“There aren’t many heroes left in the world. Tom Seaver was a hero.” Gary Cohen stated on Thursday afternoon.
Seaver was not only a hero to so many fans of the game, he was the greatest man to wear the New York Mets’ uniform. It is safe to say, there will never be a man like Seaver. A pure piece of baseball’s heart was taken away this week.
George Thomas Seaver was born in Fresno, California, to Betty Lee and Charles Henry Seaver on November 17, 1944. While attending Fresno High School, he pitched for the baseball team – compensating for his lack of size and strength, he developed great control while on the mound. But baseball wasn’t his only sport. Seaver was an All-City basketball player as well.
His goal though? To play college baseball.
He went on to join the United States Marine Corps Reserve on June 28, 1962, and served with AIRFMFPAC 29 Palms, California through July of 1963. With six months of active duty in the Reserve, he enrolled at Fresno City College and remained a part-time member of the Reserve until his eight-year commitment ended in 1970.
Eventually, the University of Southern California recruited him to play college baseball for the USC Trojans. Of course, they were unsure if Seaver was even worthy of a scholarship – he was sent to pitch for the Alaska Goldpanners in 1964. After an incredible season, he was awarded a scholarship to USC.
In his sophomore season, he posted a 10-2 record and was drafted in the 10th round of the 1965 Major League Baseball draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Seaver asked for $70,000 and the Dodgers passed.
The next year, he signed a professional contract with the Atlanta Braves, who had drafted him in the first round of the secondary January draft as 20th overall. The contract was eventually voided by Baseball Commissioner William Eckert because his college team had played two exhibition games that year – despite Seaver not playing.
Once the contract was voided, Seaver looked to finish the college season, but due to his signing of a professional contract, the NCAA ruled him ineligible. His father fought against Eckert, threatening a lawsuit, and eventually, the Commissioner ruled other teams could match the Braves’ offer.
The Mets were awarded his signing rights in a lottery drawing among three teams – the Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians were the other two willing to match the Braves’ terms.
His Minor League start came in 1966 and he finished the season with a 12-12 record, a 3.13 ERA in Triple-A while playing for the Jacksonville Suns of the International League.
It was no surprise by 1967, Seaver had made the Mets’ roster. He was named to the 1967 All-Star Game and got the save by pitching a scoreless 15th inning. Seaver called the 1967 All-Star Game a turning point in his baseball career.
At the age of 22, Seaver met Aaron amid his rookie season. “Kid, I know who you are,” Aaron said, “and before your career is over, I guarantee you everyone in this stadium will, too.”
He went on to finish his rookie season at 16-13 for the last-place Mets, with 18 complete games, 170 strikeouts, and a 2.76 ERA. He was named the 1967 National League Rookie of the Year.
In 1968, Seaver started for the Mets on Opening Day. He went on to win 16 games during the season and recorded over 200 strikeouts for the first of nine consecutive seasons. Despite his efforts, the Mets only moved up one spot in the standings.
The next season would change his life and earn his immortal legacy for Major League Baseball and the New York Mets.
In 1969, Seaver won a league-high of 25 games and his first National League Cy Young Award. He finished as runner-up to Willie McCovey for the League’s Most Valuable Player Award as well.
On July 9, in front of a crowd of over 59,000 at New York’s iconic Shea Stadium, Seaver threw 8 1⁄3 perfect innings against the division-leading Chicago Cubs. The most unlikely man Jim Qualls broke up the bid for a perfect game when he lined a clean single to left field.
During the 1969 NLCS, Seaver outlasted Atlanta’s Phil Niekro in the first game for a 9-5 victory.
He went on to become the starter for Game One of the 1969 World Series. He lost a 4-1 decision to the Baltimore Orioles’ Mike Cueller.
But then, he pitched a 10-inning complete game for a 2-1 win in Game Four and the “Miracle Mets” won the series in the next game. At the end of the year, Seaver was presented with the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year and Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Sportsman of the Year” award.
On April 22, 1970, he set a major league record by striking out the final 10 batters of the game in a 2-1 victory against the San Diego Padres at home.
By mid-August of 1970, Seaver’s record stood at 17-6 and went on to finish 18-12. Nonetheless, he led the NL in both earned run average at 2.82 and in strikeouts at 283.
