As I fell in love with baseball at a young age, one of the players I couldn’t get enough of was this guy. Tom Terrific truly was to me, even if it seemed like my team, the Houston Astros, could never touch him.
My editing shift for The Dallas Morning News was almost over Wednesday evening when I heard the disheartening news that legendary pitcher Tom Seaver had died at a relatively young 75. I was shocked and saddened, and immediately went to look up how he’d died: Lewy body dementia and COVID-19 complications.
I texted several baseball buddies, knowing they’d also be sad to hear of the passing of a great ballplayer and great man we’d all grown up watching. I also texted my brother Crys, one of the three full siblings I found 15 years ago, who was 25 years old when Seaver and the Miracle Mets won the World Series in 1969 (I was only 8). “He was a great one,” Crys texted back.
Seaver, a gifted, overpowering right-hander, shut down opponents with a fantastic fastball, pinpoint control, a brilliant mind and the perfect pitcher’s mentality. On top of that, he was a great guy with boyish good looks and charm.
“Tom does everything well,” former New York Mets teammate Cleon Jones, who caught the final out of the ’69 World Series, said of Seaver. “He’s the kind of man you’d want your kids to grow up to be like. Tom’s a studious player, devoted to his profession, a loyal cat, trustworthy — everything a Boy Scout’s supposed to be. In fact, we call him ‘Boy Scout.'”
As a 22-year-old rookie with the Mets in 1967, Seaver won 16 games — does anyone do that anymore as a rookie? — and was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year. That summer, when Seaver made the first of his seven straight trips to the All-Star Game — 12 overall — Atlanta Braves slugger Hank Aaron introduced himself before the contest.
“Kid, I know who you are, and before your career is over, I guarantee you everyone in this stadium will, too,” Aaron told him.
That night, Seaver would enter in the 15th inning to get the save in the National League’s 2-1 win — after Tony Perez’s home run off Catfish Hunter in the top of the inning.
Two years later, No. 41 led the Mets to their unbelievable season that culminated in a championship — the only one he’d ever be a part of — by compiling a remarkable 25-7 record and a 2.21 ERA to win the first of his three Cy Young Awards. That same year, 22-year-old teammate Nolan Ryan went 6-3, making 10 starts on his way to the Hall of Fame along with Seaver.
In the pitching-rich NL, Seaver didn’t win the league ERA crown that year — not with the Giants’ Juan Marichal posting a 2.10 and Cardinals teammates Steve Carlton (2.17) and Bob Gibson (2.18) finishing second and third (the previous season, 1968, was when Gibson posted his never-to-be-touched 1.12). Jerry Koosman, Seaver’s teammate, had the NL’s fifth-best ERA at 2.28.
That ’69 run of Seaver’s was the first of his five 20-win seasons. The Mets went 100-62 in the regular season and overtook the Cubs to win the NL East after trailing by 10 games in mid-August. From Aug. 5 through season’s end, Seaver went 10-0 with a 1.34 ERA, eight straight complete games and three shutouts.
The Mets defeated the Braves in the first-ever NLCS, then beat the Baltimore Orioles — who won 109 games in the regular season — in five games to complete their leap from lovable losers to improbable world champs. Seaver lost Game 1 of the World Series but bounced back to win Game 4 in a 10-inning complete game.
As I was reading some online sources about the 1969 season, I ran across something I hadn’t remembered: Only one NL team had a winning record against the Mets that year — the team I had already become a big fan of since we lived just 5 miles from the Astrodome. Somehow, the Astros — who that year finished 81-81, their first season without a losing record, in fifth place in the NL West — won 10 of the teams’ 12 meetings, including all six games in the ‘Dome. The Reds went 6-6 against the Mets, but the Amazin’s had a winning record against everyone else.
Seaver’s 311 wins, 2.86 career ERA and 3,640 strikeouts (sixth all-time) put him in select company like no other: He and fellow Hall of Famer Walter Johnson are the only pitchers ever to post 300 wins, 3,000 K’s *and* an ERA below 3.00. Seaver was 40 when he won his 300th in 1985 as a member of the Chicago White Sox and back in New York — but against the Yankees in the Bronx, not against the Mets at Shea Stadium.
Seaver threw “only” one career no-hitter, against the Cardinals when he was pitching for the Reds in 1978 — after the Mets traded him and slugger Dave Kingman the previous year in what came to be known as the “Midnight Massacre.” But in very Nolan Ryan-esque fashion, Seaver had five one-hitters, 10 two-hitters and 27 three-hitters.
Funny thing about Boy Scout, though: For him, it was never about statistics. It was about performance.
“In baseball, my theory is to strive for consistency, not to worry about the numbers,” The New York Times quoted him as saying in 1976. “If you dwell on statistics, you get shortsighted; if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end.”
The numbers Seaver put up during his 20-year career take me back to the great baseball of my youth, when pitchers threw complete games with regularity. You just don’t see these anymore, and you won’t ever again — just like we’ll never have another 300-game winner. A few more of Seaver’s untouchable feats:
— 61 shutouts
— 231 complete games
— In addition to winning 20 or more games 5 times, he won 16 or more 7 other times
— 9 times with a season ERA of 2.59 or better (one was in 1971, when Seaver led the NL with a 1.76 ERA and had a 20-10 record, but finished second in Cy Young voting to the Cubs’ Fergie Jenkins, who went 24-13 with a 2.77 ERA)
— 10 seasons with 200 or more strikeouts (nine times with the Mets, once with the Reds), an NL record
— Major-league-record 16 Opening Day starts
I remember watching Seaver pitch a lot on TV for both the Mets and Reds, and he always seemed to be dominant. I also listened to plenty of games on the radio in which he pitched against the Astros, and I recall him being in command then, too. I attended my share of Astros games growing up, but I don’t recall ever getting to see Seaver pitch in person. I’d remember that.
While writing this, I found a database revealing that during his 12 seasons with the Mets, Seaver recorded 10 or more strikeouts 62 times — nine of those against the Astros.
“I would like to be a great artist,” he once said. “I would quit pitching if I could paint like Monet or Rousseau. But I can’t. What I can do is pitch, and I can do that very well.”
Baseball has missed Seaver these past 34 years since he retired at the age of 41 in 1986. And now a nation misses a hero of its national pastime who brought so much joy to so many.
You always did it the right way, both on and off the field, Tom. I’ll always be grateful for how truly Terrific you were.