EXCLUSIVE: The travails, injuries and controversies that led the New York Mets to cut ties with one-time can’t-miss pitcher Matt Harvey reminds how rare the career of Mets great Tom Seaver really was. Edward Burns, the Brothers McMullen director who is a lifelong Mets fan, is working with the Hall of Fame pitcher to direct a feature documentary on Seaver’s career and his role with the fabled 1969 Miracle Mets. That was as unlikely as man landing on the moon, the year when a franchise lovable in futility won 100 games and beat the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series.
“Tom has always been one of my idols,” said Burns, a Queens native. “It’s an honor and a thrill to bring his story to the screen as the Mets prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their stunning 1969 World Series championship.”
It is also the first documentary for Burns, the writer-actor-director who premiered his latest feature, Summertime, at Tribeca. He will look at the career and off-field life of the star who led the previously hapless team to its first championship. Seaver, who is cooperating fully with producers, became an instant hero for millions of baseball fans as he helped create a winning culture after only two seasons with the perennial losers.
The film is a joint production of Ed Burns and Aaron Lubin’s Marlboro Road Gang Productions and StreetSmartVideo, the production company established by former New York Daily News Editor-in-Chief Martin Dunn and Marie McGovern, executive producer of the Showtime series 3AM. It will be released ahead of next year’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Miracle Mets.
The 1969 team is considered one of the most improbable World Series champions in history after finishing in baseball’s basement for its first seven seasons. With 24-year-old Seaver anchoring the pitching staff, the team defied the odds to win it all. In the process, Seaver became known as “The Franchise.” He and wife Nancy were a glamorous couple that captivated New York before a dramatic confrontation with Mets management saw Seaver leave the team in 1977, a moment painful for any Mets fan who remembers. Tom and Nancy have talked extensively for the film.
“Tom Seaver is one of the greatest pitchers,” said Burns. “He’s also one of the complex and interesting characters to play the game. He’s a fascinating man who became a star against the background of one of the most exciting and dangerous times in New York. I enjoy telling great stories, and Tom Seaver’s life is as compelling as any drama I could have written. Few people know the real man. To Mets fans, he was our blue-collar hero, who gave 100 percent of himself every time he stepped on the mound. He was also one of the most intelligent athletes of the modern era, who strove for perfection in himself and all those around him. He couldn’t tolerate mediocrity. He never turned away from any confrontation, whether it was with someone at the plate, team management or the powerful New York media. He was also someone determined to make baseball better for all players then and in the future. The fact that so many baseball stars are sharing their stories about Seaver illustrates the respect they have for him. I’m thrilled that my first documentary will be about one of my sporting heroes.”
Said Dunn: “Marie and I were fortunate to team with our former colleague and friend Bill Madden, the baseball columnist and author. Through his long-standing friendship with Tom Seaver and his extensive contacts in the baseball world, he has brought us wonderful access. And we are excited that Ed and Aaron are bringing their filmmaking skills and vision to the project.”
Hank Aaron, who called Seaver the toughest pitcher he ever faced, and former teammates Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench and Ron Darling already have contributed to the documentary. Ex-Met Rusty Staub talked on camera about his teammate in his last interview before he died. Producers also have been given exclusive access to the Seaver family archives and previously unseen footage.
Burns and the producers are in discussions to attach Major League Baseball to the project, securing access to its vast archive of film and video material. MLB has done this on the Fox series Pitch, and an upcoming PBS American Masters documentary on baseball great and war hero Ted Williams.