1986 BASEBALL INDUCTEE
Tom Seaver said he was more nervous when his wine-master Thomas Brown took the first swallow of vino from his Napa vineyards than he was while pitching his first World Series game. Why would a pitcher elected to Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992 with the highest-ever percentage of votes (98.8%) make a statement like that? “I was back in the rookie league,” Seaver said, laughing heartily during an interview. “I explained that on the back of the bottle I wrote ‘I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did bringing it to you.'” In anything of value that Seaver does, he strives for excellence. Seaver said what he put on his bottle is similar to his description of his experience in baseball. “The Hall of Fame, Cooperstown with your family, pitching a no-hitter, winning 300 games, 3,000 strikeouts, land] winning a World Series game are all wonderful stuff and something you are proud of, but the journey is the most fulfilling thing. It’s the association with the players, managers, club owners, and fans for something you wanted to do most. The art of pitching, that’s the real joy. The satisfaction is understanding the beauty of your trade, I guess, is the best way I can put it. That’s the most rewarding thing.”
Even when he was thirty-nine, he was trying to develop another pitch that would help when his fastball had slowed. He still maintained long hours of walking, running, and even throwing in the off-season, so he would be in good shape for spring training. He never had any arm problems until he was traded to Cincinnati after eleven and a half years with the New York Mets. Seaver, who retired after the 1987 season, has cut all announcing or scouting ties with baseball to concentrate on maintaining his vineyards and enjoying his family. He does ten days of promotional work a year for the Mets. He did fly back when Shea Stadium was demolished, not that he had any emotional ties to Shea, but the emotion came from seeing many of his former teammates and people he had befriended in his years with the Mets. “I never loved Shea,” Seaver said. “It was a stadium where you play baseball, football or watch the Beatles. The new one is a ball park where you go to enjoy the game of baseball; there is a big difference. I enjoyed my seasons with the White Sox and Red Sox because they played in ballparks.
The first time I went to Fenway Park in Boston, one of the classics, I was like a fan going to see a game from the seats, not the dugout. So much history. Like visiting a museum.” Seaver said he was disappointed in 1983, the year the Mets did not put him on the protected list, meaning any team that had lost a premium player to free agency could choose him. The White Sox picked up Seaver that way. This was after he had spent his time with Cincinnati and come back for another season with the Mets. “I loved the Mets fans, but Chicago was a great town and we …wife, Nancy and daughters, Sarah and Anne were on the 45th floor of a hotel overlooking a lake. It was a good family experience.” It was in Chicago that magical 300th victory on August 4, 1985, beating the Yankees with a complete game. He added eleven more before he was finished.
In Cincinnati, in addition to his lone no-hitter, he also became the fifth pitcher in history to reach the 3,000 strikeout mark in 1981. He fanned another 640 batters in his final five seasons. The youngest son of the late Charlie Seaver learned from his father the importance of a strong work ethic and striving for perfection in everything that you do. His father, an outstanding amateur golfer, demanded that from himself whether he was playing championship golf or pruning the vast number of trees at his Sunnyside Country Club home in Fresno and he required the same from his children. George Thomas Seaver was the fourth and last child born to Charlie and Betty Seaver. Baseball was Tom’s game at five years old. His only problem was slow growth until he entered a six-month hitch in the U.S. Marine Reserves following six months of lifting heavy sweat boxes for the Bonner Packing Company where his father was employed.
A year of tough physical labor enabled him to grow from 5’10” and 165 pounds when he graduated from Fresno High to 6’1″ and 195 pounds of muscle. Seaver pitched his first no-hit, no-run game as an eleven-year-old Little Leaguer for the Fresno Rotary Club team. A year later, he was the top pitcher and hitter for the Rotary team. It was during the 11th season of his twenty-year major league career in 1978 that he threw his lone no-hitter for Cincinnati against the St. Louis Cardinals. He also had five one-hitters, losing one in extra innings. In 1979, he was 16-6 after various injuries caused a slow start. He and the Reds looked toward a big year in 1980, but he was sick during spring training. “The team was really struggling and I talked [manager] John McNamara into letting me pitch. I wasn’t ready and I felt something pop in my shoulder. It was a stupid mistake on my part. It cost me nearly two months before I could pitch and I wasn’t very good when I did.” He was 10-8 with a 3.64 ERA, the highest of his career. Seaver had four losing seasons, but each time, his ERA indicated losing many low scoring games. In 1969, his high point in wins was 25-7, the year of the “Miracle Mets,” who under manager Gil Hodges, went from the worst team in baseball to the best. They beat the powerful Baltimore Orioles in four games to one in the World Series. Seaver lost the first game, but won the fourth.
