I was getting ready to leave the press box in Baltimore after a Met win and then I heard the news that made tears roll down my face. Tom Seaver-The Franchise passed away from dementia and I am still crying as I write this piece.
Growing up in the Bronx as a Met fan had its obstacles but when Tom Seaver arrived those obstacles were all placed in the garbage can. He came to the Mets when the Atlanta Braves violated the signing policies of young players and the Baseball Commissioner decreed any teams willing to match the Brave offer would be put in a lottery with the Mets, Phils and Indians in that special lottery and the Mets won the lottery in jackpot fashion.
The moment Seaver joined the Mets everything changed as every fourth day (in those days it was a 4 man rotation not a 5 man rotation) we got to see a star on the mound who combined great talent with a mind for preparing for the game that was absolutely unmatched. He won the Rookie of the Year that first season and then in 1968 Gil Hodges arrived as manager and these two ex-Mariners FOREVER changed the history of baseball in this town. One wore #14 and the other wore #41 and that seemed appropriate because they stopped all the Met jokes about their ineptitude. They ended that talk because they were committed to winning.
It almost seemed so fitting that tonight I was in Baltimore covering a Met game versus the Orioles because that match up put an exclamation point on the 1969 championship season. Early in that year around Memorial Day after a slow start the Mets reached the 500 mark after the first 2 months and most reporters expected Seaver to be grinning from ear to ear. But he simply said, “All that means is we hacve lost as many games as we have won. Our goals are MUCH higher than that.”
And then the Mets took aim at the 69 Chicago Cubs managed by Leo Durocher who found out that Gil Hodges platoon system coupled with Seaver & Jerry Koosman was too much to handle and the Mets won the division going away sweeping the Braves in the first ever NLCS and beating the Orioles in The World Series.
And year after year Tom Seaver continued to excel and actually with the help of long-time Met Rusty Staub got back into the World Series 4 years later with a miracle run in which that went from last place in the division to a divisional title in the month of September.
Four years later, Seaver was traded as the Met management refused to pay for his talent or get any help for him in this “new free agent world.” He was dealt to the Reds and actually tossed a no-hitter for them before returning to the Mets to pitch for the 1983 team.
But Tom Seaver was more than just a baseball player–he was a GREAT role model illustrating that no matter what you do in life and no matter how much talent you think you possess you will go nowhere without hard work and massive preparation skills.
For me, I got a chance to meet Seaver while he was a broadcaster and those talks in the press dining room at Shea gave me a small taste of how he led players. He once said to me, “Rich just be yourself and if that is not enough for your critics that is their problem-not yours.” That advice has stayed in my mind since the moment he shared it with me.
We also had great talks about pitching and he often told me that velocity means very little but late movement on your pitches means EVERYTHING. And he said to me a year before it happened hat he felt Johan Santana would throw a no-no because his late movement is off the charts. And those words would be prophetic as well.
It is very rare you get to meet a childhood hero and that hero in real life illustrates that he is EXACTLY like the person you envisioned. 2 People fit that category for me-Tom Seaver and Muhummad Ali and both were the best in their craft I have ever seen. But more importantly, cared about people the way God intended.
Walking from the ballpark to the hotel here in Baltimore, I though of #41 and I am so proud that EVERY time I cover a game at Citi I drive on Seaver Way to the ballpark and enter Gil Hodges Plaza at the press gate. Two men who taught the game of baseball to me every waking moment of my childhood.
Once Tom Seaver arrived, everything changed and being in the town where the 69 Series opened seemed appropriate to me. He is the greatest Met in history and all other NY pitchers must step to the side because George Thomas Seaver is the BEST hurler to ever pitch in the Big Apple. Thank you Tom Terrific–we love you and miss you but will NEVER forget you.