On the last day of last month, Tom Seaver died. The Hall of Fame pitcher was one of the greatest baseball players in history: 311 wins, 2.86 ERA, three Cy Youngs, a World Series ring and still sixth on the all-time strikeout list even though he retired thirty-four years ago.
Tom Terrific was also an avid squash player. From 1970 to 1995 he lived in Greenwich, CT. For a while he and his wife Nancy lived on the grounds of the Greenwich Country Club, and he became an avid squash player at GCC.
Seaver first played a lot of singles. In January 1977, the New York papers ran headlines about a squash incident: “Seaver’s Nose Broken.” Seaver had taken an opponent’s elbow to the face playing squash in Greenwich. He went to the hospital, got an X-ray and went home.
Four days later he informed his team, the New York Mets, of the accident. James Parkes, the Mets’ team doctor, went out to Greenwich to have at the star pitcher. Parkes was unexpectedly an expert on on the un-baseball-like injury of broken noses, having endured four of them while playing football at Dartmouth. He reported that Seaver’s injury was a midline break and no surgery was needed.
“I have a broken nose and a black eye,” Seaver told the press when the story broke. “Doesn’t everyone expect to have a broken nose once in a while. I expect to be perfectly fine in about ten days.”
(The postscript to the broken nose was that it could have been .001% of the reason behind one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. In June the Mets traded Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds in the so-called Midnight Massacre; Seaver went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA that season and the Mets didn’t recover for a decade.)
Seaver’s most public bow on the singles court came in April 1993 at the Lehman Brothers Tournament of Champions at the Winter Garden in downtown Manhattan. Seaver and John McEnroe gave a charity exhibition before the finals. Seaver, the New York Times’ Robin Finn reported, played five times a week; McEnroe once every five years. Mark Talbott and Ned Edwards served as coaches.
Seaver beat McEnroe 2-1. After the match, McEnroe analyzed where he went wrong: “‘Return of serve, same thing that killed me in tennis,’ said McEnroe, who had the same problems with the harsh angles of Seaver’s squash pitch that he has faced in handling today’s power servers in a game that has outgrown finesse.”
Singles wasn’t Seaver’s only game. He picked up doubles and played regularly at GCC and Apawamis. In the late 1980s Seaver & Peer Pedersen, Jr. won the GCC member-guest and the Morris, Apawamis’ member-guest. They also successfully partnered in many New York City tournaments.
“Tom was a very crafty left-wall player,” said Pedersen, “seemingly at odds with his ferocity as a Hall of Fame right-handed fastball pitcher. He could hit the forehand as hard as Gary Waite but needed too much time to turn, coil, load up and let it go. But he moved people out with his huge lower body and took all the loose balls up the middle with that big bear claw forehand. He loved the left wall: short stroke, good eye and always played within himself, never missed an open reverse and rarely made a racquet error. Most of all, no one enjoyed playing hardball squash doubles with pals more than Tom.”
Looking back on a half century of play, Seaver was simply someone who loved squash . “He was a superior athlete,” said Pedersen, “one of the greatest competitors I ever played with and the truest gentleman. And he loved squash—just couldn’t get enough of squash doubles. His loss was a gut shot.”