Tom Seaver on September 28, 2008
George Thomas "Tom" Seaver (born November 17, 1944) is a former right-handed Major League Baseball pitcher who broke into the major leagues in 1967 and retired in 1987. He played for four different teams in his career, but is remembered primarily for his time with the New York Mets. Nicknamed "Tom Terrific" and "The Franchise", Seaver had 311 wins, 3,640 strikeouts and a 2.86 earned run average during a 20-year career. In 1992, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the highest percentage ever (98.8%), and currently has the only plaque at Cooperstown wearing a New York Mets hat.
He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1967, and three NL Cy Young Awards as the league's best pitcher. As the Mets' all-time leader in wins, Seaver is considered the greatest player in New York Mets history, as well as one of the best starting pitchers in the history of baseball.
Early life & development
Seaver was born in Fresno, California to Betty Lee Cline and Charles Henry Seaver. Pitching for Fresno High School, Seaver compensated for his lack of size and strength by developing great control on the mound. Despite being an All-City basketball player, he hoped to play baseball in college. He joined the United States Marine Corps Reserves on June 28, 1962. He served with AIRFMFPAC 29 Palms, California through July 1963. After six months of active duty in the Reserves, Seaver enrolled at Fresno City College. He was much stronger and threw with greater velocity, but still had the same fine control of his pitches. In anticipation of the following season, he was being recruited to pitch for the University of Southern California by legendary Trojan coach Rod Dedeaux. Unsure as to whether Seaver was worthy of a scholarship, he was sent to pitch for the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1964. After a stellar season-— in which he pitched and won a game in the national tournament with a grand slam-— he was accepted for a USC scholarship. As a sophomore, Seaver posted a 10-2 record, and in June 1965, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers. When Seaver asked for $70,000, however, the Dodgers passed."  In 1966, he signed a contract with the Atlanta Braves, who had drafted him number one. However, the contract was voided by Baseball Commissioner William Eckert because his college team had played two exhibition games (although Seaver hadn't played). Seaver intended, then, to finish the college season, but because he had signed a pro contract, the NCAA ruled him ineligible. After Seaver's father complained to Eckert about the unfairness of the situation, and threatened with a lawsuit, Eckert ruled that other teams could match the Braves' offer. The Mets were subsequently awarded his signing rights in a lottery drawing among the three teams (the Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians being the two others) that were willing to match the Braves' terms. It was just a matter of time before Tom would earn his first nickname "Tommy Two Guns".
NEW YORK METS
Rookie of the Year
Seaver spent one season with the Jacksonville Suns of the International League, then joined New York in 1967. He won 16 games for the last-place Mets, with 18 complete games, 170 strikeouts, and a 2.76 ERA, all Mets records to that point, and was named the National League Rookie of the Year. He was also named to the 1967 All-Star Game, and got the save by pitching a scoreless 15th inning. In 1968, he won 16 games again, and recorded over 200 strikeouts for the first of nine consecutive seasons, but the Mets moved up only one spot in the standings, to ninth.
In 1969, Seaver and the Mets completed a remarkable season, coming from the depths of the National League to win their first World Series championship. Seaver won a league-high 25 games and his first National League Cy Young Award. He also finished runner-up to Willie McCovey for the League's Most Valuable Player Award.
On July 9, before a crowd of over 59,000 at New York's Shea Stadium, Seaver threw 8 1/3 perfect innings against the division-leading Chicago Cubs. Then, rookie backup outfielder Jimmy Qualls lined a clean single to left field, breaking up Seaver's perfect game.
In the first-ever NLCS game, Seaver outlasted Atlanta's Phil Niekro for a sloppy 9-5 victory. Seaver was also the starter for the Mets' first World Series game, but lost a 4-1 decision to the Baltimore Orioles' Mike Cuellar. Seaver then pitched a complete-game, 10-inning win in Game Four to put the Mets on the brink of their first championship.
At year's end, Seaver was presented with both the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year, and Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsman of the Year" award.
On April 22, 1970, Seaver set a modern major league record by striking out the final 10 San Diego Padres batters of the game. In addition to his 10 consecutive strikeouts, Seaver tied Steve Carlton's major league record with 19 strikeouts in a nine-inning game. (The record was later eclipsed by 20-strikeout games by Kerry Wood, Randy Johnson, and twice by Roger Clemens.) By mid-August, Seaver's record stood at 17-6 and he seemed well on his way to a second consecutive 20-victory season. But he only won one of his last ten starts, including four on short rest, to finish 18-12. Nonetheless, Seaver led the National League in both ERA and strikeouts.
His 1971 season was arguably Seaver's finest year, when he led the league in ERA (1.76) and strikeouts (289 in 286 innings) while going 20-10. However, he finished second in the Cy Young balloting to Ferguson Jenkins of the Chicago Cubs, due to Jenkins' league-leading 24 wins, 325 innings pitched, and exceptional control numbers. Seaver himself has said that 1971 was his best season.
