Loge13 man about town Don Hahn Solo wants to remind Met fans that today is the 40th anniversary of Tom Seaver's one hitter against the Chicago Cubs.
Everyone knows the Mets have never thrown a no-hitter. We've had a fair share of one-hitters (Doc Gooden. Bobby Jones against the Giants in the 1999 playoffs, etc.)
But the Seaver one-hitter was epic on so many levels. Heck, supposedly a Queens man shot his wife 40 years ago today because she turned off the game in the 8th inning so she could vacuum.
Today, Michael Bamberger of SI remembers
the Seaver one-hitter. Great interviews with Qualls and Seaver, who still doesn't use the Internet (Note to self: print out every page of Loge13.com and mail to Napa Valley).
If you happened to be thumbing through the Newsday sports
section on Thursday, you may have noticed an unusual box score: Mets 4,
Cubs 0, in New York. Time of game: 2 hours, 2 minutes. Then you read
the not-so-fine print: the game -- a Tom Seaver one-hitter -- was played 40 years ago, when the Mets were becoming the Miracle Mets, winners of the '69 World Series. Newsday is paying tribute to the team.
game was more than a one-hitter. Shea Stadium was packed and the Cubs
were in first place, but the Mets were coming on strong. I was a
nine-year-old kid that summer, listening to the game on a transistor
radio in a backyard tent at my parents' house in Patchogue, L.I., in
the heart of Mets country. Seaver retired the side -- and you need all
this to understand the rising tide of tension -- in the first inning,
the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh
and the eighth. He retired the first batter in the ninth. Seaver was
two outs away from perfection.
In sports, as in life, there's not
much that's perfect. The 300-game in bowling, hard to improve on that.
The '72 Miami Dolphins, who won 14 games and never lost, people call
that "The Perfect Season," although it wasn't like every game was
shutout. There's Nadia Comaneci and all those 10s she piled up
at the '76 Olympics. I happen to be sympathetic to the argument about
whether human beings (the judges) can put the stamp of perfection on
what another person does, but if you want to call that performance
perfection, enjoy. That's all a long time ago now.
As you get older, you stop holding up perfection as some sort of ideal, or I have, anyway. The legendary golfer Ben Hogan
once had a dream, or a nightmare, in which he recorded 17 consecutive
holes-in-one then lipped out on the last. Maybe he did himself a favor.
What are you going to do for an encore after shooting 18? But at age
nine, I had one and only one dreamy notion of perfection: a pitcher
recording 27 consecutive outs. I grew up on the World Book
encyclopedia, and right in it, under Baseball, was a picture from Don Larsen's perfect game in the '56 World Series, Yogi Berra leaping in his arms, when it was over. That picture has legs.
And here was Seaver on a summer night in '69, one out in the ninth, the Mets leading, 4-zip. And up comes Jimmy Qualls. You know Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams.
Jimmy Qualls? Jimmy Qualls. He lines a clean one-out single to the
left-center. Jimmy Qualls. I probably hated the guy. Forty years later,
I was on the phone with the man.
He couldn't have been easier to
talk to. "Most people think it's the only hit I got that year," he
said. It wasn't. Qualls was 22, a bench player who had 30 hits that
year, for a .250 batting average. Now lives in rural Illinois, in
Sutter, 350 miles from Chicago and 240 miles from Kansas City. He works
for a veterinary supplies company. His major-league career was parts of
"I'm tickled I got that hit," Qualls said, "but it wasn't my best hit of the year. We lost the game." His manager, Leo Durocher,
never said a word to him about breaking up Seaver's bid at perfection.
Then again, Qualls notes, Durocher didn't say anything to Qualls when
he knocked in a game-winner later in the season, either.
the ninth-inning hit -- on July 9, 1969, in front of nearly 60,000
people at Shea Stadium -- that people remember. At the time, Qualls, he
got a lot of "hate mail, like, 'When you come back to New York, watch
your step,' but I didn't take none of it serious -- it was just kids,"
he said. Today, the letters, one or two or three a week, are much more
gentle. "I'll sign anything for anybody, as long as it's for the right
reason," Qualls said.
In the past 40 years, the only time he's
seen Seaver is when the Hall of Fame pitcher is on TV. The only thing
Qualls resents is when people call it a bloop single. "It wasn't no
blooper," Qualls said. "It was clean. Seaver said at the time it was a
good solid hit."
If you see a clip of Seaver recording the last
out in that game, it's difficult to read his body language. His hands
go on his hips and he sags a little as he stares off into the outfield
for a moment. He seems more disappointed than anything else. Then his
catcher, Jerry Grote, comes out and puts an arm around him, and elation seems to come over him.
today lives in the Napa Valley, in the heart of the California wine
country, where he is the owner of GTS Vineyards. I spoke with him on
the phone after I spoke to Qualls, and before we even got to his
40-year-old one-hitter, Seaver was explaining to me how he follows the
game today not on TV, but by reading box scores every morning in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times.
No Internet for Tom Terrific. (No Web site for his vineyard, either,
but you can get information about it by mail: GTS Vineyards, Box 888,
Calistoga, CA, 94515.) "I love seeing how who's hot, how many innings
the pitchers go, how long the games are," Seaver said.
I told Seaver how Newsday
was running box scores every day from the Mets '69 season, and that I
had taken a sneak peak at the Jimmy Qualls game. Seaver asked, "How
long was it?"
He said he couldn't remember exactly what he was
feeling right after the game. "The very first thing might have been
something like, 'What could have been,'" he said. His guess is that he
went from disappointment to elation in the time it took Grote to reach
the mound. His wife, Nancy, went through something similar. She
was allowed on the field after the game, Seaver said, and her first
words were, "You lost your perfect game." Her husband reminded her that
the Mets had actually won the game, 4-0, on a one-hitter, over the
Cubs, whom the Mets were chasing in the National League East.
asked Seaver which mean more to him, his one-hitter in '69, or his
no-hitter in '78, when he was pitching for the Reds. "The one-hitter,"
Seaver said. "I had better stuff that night, and we were making a move
on the Cubs." He talked some about the kind of control he had that
night. "This is bringing me the chills," Seaver said. When he lived in
Greenwich, Conn., he'd see Mets fans daily and was asked about the
one-hitter regularly. Since 2001 he's been in Calistoga and his life
there is chiefly about growing grapes and making wine. He moved to
there, with Nancy, after their daughters were through college, and took
up his newest challenge. He's still working in confined spaces. His
vineyard is just under four acres. "Sandy Koufax came by a while
back," Seaver said. "He seemed to enjoy our wines." It was Koufax who
came up with the name for one of Seaver's wines, "Nancy's Fancy."
Seaver talks about the journey to Cooperstown as the real thrill, not
just getting inducted. With his wine, it's the same thing. He loves the
step-by-step, season-by-season, year-by-year process.
knows there's no perfect bottle of wine: not Nancy's Fancy, not the '82
Lafite Rothschild, not some bottle of rose in an old Billy Joel
song. What can be perfect in life? Not much. You can play baseball and
record 27 consecutive outs. Forty years ago, Seaver came close, and a
million Met fans were right there with him. He didn't quite get there.
A man with 31 career hits got in his way.
And all these years
later, Qualls remains tickled that he got the hit. Why shouldn't he be?
He did his job that night. He reached, on a clean single -- not a bloop
job -- to left-center. But it's not the thing he's most proud of in
life. Not in baseball (the game-winner later in the season ranks much
higher.) Not out of baseball, either. For that, he looks much closer to
"I have three children," Qualls said. "They're all growned up now and they turned out half-decent."
Turns out, the man did a lot in his life.