Before there was David Wright, before there was Mike Piazza, before there was Keith Hernandez, there was Tom Seaver. He was the first true superstar to wear the blue & orange, the first ‘Face of the Mets.’ And to this day, a quarter of a century after he pitched his last game for us, he still remains the fans all-time favorite. Of 800+ players who have played for the Mets, Seaver’s #41 remains the only number retired.
He was nicknamed Tom Terrific, or more suitably, ‘The Franchise.’ Tom Seaver truly was The Franchise. Prior to his arrival in New York in 1967, the Mets had been a laughing stock, a floor mat for the NL to wipe their feet on. From 1962-1966, the Mets averaged an embarrassing 52 wins a year. However, within 2 years of Seaver taking the mound at Shea, the unimaginable happened. It was he who led the Mets to the miracle in 1969 with an impressive record of 25-7, a 2.21 ERA and 208 strikeouts. He had a World Series ring on his finger to go along with his first of 3 Cy Young Awards.
Born in Modesto, CA on 11-17-44, George Thomas Seaver would master his skills while attending Fresno High School. He was smaller than most boys his age and compensated for his lack of size and power by focusing on his control. After serving in the USMC Reserves, Tom attended USC on a Baseball scholarship. He quickly caught the attention of the local team, the Dodgers, who drafted him in June 65. However, they scoffed at the young righty when he asked for a $70,000 bonus. A year later, Seaver signed with the Braves but Commissioner William Eckert voided the contract due to a question about Seaver’s eligibility. Eckert decided that a lottery would be held with one name being drawn for the right to sign Seaver. The Mets, along with Atlanta, Cleveland and Philadelphia expressed interest. It was the Mets who won the prized RHP.
In 1967, on his way to being the first Mets player to win Rookie of the Year, Seaver was chosen for the All-Star Game. At just 23 years old, the timid Seaver approached Hank Aaron, seeking his autograph. Seaver introduced himself to the slugger. Aaron responded, “Kid, I already know who you are and before your career is over, I guarantee everyone in this stadium will, too.” Years later, after his retirement, Hammerin’ Hank would call Seaver, “The toughest pitcher I ever faced.”
Seaver not only established his place in Mets history, but he earned his place as one of the best in the game. He was not just a great Mets pitcher: He was a great pitcher. After the Mets opposed the A’s in the 73 Series, Reggie Jackson praised Seaver’s ability, stating, “Blind men come to the stadium just to listen to him pitch.” From 68-76, Seaver complied a record of 166-94. He led the NL in wins twice, ERA three times and strikeouts 5 times. He won 3 Cy Young Awards in a six year span. His ERA for those 9 years was a paltry 2.46 and he recorded 2164 strikeouts against just 655 walks. On July 9, 1969, he came within just 2 outs of pitching a perfect game. On April 22, 1970, Seaver fanned 19 batters, including 10 in a row, the latter still remains a record. He also is the only pitcher in history to record 200 K’s or more for 9 consecutive season. With Seaver as our ace, the Mets were constantly in a pennant race. They finished lower than 3rd only one time between 69-76. Then, the unthinkable happened.
In what came to be known as ‘The Midnight Massacre,’ Mets GM M. Donald Grant traded Tom Terrific to the Reds. There had been some grumblings about Seaver wanting to renegotiate his contract. To a degree this was true. He was arguably the top pitcher in the game but was not being rewarded accordingly. The game was different back then. Free Agency was a new concept and players were supposed to work every day, be happy in their job and not ask for more money. Some in the NY media, mostly Dick Young of the Daily News, wrote countless negative articles about Seaver being ‘greedy’ and finally, someone blinked. On June 15, 1977, Grant traded Seaver to the Reds for Pat Zachary, Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn and Dan Norman.
It immediately became apparent just how poignant Seaver’s nickname of The Franchise was. The fans revolted. Attendance dropped to dangerously low levels and the Mets dropped embarrassingly low in the standings. Shea Stadium became nicknamed Grant’s Tomb in honor of the Mets GM. Many games saw the Mets not even opening the upper levels of Shea. The Mets immediately took a nosedive and headed right for the NLE basement. For the years 1977-1982, the Mets finished 6th 5 times and 5th once. After averaging 84 wins a year with Seaver, the Mets now averaged just 61 wins without him and from 77 to 82, finished a combined 167 games out of first place. The torch of NY Baseball had been passed to The Bronx.
Many of his personal milestones came while wearing the uniform of other teams. He pitched his one and only no-hitter for Cincinnati in 1978, recorded his 3000th strikeout as a Red (fanning Keith Hernandez) and recorded his 300th career win with the White Sox. But he always will be remembered as a Met. Seaver pitched in a time when pitching dominated the game. The following pitchers–Gibson, Marichal, Ryan, Carlton, Palmer, Sutton and Blyleven-were all contemporaries of Seaver. But yet he was arguably the best of his time.
After pitching for the 1986 AL Champion Red Sox, Seaver announced his retirement. At that time, he was 3rd in career strikeouts with 3640. His career ERA of 2.86 was 3rd lowest since the demise of the dead ball era. He is still 7th in career shut-outs with 61. Seaver ended his career with a record of 311-205 and was a 12 time All-Star. He was elected to the Hall of Fame on January 7, 1992. The mutual admiration that he and fans/sportswriter shared for each other was evident. He was elected to Cooperstown with 98.84% of the vote, the highest percentage ever.
Tom Seaver is now 64 years old and living in Calistoga, CA. He operates his own winery and sometime in 2009, the first bottles a cabernet named ‘Seaver’ will be available.