If you’ve been paying attention lately, it’s hard to believe that little old New York once ruled the world of sports. This town wasn’t always occupied by ragtag teams.
The Jets … yes, the sadsack Jets…the Knicks … really, the awful Knicks … and the woebegone Mets all delivered championships over a 17-month stretch making 1969-70 one for the memory banks.
The Jets were led by Broadway Joe Namath, the man-about-town quarterback. The Knicks had Walt Frazier, whose wardrobe reminded folks of the gangster Clyde Barrow.
And then there was the Mets, who constructed their championship around Tom Seaver, a squeaky clean All-American boy, no starlets on each arm, no gaudy jewelry hanging around his neck. Seaver was such a straight arrow that his teammates called him “Boy Scout.’’
The rest of the world called him “The Franchise,’’ because that’s really who he was. The Mets were laughingstocks until he came along and he turned them into a relevant baseball team. He was Tom Terrific, a three-time Cy Young winner who brought professionalism to his team.
We lost the Boy Scout last week and the city has been in tears ever since. Seaver’s passing took a slice of our youth with him. He was a once in a lifetime player, a player who is so dominant, so perfect that he leaves a permanent impression.
He was blessed with a perfect windup, compact and exact. He knew if he was on track, his right knee scraped the dirt on the mound on his follow through. The Mets players, lining up to remember him the other day, made sure they had Seaver-like smudges on their uniform knee. It was a little thing but it spoke volumes.
Seaver made his mark everywhere. He punctuated the Mets dash into relevance in 1969 when he retired 25 straight Chicago Cubs one night before an anonymous character named JImmy Qualls broke up his perfect game. Not a Hall of Famer like Ernie Banks or Billy Williams, but Jimmy Qualls. Seaver was amused at the irony of that.
Another game, he struck out the last 10 San Diego batters in order, a nice exclamation mark for that victory. There were four 20-win seasons with the Mets, 198 victories and 2,541 strikeouts with the Mets.
When he got into an ugly battle with the team’s front office, they dumped him like a piece of used up furniture. The Franchise was not used up. He celebrated his arrival with a no-hitter in his second season with Cincinnati. Years later, pitching for the White Sox, he won his 300th game.
In 20 seasons, he won 311 games, compiled 3,640 strikeouts with a 2.86 earned run average. His election to the Hall of Fame in 1992 came with 98.84 percent of the vote, a record at the time.
The Mets retired his number 41 and named an entrance to Citi Field after him. Now the ballpark’s formal address is 41 Seaver Way and soon there will be a statue to celebrate his memory.
Nobody ever did that for Joe Namath or Walt Frazier.
Photo: Joe McDonald/NYSD