Growing up a Mets fan, there is one name you learn at birth, a name that is intrinsically tied to what it means to be a Mets fan, a name that makes you proud because he belongs to us and no one else. That name is Tom Seaver. There will never be another player like Tom Seaver. Ever. He is the Mets—the heart and soul of the franchise. For Mets fans of my parents’ generation, he is a childhood hero. For Mets fans of subsequent generations, like me, he is the stuff of Mets legend—an oral history passed down from fans who have endured many more years of watching lean Mets teams than I have, but were lucky enough to see him pitch. When you’re as war weary as most diehard Mets fans are, you have all the more appreciation for something special when you see it.
Tom Seaver is something special alright. I don’t need to spend too much time here rehashing his career by the numbers because you don’t need to look at his Baseball Reference page to know he is one of the greatest there ever was. Five of the ten best single-season performances by a Mets pitcher as measured by bWAR belong to Tom Seaver. When you look at the top spot in franchise history in any pitching metric imaginable, Seaver’s name is there. WAR. Wins. ERA. Strikeouts. Innings pitched. Shutouts. Complete games. He’s first in all of them. The 38 Hall of Famers that faced Seaver in their careers managed just a .662 OPS against him. He is one of only seven pitchers in major league history to post at least twelve seasons of more than 200 innings and an ERA+ of 120 or better. He is one of only two pitchers with 300 career wins, 3,000 career strikeouts, and a career ERA below 3. He ranks seventh in bWAR all-time among pitchers. There is an argument to be made that he is the best starting pitcher in the history of the game. In a time when the “no one should be a unanimous Hall of Famer” attitude reigned supreme, Seaver received 98.84% of the vote, a record that would not be broken until Ken Griffey Jr. nearly a quarter-century later.
Beyond the dazzling numbers and impressive career totals, there is no player that is more associated with the Mets than Tom Seaver. And the reason why all of that ultimately came to be all comes down to what was mostly a matter of luck. Tom Seaver was drafted by the Braves—yes, the Braves—in 1966. At the time, his junior season at USC was still in progress and baseball had a rule that a player could not be signed to a deal while his season was still in progress. Baseball Commissioner Spike Eckert declared that Seaver’s contract with the Braves was void. But Seaver had still signed that deal nonetheless and that made him ineligible at USC. Seaver was stuck. How did baseball solve this problem? They held a lottery and interested teams’ names were placed in the hat and whoever was drawn would match the Braves’ initial $40,000 offer to Seaver to pitch for their club. The storied history of Tom Seaver, New York Met, all came to pass because the Mets were drawn out of hat. If that isn’t starting your career off in the most Metsian fashion possible, I’m not sure what is.
Seaver’s importance in Mets history and why he is dubbed The Franchise goes far beyond the Cy Young Awards and wins and strikeouts. Most of all, he catapulted a new franchise that was living in the shadows of the departed Giants and Dodgers and had yet to see success into relevance. Howie Rose said of the time before Tom Seaver became a Met, “There was this inescapable culture of losing, and at least among their fans, a growing sense of losing was going to be something permanent.” He added, “People who watched [Seaver] as a rookie got the sense that they had finally developed a player who was capable of doing special things, and therefore capable of helping the Mets achieve some pretty good thing of their own along the way.” Going from cellar dwellers to World Champions is certainly a pretty good thing. And while that 1969 team obviously had no shortage of talent, it is indisputable that Tom Seaver was the face of the World Champion Mets.
Despite the infamy of the Midnight Massacre, Tom Seaver remained a Met through and through, even after his professional career was over. Even though he threw a no-hitter in a different uniform, his “imperfect game” on July 8, 1969 remains the single most memorable game he ever threw. A year after Tom Terrific officially announced his retirement, his number was retired alongside Gil Hodges and Casey Stengel. For many years, until Mike Piazza’s number was retired in 2016, Seaver stood alone as the only person to have his number retired by the Mets for his achievements as a player.
For every major franchise occasion since, Seaver has been there. Sitting in the upper deck at last game at Shea Stadium next to my dad, watching his childhood idol, Tom Terrific, throw a ceremonial pitch to my childhood idol, Mike Piazza, is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. The news of Seaver’s diagnosis and his retirement from public life is a blow for the entire Mets family. It comes preceding the season the Mets plan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1969 World Champion Mets, where Seaver’s absence will be acutely felt. It is difficult to imagine the moment without him there.
The Mets, however, do have plans to honor Tom Seaver’s legacy and it was recently reported that the team plans to unveil a Seaver statue sometime this season. It is long overdue. Tom Seaver’s likeness should be the first thing Mets fans see when they enter Citi Field and the last thing they see when they leave. Because there is no figure more iconic in Mets history than Tom Seaver.