Tom Seaver and the ’73 World Series

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Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders

Tom Seaver and the
’73 World Series

Rob: I didn’t write anything in the book about Tom Seaver in the 1973 World Series, but that was over the objections of my friend Rob Nelson. What follows is part of a discussion on Baseball Primer Newsblog about my interview with The Hardball Times.

Sam M: Biggest Mets’ blunders?

1 – Oy, the trades. I know most people say Nolan Ryan and Amos Otis.
But I say Tom Seaver, still. Ripped the heart out for the fans, sent a
message about whether they were prepared to play the game in the new
free agency era that had just dawned, and just as the Yankees were
awakening and preparing to steal the city. Made the owners and the
management look like they didn’t care about winning or the fans, nor
that they had a clue what they were doing. And the bottom completely
dropped out for years afterward.

2 – Starting Seaver in Game 6 of the 1973 World Series. I doubt it made
the book, because some still think it was arguable, but not me. With a
3-2 lead, you take the opportunity to have the best pitcher in the game
ready to go out and dominate on full rest in Game 7, if needed. Berra
should have used Stone in Game 6, leaving the Mets with Seaver as the
trump card (and Matlack behind him for an inning or three if needed on
short rest, instead of starting on short rest as he ended up doing in
Game 7).

Andy: Sam, I would’ve
mentioned the 1973 Series, too, if I’d been a Mets fan. But were the
Mets on a 5-day rotation back then to begin with?

If they were on a 5-day rotation, of course, then your choice shares
the top billing with Hargrove and Macha as dumbest managerial move ever.

And you’re also right about Matlack. Like Hargrove and Macha, Berra
sacrificed the combination of a well-rested ace in Game 7 and a second
ace available for several innings, in return for the stale cliche of
“you got to go with your best.”

Sam M: A five-day rotation?
No. In the NLCS, the Mets’ rotation looked like this:

Oct. 6: Seaver

Oct. 7: Matlack

Oct. 8: Koosman

Oct. 9: Stone

Oct. 10: Seaver

With no day off, Seaver went on three days rest with a four-man
rotation. But of course, that was what I’m saying they should
have done in the Series: just used Stone when they had the chance.
Berra HAD to use Seaver in the NLCS Game 5 on three days rest — it was
an elimination game.

In the Series, though, the Mets were stuck, because Seaver couldn’t go
in Game 1 or 2:

Oct. 13: Matlack

Oct. 14: Koosman

Oct. 16: Seaver

Oct. 17: Matlack

Oct. 18: Koosman

Oct. 20: ???????

The fact they were ahead 3-2 going back to Oakland gave Berra the
chance to get out of that trap — he didn’t HAVE to use Seaver on the
20th on three days rest, because they weren’t facing elimination.
Instead, he could have used Stone, who’d been great for them down the
stretch, and had both Seaver (on full rest) and Matlack (on short rest,
but not needing to start) on the 21st.

Andy: I completely agree that
he should have taken advantage of the opportunity, Sam, but since they
had been on a four day rotation earlier, I wouldn’t quite put Berra in
the same class of idiot that is reserved for Hargrove and Macha. They
went out of their way to invent their screw-ups, and in Hargrove’s
case, he wound up starting a pitcher (Colon) who at the time had gone
on three days’ rest exactly once in his whole career.

Of course if I were a Mets fan I might put Berra at the top of the list.

Schuey: It should be pointed
out the Mets scored 1 run in Game 6 and 2 runs in Game 7 of the 1973
World Series. Perhaps a fully rested Stone and Seaver would have done
better but you will not win too many games scoring 1 and 2 runs. Also
Felix Millan’s error on a routine ground ball in game 1 and Jerry Grote
allowing a passed ball to let a runner advance on a strikeout in game 3
should be mentioned. The Mets were lucky enough to reach Game 7 after
going 82-79.

It’s not like Jon Matlack was chopped liver in the 1973 postseason. He
pitched a 2 hit shutout against the Reds in 2, 6 innings of giving up 2
unearned runs in game 1 against Oakland and 8 innings giving up 1 run
in Game 4, on 3 days rest. We know now he never really developed but at
the time he looked like a perennial All Star.

Let’s remember 1973 was not too far removed from the era when times
used pitchers on two days rest: Stottlemyre and Gibson in 1964, Lonborg
in 1967, McLain and Lolich in 1968.

Sam M: A few points, Schuey.

First, I agree that Matlack was great. But note that the first two
games you point out were on full rest. Only the Game 4 start was on
short rest, and he went eight innings in that one. To follow that
effort up with another outing on short rest in Game
7 was a heck of a thing to ask.

Second, how much better might he have been if he’d been able to take
whatever he had left and just use it for 2-3 innings, instead of trying
to make it work for 5-6, or as long as he could go?

And third, whatever you might think about the bet on Matlack to win in
Game 7, I kind of prefer the Seaver/Matlack exacta myself. My Racing
Form shows Seaver as “Well Rested” and “In Good Form” for that race.