Tributes from contemporaries will pour in following news that Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver died early on Aug. 31 at the age of 75. Hank Aaron predicted early on that “Tom Terrific” was destined for stardom. Other compliments about the star of the New York Mets’ improbable 1969 World Series championship will be richly deserved.
Tom Seaver was the star of the 1969 Miracle Mets
Tom Seaver was as dominating as any pitcher of his era. It was reflected in his collecting 425 of a possible 430 votes in the 1992 Baseball Hall of Fame voting. The great Hank Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s career mark for homers, called Seaver the toughest pitcher he ever faced.
Seaver began making his reputation by winning 16 games on a 97-loss New York Mets team as a rookie in 1967. Two years later, Seaver went 25-7 with a 2.21 ERA in the regular season to earn the first of his three Cy Young Awards. He won two of his three postseason starts, and the Mets captured the World Series.
That came nine months after the New York Jets shocked the football world by winning the Super Bowl over the Baltimore Colts, and it established the Mets as the new darlings of New York sports fans.
By the time he retired after 20 seasons, Seaver had rolled up a 311-205 record, 3,640 strikeouts, and 61 shutouts.
A controversial exit from New York
Upon hearing the news of Seaver’s death, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement calling the pitcher “a gentleman who represented the best of our National Pastime. He was synonymous with the New York Mets and their unforgettable 1969 season.”
That was accurate, but that close association made for an unhappy breakup that altered several notable careers.
The arrival of free agency in the mid-1970s quickly changed the MLB pay scale, and Seaver pressured the Mets to renegotiate his contract after the 1976 season. Mets chairman Donald Grant refused to budge as the trade deadline began to approach in 1977. Meanwhile, Dick Young, the most read newspaper columnist in the city while at the New York Daily News, was ripping Seaver with regularity for being greedy.
A Young column alleging that Seaver’s demands were driven by his wife’s jealousy over Nolan Ryan’s contract with the California Angels put the Mets ace over the edge as he demanded a trade.
The Mets traded Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds in mid-1977, the team fired Grant a year later as they began seven years of fifth- and sixth-place divisional finishes, and fans attacked the hypocrisy of Young for breaking his own contract in 1981 to jump to the New York Post.
Hank Aaron had Tom Seaver pegged from the start
Tom Seaver earned 12 selections to the MLB All-Star Game. That included an invitation in 1967, his rookie season in the majors. In that era, the NL vs. AL rivalry was real; winning mattered to players selected to participate.
The game in Anaheim, California, that night was a noteworthy pitching duel that went deep into extra innings. Finally, Tony Perez hit a solo home run off Catfish Hunter in the top of the 15th inning. Seaver came on in relief of Don Drysdale to start the bottom of the inning and finished with a walk and a strikeout to earn the save.
Before the game, Seaver sought out one of his NL teammates and began introducing himself to Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves, who was in his 14th season in the majors and two-thirds of the way to breaking Babe Ruth’s second for career homers.
“Kid, I know who you are,” Aaron said to Seaver, “and before your career is over, I guarantee you everyone in this stadium will, too.”
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.