Tommy Lasorda’s Scouting Report on Tom Seaver
What Pitchers can Learn from Tom Seaver
By Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM
If Tommy Lasorda had his way, Tom Seaver would have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame wearing Dodger Blue. On March 23, 1965, Lasorda’s last year as a scout for the Dodgers, he reported (see scouting report below) that the 20-year-old Seaver was athletic, had a pitcher’s body (6’ and 185 pounds), a real good, live fastball (93 mph), good arm action, good command, is aggressive and “wants to beat you”. He was correct in saying that Seaver’s curve ball acted more like a slider. Sandy Koufax would later tell a young Nolan Ryan that Seaver’s drop and drive delivery, kept him from getting on top of his curve ball, but allowed him to have a terrific slider.
Like many great baseball players, Tom Seaver was a multi-sport athlete growing up. He was born in Fresno, CA in 1944 and took up organized sports playing basketball and Little League Baseball as both a pitcher and outfielder. He played high school baseball and basketball at Fresno High School and was All-City in both sports his senior year (1962). Although he was a blue chipper in two sports, and a life-long USC fan, he was a late bloomer physically and he received little attention from college coaches.
Receiving no scholarship offers, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. After 6 months of active duty in the reserve, and a couple of months shy of his 19th birthday, he tried out for the Fresno City College baseball team in the fall of 1963. When he took the mound, the previous six months of basic trainer had produced a taller, more mature pitcher, with 30 pounds of muscle and more strength and confidence. His coach at Fresno JC said his first pitch off the mound was 90 mph and earned him a spot of the Rams roster. In the spring of 1964, freshman, Tom Seaver was the ace and MVP of the Fresno City College team.
His 11-2 record against stiff competition at Fresno, drew the attention of USC legendary coach, Rod Dedeaux. In Dedeaux’s opinion, he had gone from high school “suspect” to college “prospect”. Unfortunately, USC had only five available scholarships and since Seaver had only one year of college experience, he would have to earn a scholarship by proving himself by pitching for the Fairbanks, Alaska Goldpanners in the legendary Alaskan Summer Collegiate League. His success on the mound in Alaska, including a win and grand slam in the National Baseball Championships, his will to win and superior concentration earned him a scholarship to USC.
He enrolled at USC in the fall of 1964 as a pre-dental student, posted a 10-2 record and was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 10th round of the first Major League Draft in June 1965. Rick Monday was the first pick that year. The Dodgers’ scout, Tommy Lasorda, offered $2,000. Seaver countered with $70,000. Lasorda came up with $3,000, Seaver said no and Lasorda replied “Good luck in your dental career.”
He returned to Alaska in the summer of 1965 and USC in the fall of 1965. The Atlanta Braves drafted him in 1966 in the first round of the secondary June draft (20th overall). He signed with the Braves for $40,000 and then things got crazy. His contract with the Braves was voided by Baseball Commissioner, William Eckert, because USC had played two games before he signed, although Seaver had not played in either game. With pro ball out of the picture, he decided to finish the college season, but because he had signed a pro contract, the NCAA ruled him ineligible despite the fact that the contract had been voided. After his father complained to the Commissioner about the unfairness of the situation and threatened a lawsuit, the Commissioner ruled that other teams could match the Braves offer. The Commissioner then set up a lottery drawing among three teams (Phillies, Indians and Mets) that were willing to match the Braves’ terms, reached in a hat and pulled out the Mets’ name. So, as a result of a series of questionable rules and the luck of the draw, Tom Seaver, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, became a New York Met and received a $50,000 signing bonus.
In 1966, the Mets sent him to the AAA Jacksonville Suns of the International League where he went 12-12 with a 3.13 ERA. He made the Mets squad in spring training in 1967 and proceeded to have an outstanding season. He went 16-3 with 18 complete games, 170 strikeouts and a 2.76 ERA on a last place team. He was also named to the 1967 NL All-Star Team and got the save by pitching a scoreless 15th inning. If that wasn’t enough, he was voted 1967 NL Rookie of the year at the age of 23; only 5 years out of high school.
1968 was another stellar year. Seaver was the opening day pitcher for the Mets and proceeded to win 16 games, record over 200 strikeouts for the first of nine consecutive seasons for the 9th place Mets. 1967 and 1968 were outstanding, but just previews of what was to come. In 1969. Seaver won a league-high 25 games, including 9 consecutive complete game victories. He helped the Miracle Mets win the 1969 World Series by pitching a 10-inning complete game 2-1 win in game 4 with the Baltimore Orioles. He won the first of his 3 National League Cy Young Awards, was runner-up to Willie McCovey for the 1969 NL Most Valuable Player Award, was presented with the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year and was named Sports Illustrated magazine’s Sportsman of the Year.
Seaver played 12 of his 20 seasons with the Mets (1967-77, 83), 5 with the Reds (1977-82), 3 with the White Sox (1984-86) and part of 1986 with the Red Sox. The 12-time All-Star retired in 1987 with 311 wins, 3640 strikeouts, 61 shutouts, 2.86 ERA, 231 complete games, twenty-seven 3-hitters, ten 2-hitters, five 1-hitters and one no-hitter (1978). He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1992 and is a member of the Mets, Reds and Marine Corps Halls of Fame.