Seaver had four more twenty-win seasons (20 in 1971, 21 in 1972, 22 in 1975 and 21 in 1977 (7 wins for the Mets, then 14 more after being traded to the Reds). He won two more Cy Young Awards (1973 and 1975, both with the Mets).
Between 1970 and 1976, Seaver led the National League in strikeouts five of the seven seasons, finishing second in 1972 and third in 1974. Seaver also won three ERA titles as a Met. A famous quote about Seaver is attributed to Reggie Jackson: "Blind men come to the park just to hear him pitch." Seaver was perhaps the foremost latter-day exponent of "drop and drive" overhand delivery, but his powerful legs protected his arm, and ensured his longevity.
By 1977, the free agency period had begun and contract negotiations between Mets ownership and Seaver were not going well. Seaver wanted to renegotiate his contract to bring his salary in line with what other top pitchers were making, but chairman of the board M. Donald Grant, who by this time had been given carte blanche by Met management to do what he wished, refused to budge. Longtime New York Daily News columnist Dick Young regularly wrote negative columns about Seaver's "greedy" demands. When Young wrote an unattributed story claiming that Seaver was being goaded by his wife to ask for more money because she was jealous of Nolan Ryan's wife, Seaver had had enough and demanded a trade away from New York.
In what New York's sports reporters dubbed "the Midnight Massacre", Grant sent Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds on June 15, 1977 for Pat Zachry, Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn, and Dan Norman. He finished the 1977 season with 21 wins by going 14-3 with Cincinnati, including an emotional 5-1 win over the Mets in his return to Shea Stadium. Seaver struck out 11 in the return, and also hit a double. Seaver, who was immensely popular in New York, also received a lengthy ovation at the 1977 All-Star Game, which was held in New York's Yankee Stadium. His departure from New York sparked sustained negative fan reaction, as the Mets became the league's worst team. Attendance dipped in 1978, and plunged in 1979. In a sardonic nod to the general manager, Shea Stadium acquired the nickname "Grant's Tomb."
After having thrown five one-hitters for New York, including three no-hitters that were broken up in the 9th inning, Seaver finally recorded a 4-0 no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 16, 1978 at Riverfront Stadium. It was the only no-hitter of his professional career.
Seaver was 75-46 during his time in Cincinnati. He was a close runner-up to Fernando Valenzuela for the 1981 Cy Young Award, a year in which he was 14-2, and was voted third and fourth in two other seasons. He suffered through a dreadful 1982 campaign, finishing 5-13.
Return to New York
On December 16, 1982, Seaver was traded back to the Mets, for Charlie Puleo, Lloyd McClendon, and Jason Felice. On April 5, 1983, he tied Walter Johnson's major league record of 14 Opening Day starts, shutting out the Philadelphia Phillies for six innings in a 2-0 Mets win. (He made two more such starts with the Chicago White Sox in 1985 and 1986 for a record total of 16 opening day assignments.) Despite a 9-14 record that season, Seaver had high expectations going into 1984 and intended to finish his career where he started it.
Seaver and the Mets were stunned on January 20, 1984 when he was claimed in a free-agent compensation draft by the Chicago White Sox. The team (especially GM Frank Cashen) had incorrectly assumed that no one would pursue a high-salaried, 39-year-old starting pitcher, and left him off the protected list. Faced with either reporting to the White Sox or retiring, Seaver chose the former. The result for the Mets was an opening in the starting rotation that allowed Dwight Gooden to be part of the team.
Seaver pitched two and a half seasons in Chicago, crafting his last shutout on July 19, 1985 against the visiting Indians. In an anomaly, Seaver won two games on May 9, 1984; he pitched the 25th and final inning of a game suspended the day before, picking up the win in relief, before starting and winning the day's regularly-scheduled game. This unexpected win set up one of Seaver's most memorable moments.
After Seaver's 298th win, a reporter had pointed out to White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk that following his upcoming start in Boston, Seaver's next scheduled start would be in New York, and that the possibility existed that he might achieve the mark there. Fisk emphatically stated that Seaver would win in Boston, and then would win his 300th.
On August 4, 1985, Seaver recorded his 300th victory at New York against the Yankees, throwing a complete game. Coincidentally, it was Phil Rizzuto Day – Seaver would later become Rizzuto's broadcast partner for Yankee games. It was also the same day that Rod Carew, Seaver's 1967 American League Rookie of the Year counterpart, collected his 3000th hit. Lindsey Nelson, a Mets radio and TV announcer during Seaver's salad days, called the final out for Yankees TV flagship WPIX.
