SportsJam with Doug Doyle: HOF Sportswriter Bill Madden's "Tom Seaver: A Terrific Life"

Dec 8, 2020

Legendary pitcher Tom Seaver and author and sportswriter Bill Madden are both in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Credit Simon & Schuster

National Baseball Hall of Fame sportswriter, columnist and author Bill Madden says his latest work Tom Seaver: A Terrific Life (Simon & Schuster) is probably the most personal book he's ever written.

The former New York Daily News sportswriter joined SportsJam host Doug Doyle to talk about his unique relationship with the greatest player to ever wear a Mets uniform.

While many beat reporters found Seaver to be arrogant, Madden established a close relationship with the Mets righthander later in his career.

"I had been moved up from a Yankee beat writer to a columnist at the Daily News.  In 1983 when the Mets left Seaver unprotected for something call the Free Agent Compensation Pool, which is something that Baseball set up as an off-shoot of the '81 players strike to compensate teams that lost free agents to other teams.  Every team could protect 15 players in their entire organization.  The rest of those players were going into a pool  where a team losing free agents could select from a player out of that pool.  The White Sox had the first pick of that year.  I was tipped off by somebody at the Commissioner's office that the Mets had left Seaver unprotected.  I called Frank Cashen, the General Manager of the Mets to confirm this story and he did confirm it, rather reluctantly I might add.  Now I'm sitting on this story.  You gotta know you could never due this today in the age of twitter or all these other things.  It turns out to be one of the biggest stories I ever broke for the Daily News.  But before I put it in the paper, I felt I had an obligation to Seaver to not blindside him the next day in the papers beause this was a traumatic event in this man's life.  He was going to have to leave the Mets the second time, leave New York, uproot his family and it was a big deal.  Any I called him and informed him of what I knew and he was very appreciative the fact that I did take the time to call him and let him know what was going on.  And I think from that point on,  he looked at me as more than just another reporter and we became friends through the year."

That new friendship led Seaver to eventually reach out three years later and make a request to Madden.  Seaver wanted Madden  to call Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to work out a trade to send him from the White Sox back home to New York only to the Yankees.

"Apparently the White Sox General Manager (Ken) "Hawk" Harrelson had called the Mets and they told him they weren't interested because they were on their way to the World Series that year and they were loaded with pitchers and didn't need another pitcher.  So I said I'd call Steinbrenner and I did.  I thought this was going to be right of the Steinbrenner playbook to be able to upstage the Mets in taking over the town by bringing back Tom Seaver to New York for the third time, only this time to the Yankees.  I was kind of surprised when he was only lukewarm to the idea.  Bottom line is the deal never worked out.  Harrelson called me after having no luck with Steinbrenner and told me he was going to trade Tom to the Red Sox which is what happened."

Tom and Nancy Seaver with Bud Harrelson after the Mets 1969 World Series Championship
Credit Simon & Schuster/Tom Seaver: A Terrific Life

Much of Madden's book focuses on Tom Seaver's relationships with his wife Nancy, his eventual manager Gil Hodges and his friends from Fresno, California.

Seaver married Nancy McIntyre in 1966.  Nancy would go on to have  a major impact on his professional career, even pushing her talented but aging husband to go for 300 career victories.

"This was a love affair for the ages.  He met Nancy at Fresno Junior College in his hometown of Fresno when he was trying to pitch to impress Rod Dedeaux, the head coach at USC where he really wanted to go to Southern California. They got married.  As soon as he signed a contract with the Mets he spent his first year at Triple-A Jacksonville and he was desperately lonely for her.  She flew down to Jacksonville bascially, almost on a whim.  He called her and said I need you with me.  I want to marry you.  She said okay, I'll be there!"

Madden says the second most important person in Seaver's life was Mets manager Gil Hodges who with Seaver helped develop "the Amazins" into World Series champs.

Mets manager Gil Hodges with his great pitching staff. Bill Madden says Hodges was like a second father to Tom Seaver.

"Gil Hodges was like a second father to him.  There was hardly I ever had a conversation with Tom in his Mets years that Gil Hodges' name didn't come up.  Gil was a presence the moment he arrived on the Mets scene."

After Seaver's playing career ended, he moved into the broadcaster's booth.  He teamed up with Yankees great Phil Rizzuto from 1989 to 1993 and later did Mets games from 1999 to 2005.

It was during his time with the "Scooter" (Phil Rizzuto) that Madden says Seaver showed a deeper side that many never saw.  The story revolves around Seaver's long-time friend and former Little League and college teammate Don Reinero.

"Seaver was working in the broadcast booth with the Yankees.  He invited Reinero and a couple of his other Fresno friends up to Oakland to take in a game with Rizzuto in the booth.  Of course, Rizzuto and Reinero hit it off immediately, two little Italian guys who were never taken seriously when they were kids.  A couple of years after they were in the booth, Reinero was hit by a drunk driver.  He was on his bike in the Foothills of Fresno, hit from behind, flew up in the air landed on his head on top of a car and suffered severe brain damage.  He was in a coma.  Seaver was in New York at the time when he heard about this and was just devastated.

After Seaver visited his friend in the hospital and not wanting to see him again in that condition, he came up with an idea for him and Rizzuto to record some thoughts and encouraging words  and have friends play them for Reinero.  Seaver sent to the tape to another buddy Larry Woods who put the tape up to Reinero's ear.  Woods is also holding Reinero's hand at the same time.  To that point Reinero hadn't given any indication he was aware of anything going on around him.  But eventually Reinero squeezed Wood's hand and all of a sudden opened his eyes and start to cry.

"It just shows a whole different side of Seaver, a compassionate side of him.  Seaver later confirmed the story to me and said at least I got to be able to tell Donnie that I really loved him." 

Madden spent much time with Tom, Nancy and their daughters while preparing to do a documentary on Seaver's life.  Seaver had become quite a winemaker in California.

"He made some of the best sauvignon cabernet in Napa Valley."

Credit Simon & Schuster

Bill Madden was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010 as the recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.  He grew up in Oradell, New Jersey and graduated from Bergen Catholic High School.

Madden's long list of books includes Damed Yankees: A No-Holds-Barred Account of LIfe with "Boss" Steinbrenner (1991), Zim - A Baseball Life  (with Don Zimmer) (2001), Pride of October: What it Was to Be Young and a Yankee (2003) Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball  (2010), 1954 - The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Baseball Forever (2014) and Lou - Fifty Years of Kicking Dirt, Playing Hard and Winning in the Sweet Spot of Baseball (with Lou Pinella) (2017).

Bill was a sportswriter with UPI for nine years before he joined the Daily News in 1978, and covered the New York Yankess before becoming a columnist in 1989. 

Click above to hear the entire SportsJam conversation with Bill Madden.