2014-12-03 / Sports

Seaver On Lyons

BY DAVID RUSSELL

                  When Tom Seaver announced his retirement at a press conference in 1987, a writer asked the greatest Met who the toughest hitter he ever faced was.

                  Seaver’s answer: “Barry Lyons.”

                  The Mets backup catcher had gone 6-for-6 against Tom Terrific in a simulated game a few weeks earlier, which led to Seaver shutting down his attempt at a comeback. “I was a little humbled by it,” Lyons said. “There was a certain hint of cynicism mixed in there. I didn’t take it too strongly either way. I said, ‘Maybe I’ll make the all-simulated All-Star team.’”

                  Due to injuries and a suspension to Dwight Gooden the Mets starting rotation was thin as they looked to defend the 1986 championship. Seaver had last pitched for the Red Sox in 1986, although a knee injury ended his season in August. “Me, Dave Magadan, Tim Teufel and a few bench guys were told that we would face him,” said Lyons, a Met from 1986-1990.

                  “I certainly wasn’t in awe of him or star-struck in any way. He was the man for the 69 and 73 Mets. I followed him in his prime. He wasn’t the same pitcher at age 42. I didn’t have expectations other than they asked me to hit and I could prove I belonged. I never faced Tom Seaver when he was Tom Seaver. The guy I faced in that simulated game wasn’t the same guy. I don’t pretend to think that he was something that he wasn’t. He was just another guy trying to get me out.”

                  Hitting coach Bill Robinson told Lyons that he would hit against Seaver in a simulated game at Shea Stadium. Lyons had a premonition of sorts. “I jokingly said, ‘I’d hate to end this guy’s career.’” Lyons smacked a line drive into the gap in his first at-bat, and hit a shot back through the middle on his second.

                  “Third time I get up, the first pitch is under my chin, it knocked me on my back. Tom had seen enough of me hitting him so hard. The next pitch was over the left field fence for a home run. All of a sudden I was 3-for-3. Other guys were having success, but not like I was.”

                  Lyons finished 6-for-6. “Seaver was trying to get us out, trying to prove he could be a starting pitcher. The mind wanted to do it, but the body couldn’t.”

                  Although fans were disappointed to see Tom Terrific say goodbye, not everybody was heartbroken. “There were a couple of beat writers who congratulated me, and more or less referenced that they didn’t want to talk to Tom,” Lyons said.

                  The 1988 Old-Timers’ Game at Shea was the scene of another Seaver-Lyons meeting. Almost. “Seaver was pitching, and he was good friends with Buddy Harrelson, the third base coach. Harrelson kept yelling at me to get a bat, and he was hollering at Tom and pointing at me. Needless to say, Tom did not offer a smile.”

                  Seaver has not spoken to Lyons since the simulated game. “We have crossed paths, but he has yet to acknowledge me, or say hello, or look at me. I don’t know if he doesn’t remember me, or doesn’t want to remember me. I have the utmost respect for him. He was as good as any pitcher who ever played the game.”

                  For Lyons, there are fond memories of being a Met in the 1980s. “I’m thankful to be a New York Met at that time. That was the pinnacle of the Mets organization. There was no greater time than 84-90. Each man is responsible for his own actions, but collectively we enjoyed the benefits off the field, the adoration, the fans, the media, the groupies. It was high times. I’m thankful for that time in my life.”

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