Goodbye, Tom Terrific

On Wednesday, September 2, 2020, news broke that New York Mets pitching icon Tom Seaver had passed away.

Seaver died of complications from Lewy body dementia and COVID-19. He was only 75 years old.

There are few accolades I can mention of Seaver’s that Mets fans don’t already know. The career pitching statistics are astounding: 311 wins, a 2.86 ERA, 61 career shutouts, and 3,640 strikeouts highlight his baseball card. His awards cabinet must be bursting at the seams after twelve All-Star appearances, three Cy Young awards, and a first-ballot induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992, where he received, to that point, the highest voting-percentage of any elected Hall of Famer. Even among the elite, he was elite.

Seaver was inducted to the Hall of Fame with a then-record 98.84% in his first year of eligibility.

When the news broke of Seaver’s passing, Twitter was aflutter with Mets fans young and old paying tribute. Young fans who never saw him pitch lamented the fact that his heyday was before their time. Older fans mourned the loss of their collective hero and their youth, when Seaver reigned supreme. Seaver’s teammates reminded the public that Seaver was as good of a person as he was a ballplayer. Modern-day ballplayers, including Jacob deGrom, offered condolences and noted how much they looked up to Seaver.

As a younger Mets fan, born years after Seaver hung up his cleats for the last time, I never saw him pitch in a game. The closest I came to witnessing his greatness was when my dad and I attended the 2009 home opener at Citi Field, where Seaver threw out the first pitch to Mike Piazza. I was 12 years old at the time, and the roar from the crowd when Seaver and Piazza came on the field for that ceremonial first pitch is still the greatest expression of love I’ve ever heard in a baseball stadium. It was electric.

My dad happened to snap a photo of the scoreboard at the exact moment that Seaver and Piazza were taking in the adulation. I now cherish this photo as a reminder of the only time that I was in the physical presence of “The Franchise.”

Many times when I was younger and asked my dad a question about baseball rules or strategy, he would answer in the context of a Tom Seaver anecdote. I’d ask my dad why the Mets issued an intentional walk, and he would mention, “Tom Seaver always said, you never walk the #8 guy because you always want to have the pitcher leading off the inning.”

I would ask why a pitcher threw a certain pitch in an at-bat, and my dad would note, “Seaver would say, the most important pitch is always strike one.”

My dad and I would be groaning about a tedious game, and he would lament something like, “Seaver would never nibble around the strike zone the way guys do today. He always threw strikes. And can you imagine him coming out of a game in the 6th inning when he was pitching well? He would refuse to leave the mound.”

So even though I never saw him pitch live, I learned all about how to play baseball the right way thanks to Tom Seaver.

If I could travel back in time, there are a few places I’d love to stop off. One of them would absolutely be Seaver’s 19-strikeout game against the San Diego Padres on April 22, 1970, the same day that he received his 1969 Cy Young award in a pregame ceremony. I would also have loved to be in attendance when he returned to the mound as a Met on Opening Day 1983. After a few years in Cincinnati, Seaver returned to Queens and helped usher in a new generation of Mets into their prime years of ’80s success. He was there for their first generation of greatness in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and when he returned, it was a sign that brighter days were just around the corner for the Mets.

It is rare for an athlete to inspire as much universal reverence as Seaver did. Everything about him, in the context of the 1967 Mets, was rare. He was never content with mediocrity and always strived for perfection. He became the first Rookie of the Year and Cy Young winner in Mets history. He took everything that had become commonplace about the “Lovable Losers” and turned it on its head. He represented the beginning of contention for the New York Mets. Not only was he a fantastic baseball player, he was literally a franchise-altering player.

In a way, it’s kind of comforting to know that Tom Seaver will always be the greatest Met of all time. No one will ever top his on-field achievements or mean more to this franchise than he did. There are very few constants in Metsland, but one of them is the indisputable fact that Seaver was and will always remain the greatest baseball player to ever take the field for the New York Mets. “The Franchise” will never be replaced.

RIP to a legend among legends, the man that made the “Miracle Mets” possible, and one of the greatest baseball players to ever walk the planet. After a historic lifetime on Earth, Tom Seaver has now been called up to heaven, where he will pitch brilliantly every fifth day for all of eternity.

Cover photo: Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated
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2 thoughts on “Goodbye, Tom Terrific

  1. Great read about Tom Terrific. Sad the way his Met career ended with the GM and a local sportswriter (Dick Young) running him out of town. For Met fans of that era, Ron Hunt, a second baseman was the Mets first all star and at the time gave Met fans a rare nod of joy given the futility of those early dismal but entertaining teams.

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