Today is September 30 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you facilitate serendipity through risk?” Those who navigate the chaos and translate their dreams into reality understand what author Joan Erickson once wrote: “Vital lives are about action. You can't feel warmth unless you create it, can't feel delight until you play, can't know serendipity unless you risk.”
Hall of Fame baseball player Tom Seaver facilitated serendipity through risk to navigate his path to the major leagues. He played for the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, and Boston Red Sox from 1967 to 1986. A longtime Met, Seaver played a significant role in their victory in the 1969 World Series over the Baltimore Orioles.
During high school Seaver played basketball and baseball, though he did not make the varsity baseball team until his senior year. At the time he used finesse over power as a pitcher. After high school, he worked for his father’s company, lifting crates of raisins onto warehouse loading platforms, and after six months he enlisted in the Marines.
By the fall of 1963, he was in a Marine Reserve unit and attending Fresno City College; he had grown two inches, and wrangling raisins and boot camp had put 30 pounds on his frame. So when he went out to pitch for the school team, he was throwing 90-mile-per-hour fastballs.
In the summer of 1964, he played in an Alaskan collegiate league for the Alaska Goldpanners in Fairbanks and performed well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Southern California. USC coach, Rod Dedeaux, was known for sending ballplayers to the big leagues.
Seavers path to play professional baseball, however, was convoluted and serendipitous. Seaver, who was studying dentistry, was the best pitcher on U.S.C.’s roster, and he was drafted by the Dodgers in 1965. In a much-recounted story, the scout, Tommy Lasorda, later the Dodgers manager, offered him a $2,000 signing bonus, and in response Seaver asked for $50,000.
“Good luck in your dental career,” Lasorda reportedly told him, and the possibility of his becoming a Dodger vanished.
In January 1966, after another summer in Fairbanks and a return to U.S.C., he was drafted by the Braves, who were about to move from Milwaukee and play their first season in Atlanta. This time the bonus was far more significant than the $5,000 the Dodgers offered a year earlier. Unfortunately, by the time Seaver signed his contract, the U.S.C. team had begun its season, and according to an arcane major league rule, teams were forbidden from signing college players whose seasons were in progress.
The contract was voided by the major league commissioner, William D. Eckert, and simultaneously, because he had signed a pro contract, the National Collegiate Athletic Association declared him ineligible to play college ball.
Reflecting upon this time in his life Seaver wrote in “The Perfect Game,” a memoir written with Dick Schaap. “So now to the professionals I am an amateur and to the amateurs I’m a pro, and I’m stuck. My dad got in the middle of it. There was going to be some legal action somewhere because I was not going to be thrown in the street. I lost my scholarship and everything.”
Caught in a predicament in which he was blameless, unable to compete either as an amateur or a professional, Seaver and his family finally pressed the commissioner’s office to find a solution.
It was declared that any major league team that would match the Braves’ offer could do so, and any team who did would be part of a lottery for Seaver’s services. Three teams were interested, the Cleveland Indians, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Mets, and on April 2, 1966, baseball history was altered when the name “Mets” was pulled out of a hat.
Seaver pitched one season in the minor leagues in Jacksonville, Fla., before joining the Mets.