Tom Seaver was the Mets’ franchise. He was growing up in the Bronx and that continued later on. He will continue to be the franchise even after his passing at the age of 75.
But, we were expecting to hear about his passing at some point. Except, not this soon when word came Wednesday night after his brave fight and battle with dementia.
So Wednesday evening brought memories. It brought on tears. because Seaver was a part of New York Mets history. He was like family. Tom “Terrific” came into our living rooms at a time when baseball was different from today.
He was the franchise. Growing up in the Bronx, where a Mets fan was not accepted, the Yankees fan would not be partial about the opposing cross-town pitcher. The neighborhood knew Tom Seaver. The Yankees fans would acknowledge that Seaver was “Terrific.”
We looked at the box scores the next morning. In front of tenements, on the street before a stickball game. It was discussing another gem that was pitched the night before.
And this was at a time when baseball was heard on the transistor radio. A time when televised ball games were seen on black and white TV sets on WWOR Channel 9, New York City.
If fortunate, and your family had the means to do so, you watched Seaver on the mound at Shea Stadium. You watched his pitching gems live and in color with the orange and blue uniform.
Number “41” was almost perfect every time.And to a Mets fan, it was always another gem.
He was almost perfect on that Summer night, July, 9,1969. Shea Stadium, one out in the ninth inning and Cubs center fielder Jim Qualls hit a first pitch single into left-center field.
The perfection was stopped, well at least for a moment. The Mets won 4-0. Seaver struck out 11. The remainder of that Summer, Tom Seaver and the Miracle Mets became the talk of New York and baseball with their first World Series championship.
Years later, the accolades. And the awards, including three CY Young honors that placed Tom Seaver as one of the all-time great pitchers of baseball among all the immortals. He was the franchise.
Years later Dwight “Doc” Gooden would follow in Seaver’s footsteps and was instrumental in the Mets 1986 World Series championship.
“Seaver was the franchise and always will be,” Gooden said Wednesday night. “I learned so much from him. He was an even greater person.”
Late Wednesday night, as the tributes continued to pour in, after learning that Seaver had passed at the age of 75, I was asked, who was the greatest New York Mets player in my lifetime? Who was the greatest pitcher in franchise history?
I always said, to both questions, that was Tom Seaver. There was no hesitation for the answer.
Over the years, sitting in the dining rooms and press boxes at Shea, Citi Field, Yankee Stadium and other MLB ballparks, when the scouts and other baseball people assemble and talk about pitching, they were also asked the same question.
They bring up names like Koufax. They talked about Nolan Ryan and his perfection. They talked about many others, and Hall of Fame names.
Always, though, the talk was Tom Seaver. And the talk was about his controversial departure from the Mets, career win 300 with the White Sox at Yankee Stadium.
The talk was about his wife Nancy, a part of the Tom Seaver legacy as that instrumental member of the family that goes along the lines of every ballplayer who puts on a Major League uniform.
Years later, after rooting for every pitch, strikeout, and win, we came face-to-face. It was different meeting Seave,r once or twice at the ballpark as a member of the media.
It was difficult not being the fan. You saw the persona, the popularity, the history, and accomplishments next to you. It was difficult not being a fan.
However, Tom Seaver did not mind hearing how it was rooting for him as that kid from the Bronx.
And he said,’A Yankees fan in the Bronx. That must have been tough for you.’ I said, ‘Tom, they were also fans because you were Terrific.’
Seaver chuckled, a unique laugh, original as his pitches he threw on the mound. A chuckle later heard in the Yankees broadcast booth with the late Phil Rizzuto on WPIX TV in New York.
But, I was talking, finally to the franchise. He was in a sense, as a Mets fan, my childhood hero. Everyone on the block, who got the opportunity to pitch, had the Tom Seaver look.
They wanted perfection.
Except, perfection in baseball comes to very few. Unless, of course, your name was Tom Seaver. You will eventually see a statue in his honor at Citi Field. Last year, a street by the Citi Field executive entrance was named in his honor.
You can always walk or drive and see the name. Yes, the memories will always be there.
But, Mets fans and baseball may never see another one take the mound and pitch to almost perfection as it was with Tom Seaver. Jacob deGrom, he has that potential.
That almost perfect game in 1969, and the season. That was a Tom Seaver moment for yours truly. Then again, every outing on the mound was a Tom Seaver moment in Mets history.
RIP Number “41” Condolences to Nancy and the family. Condolences to the New York Mets family.
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Photo: James Escher/Icon Sportswire