One nickname would not suffice. He was both “Tom Terrific” and “The Franchise,” but even the two combined do not fully capture what he meant to the Mets, and to their early fans.
Tom Seaver not only was the dashing young star pitcher of a team that shocked baseball by winning the World Series in 1969, but he gave a new generation of National League-inclined New York-area fans — too young to remember the Dodgers and Giants and trained by older relatives and friends to hate the Yankees — a baseball hero of their own.
Seaver died Monday morning at age 75 in his sleep from complications of Lewy body dementia and COVID-19, the Baseball Hall of Fame said on Wednesday night.
“We are heartbroken to share that our beloved husband and father has passed away,” Seaver's wife Nancy and daughters Sarah and Anne said in a statement from the Hall of Fame. “We send our love out to his fans, as we mourn his loss with you.”
During a 20-year career with four teams, Seaver had other accomplishments, including a no-hitter for the Reds (in 1978) and winning his 300th game with the White Sox (at Yankee Stadium, in 1985).
But there was no question what franchise “The Franchise” belonged to — even if it did infamously trade him away in 1977.
When it was over, Seaver had pitched 20 seasons, from 1967-86, totaling 311 wins, 3,640 strikeouts and a 2.86 ERA. His election to the Hall of Fame in 1992 was a formality; he received 98.84% of the vote, a record at the time. Seaver won three Cy Young Awards and was the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 1967. His No. 41 is retired by the Mets.
“Tom Seaver’s life exemplified greatness in the game, as well as integrity, character, and sportsmanship – the ideals of a Hall of Fame career,” said Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “As a longtime member of the Hall of Fame Board of Directors, Tom brought dignity and wisdom to this institution that will be deeply missed. His love for baseball history, and for the Hall of Fame, was reinforced in 2014, when he pledged the donation of his personal baseball collection to the Museum. His wonderful legacy will be preserved forever in Cooperstown.”
“I am deeply saddened by the death of Tom Seaver, one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. Tom was a gentleman who represented the best of our National Pastime," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. "He was synonymous with the New York Mets and their unforgettable 1969 season. After their improbable World Series Championship, Tom became a household name to baseball fans – a responsibility he carried out with distinction throughout his life."
"Tom Seaver will be remembered as a fierce and gifted competitor, a Hall of Fame pitcher whose passion never wavered on or off the field," MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark said. "He was a strong and steady voice on behalf of his fellow players as the Mets' player representative in the early days of the Players Association. We send out sympathies to his family, friends and legion of fans."
George Thomas Seaver was born on Nov. 17, 1944, and grew up in Fresno, California. He was 22 years old when he joined the Mets in 1967, winning 16 games for another terrible edition of the so-called Amazin’s.
But everything came together in 1969, when Seaver went 25-7 with a 2.21 ERA, heading a staff whose 26-or-under members also included Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Jim McAndrew, Tug McGraw and Nolan Ryan.
That summer in late July Seaver had a perfect game one out into the ninth inning when the Cubs’ Jimmy Qualls broke it up with a clean single.
The Orioles beat him in Game 1 of the World Series, but the Mets then won four in a row, including a complete-game, 10-inning, 2-1 victory for Seaver in Game 4. Sports Illustrated named him its “Sportsman of the Year” for 1969.
That hardly was the end of Seaver’s accomplishments, using his trademark power motion with a follow through that often caused his right knee to get dirtied by scraping the mound. In 1970, he struck out 10 Padres in a row, and 19 for the game. In 1971, he went 20-10, with a 1.76 ERA and 289 strikeouts in 286 1/3 innings.
In 1973, the Mets won another pennant and Seaver again led the league in strikeouts (251) and ERA (2.08) and won his second Cy Young. He won another in ’75, going 22-9. He led the league in strikeouts five times in seven seasons.
All of which helps explain the magnitude of the shock on June 15, 1977, when he was traded to the Reds in the wake of a messy dispute with Mets chairman M. Donald Grant over salary demands in the still-new world of free agency.
The Reds sent Pat Zachry, Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn and Dan Norman to New York. Seaver went 14-3 for the Reds, with a 2.34 ERA, then no-hit the Cardinals at Riverfront Stadium on June 16, 1978. Seaver returned to the Mets in 1983, going 9-14, but soon was gone again when the White Sox claimed him in the free-agent compensation draft after the Mets left him unprotected.
He won his 300th game on Aug. 4, 1985, at Yankee Stadium, on Phil Rizzuto Day. He spent his last season, 1986, with the Red Sox, who lost the World Series to the Mets. After retiring Seaver had a long career as an announcer, both nationally and for local Yankees and Mets telecasts.
On Sept. 28, 2008, Seaver threw out a ceremonial final pitch at Shea Stadium to Mike Piazza, then repeated the honor for the first pitch at Citi Field on April 13, 2009. He also threw out the first pitch for the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi.
"We are devastated to learn of the passing of Mets Legend and Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Seaver," Mets owner Fred Wilpon and COO Jeff Wilpon said in a statement issued by the team. "Tom was nicknamed 'The Franchise' and 'Tom Terrific' because of how valuable he truly was to our organization and our loyal fans, as his #41 was the first player number retired by the organization in 1988. He was simply the greatest Mets player of all-time and among the best to ever play the game which culminated with his near unanimous induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992. Beyond the multitude of awards, records, accolades, World Series Championship, All-Star appearances, and just overall brilliance, we will always remember Tom for his passion and devotion to his family, the game of baseball, and his vineyard. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Nancy, daughters Sarah and Anne and four grandsons, Thomas, William, Henry and Tobin."
In later years, Seaver focused his attention on his vineyard in northern California. He had a health scare in the early 2010s when he began having problems with memory loss and slurred speech. He was diagnosed with Lyme disease.
Seaver’s personality could be prickly at times, but his clean-cut, family-man image served him and the Mets well as they sought a foothold on the New York sports scene in the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Former teammate Cleon Jones was quoted as saying of him, “Tom does everything well. He’s the kind of man you’d want your kids to grow up to be like. Tom’s a studious player devoted to his profession, a loyal cat, trustworthy — everything a Boy Scout is supposed to be. In fact, we call him ‘Boy Scout.’ "
But it was Seaver’s skills as a pitcher that made the most impact, especially his raw power in an era when strikeouts were less easy to come by, and pitchers with fastballs in the high-90s were uncommon.
As Reggie Jackson once was quoted as saying about him, “Blind people come to the park just to listen to him pitch.”
Seaver is survived by his wife, Nancy, whom he married in 1966, and daughters Sarah and Annie.