Editor’s note: The Mets traded franchise icon Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds on June 16, 1977. Here is the original account from Newsday’s Bob Waters of the trade.
It was late in the summer of 1969 in a Los Angeles hotel room — Tom Seaver’s hotel room. Seaver, 25 years old and on his way to 25 victories and a World Series, was sprawled fully clothed on his bed. He chomped a huge cigar and sometimes reached for the bottle of beer that sweated on the table next to the bed. And he giggled.
Rube Walker, the Mets’ pitching coach, had just indignantly stormed from the room. Seaver and a reporter had sided against Walker in an argument on the abilities of Muhammad Ali. Walker’s face purples under frustration, a sight to giggle at. Seaver sighed when the giggle spasm ended. “He’s beautiful, isn’t he?” Seaver asked, but he didn’t expect an answer. And what he meant was that everything was beautiful; he walked with music.
Seaver was awarded the first of his three Cy Young Awards at the end of that season. The World Series check prompted a move from Bayside, Queens, to Greenwich, Conn. Tom Terrific and Nancy Nice had a hand-holding love affair among flowering nutmegs, and at Shea Stadium, Seaver let his team, his management and his fans fondle him unashamedly and he showed his appreciation by pitching as no other man in the National League was pitching.
“We wouldn’t be anything without Tom,” shortstop Bud Harrelson said more than once.
“With Seaver out there you get to feel, ‘Hell, how can we lose?’ ” catcher Jerry Grote said.
“Tom carries this team,” first baseman Ed Kranepool said, “and every man on this team knows it.”
And, of course, Seaver knew it. He didn’t really express himself until the runs behind him became fewer, until the errors mounted, until pitching a good game was rarely good enough and sometimes pitching a great game wasn’t enough. And when he openly assailed the management for not taking steps to bolster the offense while other clubs were fattening themselves in the free-agent trough, the management that had fondled Seaver so tenderly publicly deplored his attitude and branded him an “ingrate.”
Seaver showed that he had learned more than how to throw a changeup from Rube Walker. Seaver learned to purple under frustration, too.
He was on the middle leg of a three-year contract that was healthy until free-agentry bidding thrust him down the list of money-makers. Renegotiate my contract and I’ll stay, otherwise trade me, he told the Mets’ hierarchy, and at the same time he said he’d play for another team under terms of his current contract. What, the hierarchy wondered vocally, could anyone do with such an attitude.
And none of this had to be.
In 1967, when the former Marine and University of Southern California pitcher with one year of minor league experience made his appearance at the Mets’ spring training, then manager Wes Westrum hummed, “I like what I see, I like what I see.” And Westrum didn’t hum often.
Seaver had been selected by the Braves in a special draft and signed with them for $50,000, but the contract was voided because USC had begun its baseball season. Commissioner William Eckert then did the one thing he is remembered for — he set up a draw and pulled the Mets out of the hat that was labeled “Seaver.”
So Seaver was a Met and people ogled. Bob Scheffing, who would one day be the Mets’ general manager, thought that Seaver was ready for the mounds of the big leagues right out of school. He hummed along with Westrum. In that training camp, there was only one opinion out of joint. Significantly, M. Donald Grant, chairman of the board, while watching Seaver run and hit as well as throw, suggested seriously that it might be better to turn Seaver into a third baseman. Fortunately for the music that was Seaver’s and for the record books, Mrs. Joan Payson was alive and owned the club and Grant’s suggestion was lost in the sound of Westrum’s humming.
In the years that followed, Seaver’s connection with third base was mostly backing up throws from the outfield. But during those years he was able to compile records that eluded Grant’s imagination: nine years of 200 or more strikeouts; a career earned-run average of 2.47, lowest among pitchers with 2,000 or more innings pitched; four 20-game seasons, and 10 consecutive strikeouts against the Padres in 1970 while matching Steve Carlton’s game record of 19 strikeouts.
The word “avarice” that Grant and now general manager Joe McDonald hook onto Seaver wasn’t always there and at least one teammate said, “Tom looks around, sees the money other guys are making and has to say to himself, ‘Why not me?’ Hell, there’s only one Tom Seaver.”
In 1968, the Mets announced that Seaver had signed a contract that “probably” made him the highest paid second-year pitcher in the majors. It was for $20,000. “I’m very pleased,” Seaver had said. “The club had been very fair to me. I hope I live up to their confidence in me.” Seaver had been 16-12 with a 2.20 earned run average for the worst team in baseball in 1967 and had been named Rookie of the Year, an honor never before bestowed on someone who labored for a last-place team.
In 1974, Seaver pitched with a severe sciatic pain in his left buttock. Just toeing the mound hurt and throwing a pitch jolted his body. He had an 11-11 record that year and his ERA was a monstrous, for him, 3.20. Grant reacted quickly. He fashioned a 1975 contract that trimmed Seaver’s salary. What-have-you-done-for-us-lately was the theme and, anyway, the Mets had picked up Seaver’s doctor bills. The slice was “a healthy pay cut” Seaver admitted, but he smiled and said, “The ballclub has been very good to me and honest with me, as I feel I have been with them. No doubt in my mind that a pay cut was in order.”
This was the Seaver of whom the late John Murphy, when he was the Mets’ general manager, said he wanted to adopt. Grant had a year to smile. And then Seaver won 22 games and asked for his current contract and Grant recoiled the first of many recoils and talked about trading Seaver. He characterized Seaver as a man “who doesn’t want to be part of the team.”
That characterization has had encores these past weeks and Seaver has listened and has bridled. There was a time in 1974 when Seaver was booed in Shea Stadium and he accepted the booing. “They are not booing me,” he said. “They are booing who they think Tom Seaver is. They’re booing an image.” But the Grant-McDonald tirades are not acceptable to Seaver. “It’s difficult,” he said, “difficult to read those things and not throw up.”
The music has stopped for Tom Seaver.