Seaver almost returned to the Mets down the stretch, as Frank Cashen was poised to make a trade, but manager Davey Johnson vetoed the idea. He ended his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1986, traded at mid-season for Steve Lyons. Seaver's 311th and last win came on August 18, 1986 against the Minnesota Twins. At the time of his retirement Seaver was third on the all-time strikeout list (3,640), trailing only Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton. His lifetime ERA of 2.86 was third among starting pitchers in the post "live-ball" era, behind only Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax. Seaver also holds the record for consecutive 200-strike-out seasons with nine (1968–1976).
A knee injury prevented him from appearing against the Mets in the World Series but Seaver received among the loudest ovations during player introductions prior to Game 1. The Red Sox did not offer Seaver a contract to his liking for the 1987 season. His 1986 salary was $1 million; the Red Sox offered $500,000, which Seaver declined. When no new contract was reached, Seaver was granted free agency on November 12, 1986.
With their starting rotation decimated by injury, the Mets sought help from Seaver. Though no actual contract was signed, Seaver joined the club on June 6, and was hit hard on in an exhibition game against the Triple-A Tidewater Tides on June 11. After similarly poor outings on the 16th & 20th, he announced his retirement, saying, "I've used up all the competitive pitches in my arm!" The Mets retired his uniform number 41 in 1988 in a special Tom Seaver Day ceremony. As of 2010, Seaver remains the only Met player to have his uniform number retired. Casey Stengel and Gil Hodges had their numbers retired as Met managers, and Jackie Robinson, who never played for the Mets but whose legacy has been heavily supported by Mets ownership, had his number retired by all teams. Their numbers—14 (Hodges), 37 (Stengel), 41 (Seaver), and 42 (Jackie Robinson) -- were posted in large numerals on the outfield fence at Shea Stadium, and are posted on the left field corner wall at Citi Field.
Seaver was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on January 7, 1992. He received the highest-ever percentage of votes with 98.84% (on 425 of 430 ballots), higher than Nolan Ryan's 98.79% (491 of 497), and Ty Cobb's 98.23% (222 of 226). Reportedly, three of the five ballots that had omitted Seaver were blank, cast by writers protesting the Hall's decision to make Pete Rose ineligible for consideration. Seaver is the only player enshrined in the Hall of Fame with a Mets cap on his plaque.
Seaver was inducted into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 1988, the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 2006.
In 1999, Seaver ranked 32nd on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, the only player to have spent a majority of his career with the Mets to make the list. That year, he was also a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Baseball purists often compare him to Christy Mathewson for his combination of raw power, pinpoint control, intelligence, and, perhaps most of all, an intense scrutiny of his own performance, as well as that of his opponents. Acutely sophisticated and aware of mechanics, Seaver was perhaps the foremost latter-day exponent of "drop and drive" overhand delivery, but his powerful legs protected his arm, and ensured his longevity. He always credited the training he received in the Mets organization, citing the long careers of his teammates Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan and Tug McGraw as further proof of its value. Seaver could also help himself at the plate. A good-hitting pitcher, and proficient bunter, Seaver hit 12 home runs during his career, although his lifetime average was just .154.
Hank Aaron stated that Seaver was the toughest pitcher he ever faced. Ironically, Seaver approached Aaron before his first All-Star Game in 1967 and asked Aaron for his autograph. Seaver felt the need to introduce himself to Aaron, as he was certain "Hammerin' Hank" would not know who he was. Aaron replied to Seaver, "Kid, I know who you are, and before your career is over, I guarantee you everyone in this stadium will, too."
In an ESPN poll among his peers, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Bert Blyleven and Don Sutton all agreed Seaver was "the best" of their generation of pitchers.
On September 28, 2006, Seaver was chosen as the "Hometown Hero" for the Mets franchise by ESPN.
Seaver made a return to Shea Stadium during the "Shea Goodbye" closing ceremony on September 28, 2008, where he threw out the final pitch in the history of the stadium to Mike Piazza. He and Piazza then opened the Mets' new home, Citi Field with the ceremonial first pitch on April 13, 2009.
Since retirement, Seaver has sometimes been a television color commentator, working variously for the Mets, the New York Yankees, and with Vin Scully in 1989 for NBC. Seaver replaced Joe Garagiola as NBC's lead baseball color commentator. He is one of three sportscasters to be regular announcers for both the Mets and Yankees; the others are Fran Healy and Tim McCarver. He has also worked as a part-time scout, and as a spring training pitching coach. Seaver's TV experience dates back to his playing career, when he was invited into the TV booths for the 1977 and 1978 World Series on ABC and NBC, respectively.
Seaver was married to the former Nancy Lynn McIntyre on June 9, 1966. They are parents of two daughters. Currently, he lives in Calistoga, California, where he tends to his vineyards.