Seaver went on to have four more 20-win seasons (1971, 1972, 1975, and 1977). He won two more Cy Young Awards in 1973 and 1975.
Between the years 1970 and 1976, he led the NL in strikeouts five times, also finishing second in 1972 and third in 1974.
In 1977, the free agency had begun and contract negotiations between the Mets’ ownership and Seaver were not going accordingly. Seaver wanted to renegotiate his contract to bring his salary up to par with what other top pitchers were making but M. Donald Grant refused to budge.
A columnist for New York Daily News began writing negative columns about his greedy demands. After Dick Young wrote an unattributed story that claimed Seaver was being goaded by his wife to ask for more money, Seaver informed the team owner that he immediately wanted out and asked to be traded.
Seaver was traded to the Cincinnati Reds at the trade deadline on June 15, 1977, for Pat Zachry, Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn, and Dan Norman.
He went 14-3 with the Reds and won 21 games after being traded, which included an emotional win over the Mets at Shea Stadium. Facing off against his former team, he struck out 11 and hit a double.
Seaver recorded a 4-0 no-hitter for the Reds against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 16, 1978, at Riverfront Stadium. This would be the only no-hitter of his professional career.
He led the pitching staff in 1979 with the Reds winning the Western Division and again in the strike-shortened 1981 season.
In 1981, Seaver recorded his 3,000th strikeout against Keith Hernandez of the St. Louis Cardinals. And despite suffering through an injury-ridden season in 1982, he finished 5-13.
Seaver was 75-46 with a 3.18 ERA and 42 complete games in 158 while with the Reds for six seasons.
On December 16, 1982, Seaver was traded back to the Mets. On April 5, 1983, he tied Walter Johnson’s major league record of 14 Opening Day starts and shut down the Phillies for six innings in a 2-0 Mets win. He went on to have a 9-14 record that season.
The Mets went on to exercise an option on Seaver’s contract worth $750,000 for the 1984 season. Overall, in 12 seasons as a Met, Seaver was 198-124 with a 2.57 ERA in 3,045 innings with 171 complete games, won three Cy Young awards, the 1969 World Series, and the 1967 NL Rookie of the Year.
By January of 1984, the Chicago White Sox had claimed Seaver from the Mets in a free-agent compensation draft. General Manager for the Mets assumed no one would want a high-salary 39-year-old starting pitcher and left him off the protected list.
He went on to pitch two and a half seasons in Chicago and recorded his last shutout on July 19, 1985, against the Cleveland Indians. On August 4, 1985, Seaver recorded his 300th victory at Yankee Stadium against the Yankees, throwing a complete game.
While with the White Sox for three seasons, Seaver was 33-28 with a 3.67 ERA and 17 complete games in 81 appearances.
For the 16th and final time in his career, Seaver started on Opening Day for the Boston Red Sox. His 311th and final win came on August 18, 1986, against the Minnesota Twins.
While a knee injury kept Seaver from appearing against the Mets in the 1986 World Series as a member of the Red Sox. He received among the loudest ovations during the introductions before Game One.
After his retirement, the Mets retired his uniform number 41 in 1988 in a Tom Seaver Day ceremony. He was the first player in the franchise to be so honored.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on January 7, 1992, with the then highest percentage of votes with 98.84%. He was named on 425 out of 430 ballots.
Seaver is one of two players enshrined in the Hall of Fame with a Mets cap on his plaque along with Mike Piazza.
He was also inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame, the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame, and the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.
On September 28, 2008, Seaver made a return to Shea Stadium during the “Shea Goodbye” closing ceremony. He threw out the final first pitch in the history of the stadium to Piazza. He and Piazza went on to open the Mets’ new home, Citi Field, with the ceremonial first pitch on April 13, 2009.
The 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game was dedicated to Seaver. He threw out of the ceremonial first pitch to Mets’ own David Wright.
In 2019, the Mets renamed the street outside of Citi from 126th Street to Seaver Way, changing the address to 41 Seaver Way.
In the summer of 1966, Seaver married his wife Nancy McIntyre and went on to have two daughters, Sarah and Annie.
In 2013, it was reported that he had suffered from memory loss and by March of 2019, his family announced that he was suffering from dementia and retiring from public life.
Seaver and Nancy remained married until his death on August 31, 2020, as a result of complications from Lewy body dementia and COVID-19. He was 75.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)