Baseball lost one of its greats in 2020 with the death of Tom Seaver, one of the best pitchers of his generation and forever beloved in New York City by Mets fans for his central role in the team winning the 1969 World Series.
Seaver – who earned the nickname “Tom Terrific” – won three Cy Young awards over the course of his career. He’s forever associated with the Mets, although he also played for the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox during his 20-year career.
He also earned the respect of fans across the nation, as well as players and managers. Sparky Anderson, the Hall of Famer who managed Seaver when he came to the Cincinnati Reds in 1977, said: “My idea of managing is giving the ball to Tom Seaver and sitting down and watching him work.”
Tom Seaver’s Early Life
Tom Seaver was born George Thomas Seaver on Nov. 17, 1944 in Fresno, Calif. His father, Charles, worked as an executive for a packing company that harvested and shipped California raisins. He also had been a golfer, and other members of the family swam, played volleyball and surfed.
Seaver took up organized sports, playing Little League as a pitcher and an outfielder. He ended up pitching at Fresno High School. He spent the first few years after high school graduation enlisting with the United States Marine Corps Reserves and later pitching for the Fresno City College team. In 1964, he went 11-2 with a 1.58 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 114 innings, according to former Fresno City Sports Information Director Woody Wilk.
Major League teams took notice. In 1965, Seaver transferred to the University of Southern California and went 10-2. The Los Angeles Dodgers took him in 1965, but passed on him after Seaver asked for $70,000.
The Atlanta Braves selected him in 1966, and they signed a contract (Seaver reportedly really wanted to play for the Braves, a team he loved while growing up). But Major League Baseball invalidated the contract. It is illegal for a team to offer a contract to a college player if his college season has already started. USC had started, but Seaver had not played for them, so it was a case of blindly following a rule without applying much logic or reason.
When Seaver tried to go back to USC to join the team and finish the season, the NCAA ruled him ineligible because he had signed a contract with the Braves. Seaver was stuck, but eventually baseball relented and allowed teams to match the Braves offer. Three teams did: the Mets, the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies. The teams were placed in a hat and the Mets name was drawn.
They were then the worst team in baseball. That was about to change.
Tom Seaver’s MLB Career
Seaver ended up starting for the Mets in 1967 after spending 1966 in the minors with the Jacksonville Suns. In 1967, he was named to the All-Star Game, the first of 12 All-Star selections. He also won Rookie of the Year in the National League, going 16-13 with a 2.76 ERA on a bad Mets team.
Led by Seaver, the Mets didn’t stay bad for long. In 1968, Seaver won 16 games and struck out 205. He would strike out 200 or more batters every year through 1976. In 1969, he won 25 – one quarter of all the Met victories. In his most famous single game, Seaver pitched 8 ⅓ perfect innings against the division-leading Chicago Cubs on July 9. There were 59,000 people in the stands that day.
The Mets eventually caught the Cubs and went to the inaugural National League Championship Series, where they beat the Braves. In the World Series, the Mets defeated the Baltimore Orioles. Seaver lost Game 1 but pitched a 10 inning victory in Game 4. The “Amazin’ Mets” had gone from the worst team in baseball to champions.
Tom Seaver’s Major League Accomplishments
In 1970, Seaver set a Major League record by striking out the final 10 batters in a game against the San Diego Padres.
In his years with the Mets, 1967 through 1977, Seaver went to 10 All-Star games, won 20 games in five seasons, threw five one-hitters and won three Cy Young Awards.
While with the Reds in 1978, he pitched a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1981, he became just the fifth pitcher in baseball history to reach 3,000 strikeouts. He returned to the Mets in 1983 before finishing his career with the White Sox and the Red Sox. His final year in the league was 1986. He retired with 311 wins, 3,640 strikeouts, 61 shutouts, a 2.86 ERA and a 60.3% winning percentage.
Just two guys in all of baseball history retired with 300-plus wins, 3,000-plus strikeouts and an ERA under 3.00: Seaver and Walter Johnson, who pitched from 1907 to 1927 for the Washington Senators.
Voters elected Seaver to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992 with 98.8% of the vote, a record high at that point in time. The Mets retired Seaver’s No. 41 in 1988, the first Met player to get that honor.
After baseball, Seaver worked as a color commentator for baseball games and started his own vineyard in California. He died Aug. 31, 2020 from complications involving dementia and COVID-19.