Karpin’s Korner: Tom Was Best NY Ever Saw, Gray Skies Never Cleared Up

Once we learned that Tom Seaver was diagnosed with dementia, the day become one of sadness and reflection. Also known as “the Franchise” and “Tom Terrific,” Tom Seaver is the greatest player to ever wear the uniform of the New York Mets.

Seaver led the way as a seven year old franchise shocked the baseball world and beat 100-1 odds to win the National League pennant and upset the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles to win the 1969 World Series. In those days, expansion teams never really made their mark in such a short period of time.

The Yankees’ dynasty came crashing down after winning the AL Pennant in 1964, while the Mets were building a loyal fan base. The Dodgers and Giants had left town in the late 1950’s, so the National League fans that felt snubbed, and who would never root for the hated Yankees, immediately took to an expansion team that was still trying to make their mark.

The Mets were lovable losers and their fans ate it up but five years after they moved into a brand new ballpark called “Shea Stadium,” the losers became winners and Seaver was the “ringleader” of a team that gave New York a baseball memory that would last forever.

Seaver’s history of greatness is well documented. Since everyone remembers or has read about the final result and a World Championship in 1969, what flies under the radar is how dominant Seaver was during the stretch run of that remarkable season 50 years ago.

Coming into the game on August 9th, the Mets were 60-48, which was a feat in itself as they had never finished above .500. Seaver beat the Atlanta Braves that day as the Mets blitzed the remainder of the season by winning 40 of their final 54 games to overtake the Cubs and win the first National League East championship. Seaver was 16-7 after that win and would not lose again in the regular season.

“The Franchise” won his final ten decisions, including a sparkling 6-0 mark in September as the Mets completed the season on a 24-8 run. (That includes two games in October but the NL East was already decided and Seaver was being rested for the NLCS vs. Atlanta) What made that run ever more special is that Seaver made three starts on three days rest.

Eight years later, there was that awful day in June 1977 when the Mets traded Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds following a nasty dispute with management. He eventually returned in 1983 but was left unprotected and was chosen by the Chicago White Sox in 1984 as part of a “free agent compensation” draft. What made the hurt even worse was that Seaver achieved a milestone that should’ve occurred in a Mets’ uniform.

In 1985, as a member of the White Sox, Seaver won his 300th game. The irony of that memorable win was that it came against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

On a personal note, I covered Seaver as a radio reporter when he returned to the Mets in 1983 but he had an “inner circle” of media folks that he learned to trust over the years. Suffice it to say, I was not one of those fortunate ones but I got to know him better when I began scoring Met games in 2000.

Seaver was working Mets’ broadcasts at that time and being the professional that he was, both on and off the mound, he would make it a point to come over to where I was sitting so he could ask questions about the scoring rules and how the scorers worked the games.

We developed a relationship and that enabled me to get an exclusive phone interview with him when I authored the book, “162-0, A Mets Perfect Season,” a couple of years ago. The book was a compilation of an imaginary season where I found a Mets win for every calendar date, no matter what year it was, and wrote a little game story for each. Of course, Seaver appeared in many of those games. While I was conducting the interview, I realized that he was having trouble remembering some of those games and now this latest news only confirmed my fears at that time.

Tom Seaver is arguably the greatest pitcher to ever have worn “New York” on his uniform and that includes the great Yankee pitchers of the past like Whitey Ford and Mariano Rivera. Many have called for Seaver to be honored with a statue. That time has come.

Then, there is Sonny Gray.

The former Yankee took a shot at his old team in an interview with “The Athletic.” Gray claimed the Yankees were forcing him to throw more sliders and that led to a lack of success while he was wearing the Pinstripes.

Gray said, “They [Yankees] love sliders.” He added, “the numbers say slider is a good pitch but you might not realize how many [expletive] counts you’re getting in while throwing all those sliders.

The beleaguered right hander also took a subtle jab at catcher Gary Sanchez who had his defensive issues last season. “I want to throw my slider in the dirt with two strikes and that’s about it.” This is where Gray’s comment become vague. “I don’t have that type of slider like [Masahiro] Tanaka’s slider. His slider, the catcher will catch it, and the batter will swing and miss. If I get a swing and miss, the catcher is blocking it in the dirt,” Gray said.

First off, Tanaka’s slider is his out pitch but he doesn’t throw it in the strike zone to get outs. You can’t do that at the Major League level, a pitcher has to throw the slider out of the zone and get batters to flail at it.

To me, these are lame excuses from someone who just couldn’t cut it in New York. Throwing more sliders than curves was not a factor. Gray did not boast of a high pitching I.Q. It appeared he was trying to throw the perfect pitch every time and that led to him falling behind in the count numerous times.

Gray claimed that in his final appearance of the season against Boston late in the regular season, he went back to throwing more cutters. In that game, Gray pitched two scoreless innings, allowed one hit and struck out three. He was also facing a Red Sox team that had nothing to play for at that point.

Bottom line, Gray did not have the mental make up to succeed in New York.

The Yankees should be concerned about Luis Severino’s shoulder injury and I hope they have a plan if resting him for two weeks does not work out as they hope.

LAST LICKS: MLB is working with the Independent Atlantic League to experiment with radical rule changes. The Atlantic League begins play in April but one of those radical changes won’t occur until the second half of the season and that is moving the mound back two feet. This has a chance to be disastrous. You’re going to have pitchers throw from the usual 60’6” and then switch to 62’ for the second half. That could create arm problems as the pitchers will try to adjust to the longer distance from the mound to home plate. Some of the other experimental rules make sense like a shorter period between half innings and pitching changes, but moving the mound back might not be the best idea, but I’m not fond of the automated strike zone, the three batter minimum for pitchers or prohibiting the defensive shifts. If you want to improve the pace of play, stop the emphasis on the home run and go back to basics like a hitter cutting down his swing with two strikes

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