Tom Seaver pitched for the Mets?
I actually asked that out loud once. For me as a kid, my first introduction to Tom Seaver was as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.
Now stop and think about this for a second. As a kid being introduced to baseball, I thought of Tom Seaver as a Red but had trouble picturing Tony Perez with the Reds.
1978 was the first year I was collecting baseball cards and getting familiar with the players and where the stars aligned in baseball. The stats on those cards went to 1977. So the first time I saw Seaver, he was a Red.
I associated him with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and the greatest Red of all, George Foster. (Remember, I was being introduced to baseball with 1977 stats.)
My cousin Dave is a big Mets fan and I remember either in 1978 or 1979 spending part of the summer with him. He mentioned Tom Seaver as his favorite player and I think maybe that was the time I said “Tom Seaver pitched for the Mets?”
For some Met fans that would be the same as me saying “I mainly think of Michael Jordan with the Wizards.”
Now if you have read the first 200 words I have typed for this blog post, which you clearly already have, then you do not need me to write a long biography on Tom Seaver. You know who the hell Tom Seaver is. For a long time he was the closest thing we had to a unanimous Hall of Fame selection.
But one thing over the years, stepping back and seeing baseball as a continuous and evolving storyline that goes back to the past, lives in the present and moves on to the future, it is clear what Tom Seaver represented to New York.
He was more than a great pitcher. New Yorkers have seen many great pitchers but you can argue that Seaver was the greatest pitcher to ever wear a New York uniform. (Before you throw Christy Mathewson in my face, Matty deserves discussion but I am always slow to praise players from a preintegrated game.)
He was more than a charismatic star, one who arrived at the same time as Joe Namath but had many more brilliant seasons.
He was actually even more than a franchise player, even though he would almost certainly be a unanimous choice for the title “Greatest Met of All Time.”
Tom Seaver was the third act of redemption for a great baseball tragedy in New York. Baseball fans who grew up loving the Giants and the Dodgers had a glorious middle of the 1950’s. Each won a World Series and each had the greatest teams and most beloved players in their history.
And then a few years later, before the decade was up, the teams were taken away from them and sent to California. And it was a kid from California who turned the story around.
The formation of the Mets in 1962 gave National League fans in New York a fresh start and a team to root for. Once they moved to Shea, the team had a neutral site for the Giants and Dodgers fans. Dodger fans no longer had to call the Polo Grounds their home field.
With the Mets terrible and the Yankees fading, New York needed a baseball savior. Seaver was the Rookie of the Year in 1967 and solid in 1968, but the Mets remained terrible.
Then 1969 happened. Seaver dominated in every way. Seaver won the Cy Young. He pitched 10 innings in the Mets critical World Series Game 4 win. And was one of the first on the field when the Mets won it all.
Listing stats and individual games won’t do justice for what the title meant. 12 years after the Dodgers and Giants were taken from them, their fans, rivals joined together, had a World Series championship and a New York superstar to call their own.
It was a team of the present and the future to heal the wound of the past. A decade that began with no NL team in New York and the prospect of rooting for the Yankees or following a team in California ended with a fan base on top of the World.
It was Tom Seaver who delivered that. It was Tom Seaver who, in his own way, helped heal the wounds caused by the move of the Giants and Dodgers. And using the rule of 7, anyone born after the Giants and Dodgers move had a team and a title of their own.
Seaver went on of course to win 3 Cy Youngs, win 311 games and has the 6th most strikeouts of any pitcher in MLB history. He was dealt to the Reds in one of the stupidest moves in baseball history.
Oddly he last appeared in uniform as a member of the Red Sox watching the Mets win their first World Series since 1969. Later he became one of the best foils for Phil Rizzuto on Yankee games.
George Thomas Seaver was one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He was also one of the biggest and most significant sports figures in New York history.
So naturally my first memory of him was as a Red.
Turns out he was a Met.