mastered the experience of his sore arm, rather than letting it overwhelm him, because he has a mind that is acutely sensitive to experience. It is this sensitivity and his ability to adjust to what his mind tells him about himself that has made him the pitcher he is today. He seems disinclined to work out things without a basis of experience: he had to have a sore arm before he could adjust to its lesson. He seems ill at ease with abstractions, which he regards as not a part of "the real world I live in."

Because this sensitivity has proved so valuable in the perfecting of his talent, he is careful to bring it to bear only on experiences "in the real world," and only on those experiences he has decided are of the first importance. "I'm a very introspective guy," he says. "I spent all winter trying to discover what happened to me at the end of 1970 when I finished so poorly. I decided I couldn't pitch with only three days' rest. That discovery made me feel like a genius."

Seaver is not so introspective about experiences unrelated to his talent. It is not that he places no value on them, but that he feels they exist complete within themselves, and to analyze them would be a waste of energy which could quite possibly kill the pleasure he gets from them. Those experiences, like the watching of the gulls ("Aren't they fascinating!"), are to be savored as curiosities that help fill the void between his bouts with his talent.

"I don't have the stamina and mental concentration to live my life with the same intensity I do baseball," says Seaver. "I'm not a perfectionist in everything. For instance, a few years ago I built a wine cellar in the basement of my home. I used small fireplace flues as holders for the bottles. I laid out 20 flues in each row and 20 rows in all. It was repetitious work but it didn't bother me. Every flue was a victory, and every row was a 20-game season. The entire 20 rows was a career of 20-game seasons. I loved it. When I finished I began to panel the room. I'd paneled most of it when I came to a water pipe that stuck out of the wall. I couldn't focus on how to panel around that pipe. It was beyond my ability to comprehend. I got bored with it. Eventually, though, I did panel it all, but still, the wine cellar is far from perfect.

"But I can live with its imperfections. Some guys couldn't. They have to find out about themselves before they get on that train to New York in the morning. They're always digging deeper than things are. They dig so deep they forget to enjoy life. I enjoy my life. I don't live it at the same pace I do baseball. I can do nothing all day, and it's fabulous. I really could watch those gulls for hours, or just play dominoes with my wife, or watch Sarah, my daughter, play with her toys. In the winter I like to get up in the morning and sit by a fire. Sometimes I read the paper and sometimes I do nothing but sit by the fire. What do I think about? Ha, I think about how fabulous it is to watch wood burn. I don't have to pull every weed out of my garden. I don't have to win every basketball game at the YMCA. Maybe I deliberately don't tap this competitiveness in me. Maybe I'm saving it for baseball. It must be like an energy source that has its limits. If I use it up on too many things I'll have nothing left for baseball. Maybe I deliberately leave a few weeds in the garden. I really don't know though. I never think about such things."

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