7/24/2014 10:00 A.M. ET
Jeter receives a 'Terrific' endorsement
Seaver expects Yanks captain to become first unanimous Hall of Fame inductee
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- The pride that flows through the body of Tom Seaver these days defies measurement. He is a rightfully proud man, but he doesn't beat his chest. Indeed, he seldom mentions his successes. They're a matter of record. It's enough for him to say "I'm as proud as I can be" about his career as a pitcher, his election to the Hall of Fame by an unequaled mandate and the fine cabernet sauvignon that carries his monogram, GTS.
George Thomas Seaver has made it to the top in two ultra-competitive industries. His 2009 cabernet received a 97-point rating, something akin to Gibson's 1.12 ERA. And, in the parlance of scouts, his Hall of Fame ballot percentile, 98.84, touches unanimity, as his fastball used to touch the mid-90s. It's something akin to Wilt's 100.
Though Seaver no longer sips the good stuff his vineyard produces, his pride is such that he wants to maintain the level of excellence his cabernet achieved. But while his Hall of Fame standing has brought him unique acclaim and been so fulfilling, he is quite willing to be displaced atop the list -- so long as his replacement is the right player.
Derek Jeter is the right player.
Seaver says so. Moreover, he believes the Yankees captain ought to be the first unanimously elected Hall of Famer.
"I can't see how he won't be," Seaver said on Wednesday from his home/vineyard in Calistoga, Calif., "unless somebody beats him to the punch."
Not likely. If DiMaggio, Aaron, Gibson, Mantle, Koufax, Mays, Ruth, Gehrig, Maddux, Cal, Gwynn, Killer, The Big Train, Spahnie, Stan the Man, Yogi, Tyrus Raymond, Nolie, Lefty Grove, The Rajah, Clemente, Rapid Robert, Greenberg, Foxx and Mr. Theodore Ballgame were not unanimously elected, who's to say anyone ever will be?
"I've thought about it; Jeter should be the one," Seaver said. "What can you say he hasn't done? He has every credential imaginable -- great player, good citizen. He plays the game properly, respects the game and his predecessors. He's done it in the big city, for one team that wears a uniform of greatness. He has no marks against him. He has the numbers. And he wins.
"He's a class act all the way. A pro's pro, a gentleman's gentleman. If you're starting a franchise, who do want as your first pick? I'll take Jeter, thank you. And I'm sure I wouldn't get too many arguments."
Jeter is five-plus years away from eligibility for the Hall of Fame ballot. Unless he revises his retirement plans, he will be included on the ballot mailed to voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America late in 2019. And unless the electorate somehow detects an overriding flaw in the Yankees shortstop's résumé, he will be inducted in 2020 (note the two 2s; fitting).
Better make reservations now. Cooperstown will be rather crowded that weekend if only those who revere Jeter make the trip to upstate New York.
"I'd like to be there when he goes in," Seaver said.
Seaver says he might even toast Jeter with a glass of the good stuff. The Franchise toasting the Captain. One New York baseball icon saluting another. The all-time Met saluting an all-time Yankee.
Seaver says he already has bottles of the good stuff in the cellar of Hall of Fame board chair Jane Forbes Clark for this weekend. Other wines will be made available, too. The current group of Hall of Fame players includes a number of men who like their wine, mostly pitchers -- Gibson, Carlton and Sutton among them.
A few years back, the pitchers denied the position players. But no longer.
"Anyone can. You don't have to bring any," Seaver said. "We don't exclude anyone now. Not even Fisk."
But Seaver himself is not likely to partake. His ongoing problems with Lyme disease and normal changes of taste have made even the good stuff less satisfying for him. "Haven't had a sip in four years," Seaver says, though not proudly.
The disease is in a second go-round with Seaver. It has affected him in so many ways -- physically and mentally. It has robbed him of enjoyment and forced him to make three doctor visits each week for injections that help him deal with the debilitating symptoms. At age 69, Seaver lacks the memory he had at age 64. He can't recite the sequence of pitches he threw Clemente in one 1970 confrontation, as he could in 2008. He doesn't recall all the home runs he hit. The anecdotes he shares have holes in them now.
"And if I don't remember all of something," Seaver says. "I just ad lib. I think I pitched 150 shutouts, right?"
Seaver's first Lyme disease experiences were in 1991 -- he thinks. The symptoms returned four years ago and dragged him down. He always enjoyed induction weekend in Cooperstown as much as anyone, but the disease has prevented him from attending for three years. His problems were a whispered topic when the Hall of Famers assembled in 2011. Those who had spoken with him feared early-onset Alzheimer's disease. His speech was slow and disjointed. He clearly wasn't himself.
As recently as last summer, Seaver wondered whether he'd fly again. Getting to the airport troubled him more than the prospect of coast-to-coast flying.
"There were lots of things that bothered me and things I couldn't do," Seaver said.
But the vineyard has kept him going. Seaver rates his days on a 1-to-10 scale. He's had "a lot of 8s for while." Wednesday was a 9. He's hoping for 9s this weekend when he renews his Hall of Fame relationships. But he can't count on feeling terrific.
Seaver said Thursday he works six to seven hours each day. "It's a passion, and it's good cardio work," he said.
Seaver attacks his work as he attacked hitters -- with forethought and wisdom. "The vineyard is a gift," he said.
The irony is that Seaver no longer enjoys the fruits of his labor of love.
"I don't know; maybe I'll have a taste this weekend," he said. "But it will have to be my stuff in the glass. If I'm going to like it or not like it, I want it to be the good stuff."
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.