By 1973, Tom Seaver already had what some might call a Hall of Fame career. Tom Terrific–or The Franchise–(both monikers of Seaver), had already won two Cy Young Awards, three NL earned-run average titles and seven All-Star selections in a career that began in 1967. He was also a paramount figure in the New York Mets World Championship year of 1969. He was without question one of the best pitchers in baseball.
The Mets decided to pay him to match his lofty standings as a pitcher and on February 21, 1974, Seaver was signed to a one-year deal worth $172, 500, a record for a pitcher. Mets general manager Bob Scheffing said, “he’s the best pitcher in baseball, and we’re paying him for what he is.”
Seaver was not looking to become baseball’s highest paid pitcher. He said after signing the 1974 contract, “I wasn’t angling to be the highest-paid pitcher when I began my salary negotiations…I feel that I have given (the Mets) not only game after game but year after year as well. I have given them seven good years, and hopefully. I will give them seven more.”
Unfortunately, Seaver did not last another seven years with the Mets.
In 1975, Seaver signed a three-year extension that paid him $225,000 per year keeping him the highest paid pitcher in baseball. During the middle of this extension, on July 12, 1976, a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached that ushered in free-agency for the first time. Owners across baseball rushed to keep their own players by offering them large raises.
By the time spring training arrived in 1977, 11 pitchers signed multi-year deals worth $1 million or more. Seaver wanted to renegotiate his contract to stay in line with the new salaries of the time but Mets’ chairman of the board, M. Donald Grant, refused to budge. This, along with negative columns written by Daily News columnist Dick Young who called Seaver “greedy”, and other factors eventually led to erosion between the Mets and Seaver that would ultimately lead to what is known as the “Midnight Massacre” where Seaver was traded to the Cincinnati Reds on June 15, 1977.
The details that caused the Midnight Massacre can by authored in another article. This piece is designed to remind Mets fans of the magnificence of The Franchise and why he deserved to be baseball’s highest paid pitcher in 1974. Seaver would ultimately spend 12 years with the Mets and pitched to a 2.57 ERA for the club. He would go on to win a third Cy Young Award in 1975 and lead the NL in strikeouts in 1975 and 1976.
Overall in 20 seasons, Seaver amassed 311 wins, 3640 strikeouts, 61 shutouts and a 2.86 ERA. He was Rookie of the Year in 1967 to go along with his three Cy Young awards. He ranks first in team history in wins (198), complete games (171), strikeouts (2541) and shutouts (44). He is one of only two pitchers to have 3000 strikeouts, 300 wins and an under 3.00 ERA, the other being Walter Johnson.
Seaver retired in 1987. On June 24, 1988, Seaver had his number 41 retired by the Mets in a ceremony at Shea Stadium.
In 1992, he was elected to the Hall of Fame garnering 98.84% of the vote, the third highest percentage in history. He is one of two players wearing a New York Mets cap on his plaque in Cooperstown with Mike Piazza being the other.
Two milestone anniversaries will occur in 2019. This season will mark the 50th anniversary of the Mets’ championship team of 1969. On November 17, Tom Seaver will turn 75. A grand 2019 indeed hopefully with a terrific season by the current Mets to boot. 45 years ago today, Seaver earned a well deserved raise to make him baseball’s highest paid pitcher. It was richly deserved as Tom Terrific helped turn a franchise around that was going nowhere to a contender and ultimately a champion. The franchise was never the same after The Franchise was gone.