The ticker tape parade for him and his Mets teammates was the biggest in New York history to that time. More than a million people turned out to cheer their heroes. Seaver was rewarded with his first of three Cy Young awards as the best pitcher in the league. Twelve times, he was an All-Star selection. The next year was the big baseball strike. He was 7-1 when the fifty-day strike began. It was decided to divide the season similar to the minor league format. Seaver ended his twenty-year major league career with an overall 311-205 win-loss record, 3,640 strikeouts, and an ERA of 2.86.
He spent ten and a half seasons with the New York Mets, five and a half with the Cincinnati Reds, three with the Chicago White Sox, and one with the Boston Red Sox. “Tom Terrific” won the National League Rookie of the Year Award and three Cy Young Awards. He was the Mets’ all-time winning pitcher and was regarded as one of the best starting pitchers in the history of baseball. In an ESPN poll of his peers, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, SteveCarlton, Bert Blyleven, and Don Sutton all agreed that Seaver “was the best” of their generation of pitchers. Hank Aaron, one of Seaver’s idols, said Tom was the toughest pitcher he ever faced. ReggieJackson said, “Blind men come to the park just to hear him pitch.” Baseball purists often compare Seaver to legendary Christy Mathewson for his combination of raw power, pinpoint control, intelligence, and intense scrutiny of his own performance as well as that of his opponents.
Following Seaver’s Marine duties, he returned home and pitched one semester for Fresno City College, winning eleven games in a row and striking out record numbers under coach Len Bourdet and assistant Fred Bartels. The following year, he was recruited by USC after playing summer ball in Alaska. After a 10-2 season at USC and his second of two summer seasons with the Fairbanks Goldpanners in Alaska, he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves and signed with extra incentives and tuition to finish USC. A good deal for a twenty-one year old, but nothing went right.
The major leagues said he was not eligible to be signed, so the Braves contract was voided. When he decided to return to USC, he couldn’t play because he had signed a contract even though it was deemed null. Seaver appealed to the Baseball Commissioner’s office and assistant Lee McPhail for a solution. The Braves couldn’t sign him for another year, but any team that agreed to match the Braves’ offer could. The Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians, and New York Mets agreed to meet the Atlanta offer. The names were placed in a hat and baseball commissioner William Eckert drew the Mets. Seaver was elated because he figured his best chance of reaching the majors early was with the miserable Mets. He was right because he was sent to AAA Jacksonville while two other youngsters, Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman, were shipped to AA teams.
Seaver not only set an International League strikeout record of 188 during a 12-12 season, he also married his Fresno High school sweetheart, Nancy Lynn Mclntyre. The next year, he was with the bumbling Mets, had a 16-13 record for the last place team, notched a one-inning save in a fifteen-inning All-Star game, and was voted National League Rookie of the Year. Although only twenty-one, he became the Mets leader in the clubhouse and finally got the players to believe in themselves. The rest is history. Seaver always enjoyed hitting and was far from an easy out. He pounded twelve home runs and had a career batting average of.154. At Fresno City College, coaches Bourdet and Bartels said Seaver would ask for the keys to the equipment room and would hit for a half hour daily before practice began. “I always loved to hit,” Seaver said. “You asked me what would I have done differently? First, I would like to have fifteen or twenty of those hanging sliders back. But my dream would have been to be a shortstop who could hit .320 every year. How much fun would that be?” Seaver said he had a feeling when he started a game that if his team could get one run, that would be all he needed. It was a feeling one of the great pitchers of the game had often, much to the dismay of some of the best hitters in the game.