During his Hall of Fame career, there was no more cerebral pitcher in Major League Baseball than Tom Seaver.
Well-educated and technically savvy, he understood precisely the mechanics of his trade, how to contort his body and use his massive legs to generate the energy that powered one of the greatest fastballs of his time.
And when his 20-year career with the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox was over, he transferred that knowledge and his charisma into a long broadcasting career. But over the last few years, Seaver had been strangely absent from the game, tending to his California winery, spending time with his family.
Now we know why. On Thursday’s Seaver’s family announced he will retire from public life after being diagnosed with dementia.
“Tom will continue to work in his beloved vineyard at his California home, but has chosen to completely retire from public life,” the Seavers said in the statement, released by the Baseball Hall of Fame. “The family is deeply appreciative of those who have supported Tom throughout his career, on and off the field, and who do so now by honoring his request for privacy.”
More than anything in his great career, Seaver will be remembered as a catalyst for the Mets improbable 1969 World Series championship. He was a 25-game winner and the National League’s Cy Young winner at just 24 years old.
Ironically, the team will be holding many events this season to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that title. But Seaver, 74, will not be able to attend.
Nicknamed “Tom Terrific” because of his prodigious ability, he had his No. 41 retired by the Mets in 1988.
Ed Kranepool, Seaver’s teammate on the 1969 Mets, told the Bergen Record, “He always handled himself with dignity and class. My wife Monica and I have the Seavers in our prayers.”
Another Hall of Famer, former Mets catcher Mike Piazza, expressed his feelings in a tweet.
“He will always be the heart and soul of the Mets, the standard which all Mets aspire to. “This breaks my heart. Do not feel worthy to be mentioned in the same breath, yet honored to be with him in the Baseball Hall of Fame.”
Seaver retired in 1986, after the Mets defeated the Red Sox in the World Series. He won 311 games with 61 shutouts, a figure no future pitcher will ever reach. He struck out 3,640 hitters, finished with a 2.86 ERA and pitched a no-hitter for the Reds. Seaver also came within one out of a perfect game in 1969, losing it with two outs to pinch-hitters Jimmy Qualls.
Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, who played with Seaver, told the New York Daily News that Seaver’s friends knew something was not right with him.
“I’ve known this was coming, we all did, but I’ve been content to still have those conversations in my mind with him, and look back with honor and pleasure,” Bench said. “I know this has been terribly difficult for Nancy and the family but they had to do this because Tom was the greatest Met of all, who was loved by everyone who ever played with him and respected as a man’s man by everyone in the game and anyone who was ever around him.”
Seaver pitched at the University of Southern California. He was originally drafted in 1966 by the Atlanta Braves, but the selection was voided by baseball commissioner William Eckert due to a technicality – the Trojans had already played an exhibition game that season. Baseball rules prevented the selection of a player from a team whose season had already begun.
Eckert then announced any other team willing to pay Seaver the same signing bonus offered by Atlanta could enter a lottery for his services. The Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians compiled.
The Mets won and it immediately changed the fortunes of a franchise which has lost 120 games in its first season, 1962, and finished last or second-to-last each season thereafter until 1969.
Seaver won the 1967 Rookie of the Year, going 16-13 with a 2.76 ERA. He would be selected to 12 All-Star teams. He led the NL in strikeouts five times and won three Cy Youngs. He received 98.84 percent of the votes in his first shot at the Hall of Fame in 1992. At the time, that represented the most votes ever received by a first-time candidate.
Seaver’s career with the Mets spanned 11 seasons. He helped them get back to the World Series again in 1973, but they lost in seven games to the Oakland A’s.
In 1977, he got into a spat with ownership – and New York baseball columnist Dick Young – over salary and was traded to the Reds on June 15, 1977 for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson and Dan Norman.
Seaver returned to the Mets for one last season 1983, ending it with a 9-14 record. He would win his 300th game in Yankee Stadium in 1985. “To have such a special baseball player, such a special pitcher, a legend of the game of baseball be a Met is a tremendous honor for our organization,” Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said Thursday in West Palm Beach, Fla. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.”
“We’ve been in contact with the Seaver family and are aware of his health situation,” said Mets owner in a statement. “Although, he’s unable to attend the ’69 Anniversary, we are planning to honor him in special ways and have included his family in our plans. Our thoughts are with Tom, Nancy and the entire Seaver Family.”