Scouting, especially in previous decades when the only tools that scouts had were a radar gun, experience and a gut feeling, is an imperfect process. No one, not even a future HOF manager like Tommy Lasorda, could project that Seaver would become “Tom Terrific”, 20-year veteran, HOF pitcher, team work horse and team leader. Had the Dodgers been able to predict his success, they would have signed him and had 3 future Hall of Fame pitchers (Don Drysdale, Don Sutton and Tom Seaver) on their pitching staff in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
What the scouts, including Lasorda, were not equipped to see was Seaver’s dedication to the game, focus on his career, and understanding of the importance of diet, conditioning and strength training to success and longevity. In 1972, at least a decade before strength and conditioning coaches were welcomed into MLB, Seaver told Sports Illustrated –
“Pitching is what makes me happy. I’ve devoted my life to it. I live my life around the four days between starts. It determines what I eat, when I go to bed, what I do when I’m awake. It determines how I spend my life when I’m not pitching. If it means I have to come to Florida and can’t get tanned because I might get a burn that would keep me from throwing for a few days, then I never go shirtless in the sun. If it means when I get up in the morning, I have to read the box scores to see who got two hits off Bill Singer last night instead of reading a novel, then I do it. If it means I have to remind myself to pet dogs with my left hand or throw logs on the fire with my left hand, then I do that, too. If it means in the winter, I eat cottage cheese instead of chocolate chip cookies in order to keep my weight down, then I eat cottage cheese. I might want those cookies but I won’t eat them. That might bother some people but it doesn’t bother me. I enjoy the cottage cheese. I enjoy it more than I would those cookies because I know it will help me do what makes me happy.
Life isn’t very heavy for me. I’ve made up my mind what I want to do. I’m happy when I pitch well so, I only do those things that help me be happy. I wouldn’t be able to dedicate myself like this for money or glory, although they are certainly considerations. If I pitch well for 15 years, I’ll be able to give my family security. But that isn’t what motivates me. What motivates some pitchers is to be known as the fastest who ever lived. Some want to have the greatest season ever. All I want is to do the best I possibly can day-after-day, year-after-year. Pitching is the whole thing for me. I want to prove I’m the best ever.”
After spending days with him, the SI reporter wrote – “Seaver stands 6’½” and weighs 210 pounds from November to February when he indulges himself with an occasional breakfast of fried eggs and a beer with dinner, and he weighs 205 pounds from March to October when he allows himself no fried eggs or beer. He has a squarish, heavy-chested body that tends to fat but is deceptively muscled. His arms, shoulders, chest and thighs are thick with muscles acquired from years of lifting weights. He believes, unlike most pitchers and coaches, that a selective program of weight lifting will add speed to a pitcher’s fastball. As a high school senior in Fresno, Calif. he stood 5’9″ and weighed 160 pounds. He was the third-hardest thrower on his team. He did not pick up speed until he joined the Marines and began lifting weights in college and grew three inches and put on 30 pounds. He has worked so diligently in developing those parts of his body that relate to his talent.
Although he is not conscious of it, Seaver shows his disdain for men who he feels have not fulfilled their potential. For Seaver, a man’s talent is not just a part of the man. It is the whole man, or at the very least a mirror of the whole man. Treating one’s talent carelessly is indicative of a weakness in character. He once said of a former pitcher who was reputed to have dissipated a promising career, “What a fool he must be. To throw it all away like that. If you don’t think baseball is a big deal, don’t play it. But if you do, play it right.” Seaver avoids such men, as if their weakness were a contagious disease. He prefers the company of teammates who have made the fullest use of their talents, no matter how meager.
Quotes from teammates and managers indicate that Tom Seaver was not only a HOF pitcher, he was also a great teammate and leader”
- “Tom Seaver was the driving force behind the players, always pushing the team to be better than they were, never letting them settle.” – HOF outfielder and Mets’ broadcaster Ralph Kiner
- “Tom does everything well. He’s the kind of man you’d want your kids to grow up to be like. Tom’s a studious player, devoted to his profession, a loyal cat, trustworthy – everything a Boy Scout’s supposed to be. In fact, we call him ‘Boy Scout.” – teammate Cleon Jones
- “My first day in the big leagues, Tom told me to keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut and I would learn how to behave like a Major League player, and he was right.” – teammate Nolan Ryan
- “My idea of managing is giving the ball to Tom Seaver and sitting down and watching him work.” – HOF manager Sparky Anderson
In his own words – the following from Seaver illustrate his philosophy of pitching, understanding of game and dedication to his craft:
- “In baseball, my theory is to strive for consistency, not to worry about the numbers. If you dwell on statistics, you get shortsighted, if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end.” – Tom Seaver
- “Pitch within yourself.” – Tom Seaver
- “My job isn’t to strike guys out, it’s to get them out, sometimes by striking them out.” – Tom Seaver
- “Pitching is what you have best on the day you work, and if you can’t get your fastball over the plate, then maybe you can win with your curve.” – Tom Seaver
- “Concentration and dedication are intangibles and the deciding factors between who won and who lost”. – Tom Seaver
- “Take a look at all of them: Marichal, Jenkins, Spahn – what do you think made them successful? They conditioned their arms by pitching more, not less, starting from when they signed their first contract.” – Tom Seaver
- “My pitch count as a general rule was 135. And I knew how many pitches I had when I went to the mound for the last three innings. Imagine if these computer geeks who are running baseball now were allowed to run a war? They’d be telling our soldiers: ‘That’s enough. You’ve fired too many bullets from your rifle this week!” – Tom Seaver
- “If you don’t think baseball is a big deal, don’t do it. But if you do, do it right.” – Tom Seaver
Tom Seaver died on August 31, 2020 and there may never be another quite like him.
Tommy Lasorda’s scouting report on Tom Seaver is presented below
For more information on Tom Seaver, check out Tom Seaver, A Terrific Life by Bill Madden and The Art of Pitching by Tom Seaver.
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC*E, FACSM has over four decades as a head strength and conditioning coach (Astros) and strength and conditioning consultant (Rangers). He is Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake and Website Education Manager baseballstrength.org.