It was by far the biggest under-your-breath thing heard during Triple-A All-Star week in Buffalo last summer: What in the world was up with Tom Seaver? Stammering, forgetful and literally making no sense at times, the Hall of Famer left several hundred folks in the grand ballroom of the Adam’s Mark befuddled with his performance as the keynote speaker at the All-Star luncheon.
That came after a rambling press conference where about his only moment of clarity was to criticize Reggie Jackson. I had asked Seaver for his thoughts on Mr. October’s comments to Sports Illustrated that several Hall of Famers – including Gary Carter, who had died only four months earlier – weren’t worthy of being in the Hall and Seaver said, “Reggie is Reggie and I like Reggie but Reggie sometimes turns the logical part of his brain off.”
Other than that, however, Seaver’s brain seemed totally off. He struggled mightily with reporters’ questions. He couldn’t remember years or teams. Didn’t remember names of opposing players. We left the room shaking our heads, then the public saw what we had just seen in private.
But by that evening, when he threw the ceremonial first pitch to fellow Hall member Ryne Sandberg, Seaver was perfectly lucid during a live interview on the MLB Network broadcast. Was Seaver, a noted wine connoisseur and California vineyard owner, simply intoxicated here that day? Was there something more sinister on display like dementia or Alzheimer’s?
I talked to a couple colleagues in New York about Seaver’s behavior and they said it had become a topic at that end of the state as well and there was no real explanation for it. They acknowledged friends in the game and in the media were worried big-time about No. 41.
Hall of Fame writer Bill Madden finally got to the bottom of the issue in a column in Friday’s editions of the New York Daily News. Seaver, 68, admitted for the last year that he has been battling Stage 3 Lyme disease, with symptoms including memory loss, speech problems, sleep disorder and an overall feeling of chemical imbalance.
The Buffalo appearance came about a month after Seaver alarmed friends in New York by releasing a statement congratulating Johan Santana on the Mets’ first no-hitter that opened with, “I’ve never met Johan personally.”
The problem? Seaver had done a half-hour SNY special with Santana in 2008 about pitching.
Then Seaver skipped the Hall of Fame ceremonies for the first time since his induction in 1992; hip replacement surgery was cited as the reason but it turns out, it wasn’t the only one.
“I didn’t know what was happening. I felt like I had the worst case of the flu every day, and then I was having trouble remembering things and making bad decisions,” Seaver told Madden. “I was scared. I said to myself: ‘It’s like I’m getting old before my time. Why is this happening?’ I thought I’d had a stroke.”
Seaver was first diagnosed with Lyme in 1991 when he believes he was bitten by ticks while tending to his garden at his Connecticut home. His wife convinced him to see doctors last year when his longtime head vineyard worker came into his house in California and Seaver couldn’t remember his name.
Seaver suffered Bell’s Palsy during his first battle with Lyme and there was some thought that was the issue again. But the more severe symptoms required a battery of tests to rule out other causes and focus back on Lyme. And Seaver admitted he has cut out alcohol as well.
“Once it gets into your blood system, it causes real problems,” Seaver said. “I’m taking 24 pills a day now, most of them vitamins, plus one penicillin pill to get my chemical balance back. … It’s been a slow process in which I’ll still feel like I have a bad case of the flu for days, but these past couple of weeks they’ve been less and less. I haven’t had a glass of wine or a beer in eight months and I don’t miss it.”
More Met troubles
Speaking of the Mets, things are natually chaotic in their spring camp with a series of head-scratching issues.
• Santana is still having shoulder trouble and is bickering with GM Sandy Alderson about the team making it seem like he hasn’t done enough to get ready for the season, especially since he asked to pitch in the World Baseball Classic for Venezuela. Jon Niese is almost certain to start on Opening Day.
• David Wright was sent back to New York after the rib cage injury that derailed his red-hot run of games in the WBC (Aside: After Wright and Mark Teixeira, will any team give guys permission to play this tournament again in the spring?)
• Manager Terry Collins was furious with ex-Bison Jordany Valdespin for not wearing a cup while playing second base and, of course, what happened during the same game? Valdespin narrowly escaped serious injury when he was drilled in the genitals by a 94-mph fastball from Detroit’s Justin Verlander.
• Lucas Duda entered the weekend batting .230 and in danger of losing his starting outfield spot to Valdespin, who hardly projects to much of a power hitter or average guy.
• As for the minor-league camp, Triple-A manager Wally Backman proudly proclaimed to a booster club in St. Lucie, Fla., how much he was looking forward to having stud prospect Zach Wheeler pitching in Buffalo this year. Of course, Backman had to be reminded he’ll be in Las Vegas with Wheeler.
And what was Wheeler’s big scare of the spring? An oblique injury while practicing bunting. That’s never good for a pitcher.
The word from Blue Jays camp in Dunedin, Fla., is there’s no rust in Melky Cabrera’s game, even though he missed the end of 2012 and all of the Giants’ run to the World Series after his suspension for steroid use.
Cabrera entered the weekend batting .361 this spring; he had four RBIs as the Blue Jays built a 15-1 lead through two innings of Thursday’s 17-5 laugher over the Yankees.
“He’s had a good camp, offensively, defensively, he’s doing everything,” manager John Gibbons aid.
A’s Young a gamer
The surprising A’s are looking for leadership in the clubhouse in the wake of the loss of Jonny Gomes to Boston. They’re hoping they found it in former Diamondbacks outfielder Chris Young, who will back up Coco Crisp in center and spend time in the corner spots. Like Gomes, Young is a fierce competitor. And that includes clubhouse games.
“He likes to talk a lot of garbage,” teammate Jason Kubel, who preceded Young from Arizona to Oakland, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We always get in heated Monopoly battles on our iPads. He thinks he’s the best, too. How can you be? All it is is luck.”
“I don’t know how it started, but when we found out we could link iPads and play, it took off,” Young said. “All he had to do was look at me and it was on. We were very serious about Monopoly.”
Around the horn
• Nothing says Opening Night like Astros vs. Rangers. Right, ESPN? Yeesh. Anyway, the first game of 2013 – and Houston’s first in the American League – is two weeks from tonight, just for the record.
• Legendary broadcaster Joe Garagiola, the face of NBC’s Game of the Week and World Series telecasts during the 1970s and into the ‘80s, recently announced he’s putting down the microphone this year after 57 years in broadcasting. Garagiola, who is 87, had been doing part-time work as a Diamondbacks analyst for several years. His son, Joe Jr., was the team’s first general manager.
• I still don’t care one iota about the World Baseball Classic. And it doesn’t matter how many times you show me clips of the silly Canada-Mexico brawl either.