On this day 23 years ago, one of the greatest players in baseball history hung up his cleats one final time, announcing to the world that he had no more competitive pitches left in his arm.
Despite being a near unanimous first-choice Hall of Fame inductee and one of the all-time greats, Tom Seaver does not get the recognition he deserves.
His 311 wins only barely gets him a spot in the top 20 list of career victories and his total of 3,640 strikeouts is topped by five other pitchers, including one who has 2,000 more Ks to his name.
Six more Hall of Famers have more than Seaver's 61 shutouts, and his career 2.86 ERA is a full run higher than that of other pitchers who had a distinguished career. With only one World Series ring and just a lone no-hitter to his name, many overlook Seaver when they are talking about the best in the business.
But today, June 22, it's time to remember Seaver's career for the wonderful things he achieved.
Tom Terrific is not mentioned as often as it should be when people discuss the greatest pitchers of all time. People rightly list guys like Cy Young, Nolan Ryan, Walter Johnson, and Lefty Grove, but in my opinion, Seaver should be ranked right up there with the all-time greats.
You could go as far as saying that Seaver was the best pitcher that nobody ever talks about.
Seaver, a 12-time All-Star, holds a special place in my heart because I’m a Mets fan. But this is more than homer pick. He was, and still is, the greatest player in Mets history, he is the only player to have his number retired by the club, and he is the only player in Cooperstown wearing a Mets hat.
He doesn’t have 500 wins or 5,700 strikeouts, but that’s okay, because I’m not trying to compare him with Young or Ryan. But when Pedro Martinez and Sandy Kofax are getting more love than Seaver, you know something is wrong. All of Seaver’s stats are fantastic on their own, but he is often overlooked because he doesn’t have that one eye-pooping number, like Ryan’s seven no-hitters or Roger Clemens’ seven Cy Young trophies.
Being No. 1 in any significant category would catapult him to the forefront of many people’s minds. But if you look at what he accomplished it’s hard to overlook him.
He had a sparkling 2.57 ERA during his 12 seasons with the Mets and a 2.86 ERA over his 20 seasons in the Majors. He led the league in ERA and wins three times and he struck out more than 200 batters in nine consecutive years. He also picked up three Cy Young awards in 1969, ’73, and ’75, and there is an argument to be made that he could have had several more, especially in 1971 which was widely regarded as his best ever season.
On top of those figures, he also threw double-digit complete games in his first 11 seasons in the league (231 in his career) and he was responsible for guiding the Mets to their first ever championship after years of mediocrity.
From the day he made his debut—as a 22-year-old back on April 13 1967—he immediately made the team around him better. He struck out eight Pirates in his debut, threw a 10-inning complete game in his third ever start, and he was well on his way to greatness.
The Mets had finished last in five of their first seven seasons as a new franchise before Seaver arrived (they finished one from bottom in the other two years), and the closest the team had come to a winning record was in 1966 when they finished 29 games below .500.
Seaver's 16 victories for the second straight year helped the Mets to 73 wins—then a franchise high—but he really took it to the next level in ’69, going 25-7 with five shutouts and guiding the Mets to their first ever 100-win season and, of course, the Mets first championship.
Among his career games were five one-hitters for the Mets and a no-hitter for the Reds. To this day, the Mets have still not had a no hitter.
Seaver threw a one-hitters in four straight seasons between 1969 and 1972 and another one in 1977. When he one-hit the Cubs in ’77 it was his fifth and the Mets 12th ever. But it was his first one-hitter that fans will remember most.
It had been more than seven years since a Mets pitcher had recorded the club’s last one-hitter, but Seaver almost went one better, retiring the first 25 batters in a game against the Cubbies until scrub hitter Jimmy Qualls ripped a one-out single in the top of the ninth inning, costing Seaver not only the no-no but also the perfect game.
The following year, Seaver made history again, this time by striking out 10 batters in a row to end a 2-1 win over the Padres at Shea Stadium. What made the game even more spectacular was that he tied a then-record with 19 strikeouts. Yes, Kerry Wood, Clemens and Randy Johnson would go on to break it many years later, but this was a record that stood for the better part of three decades.
Among that time, he was unceremoniously traded to the Cincinnati Reds, back to the Mets, and on to the Chicago White Sox—where he picked up his 300th win—before finishing his remarkable 20-year career with the Boston Red Sox.
He won 75 games in five-and-a-half years in Ohio, including going 14-2 as a 36-year-old in 1981, but he was less than perfect in his return to Shea Stadium where he failed to win 10 games for the second year in a row.
Turning back the clocks, Seaver went on to win 31 games in his next two years in Chicago, and after a trade to Boston in '86, he came back to pitch in the Mets organization in 1987. While he never hit the heights he achieved earlier in his career at Shea, it was fitting that he ended his career where it began.
One great quote that I have read about Seaver comes from Sparky Anderson, who said, "My idea of managing is giving the ball to Tom Seaver and sitting down and watching him work."
And who can disagree? He was the face of National League baseball throughout the ‘70s, and he was admired by fans, teammates, and journalists alike. When his name came up on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1992, he polled 98.8 percent of the votes. That is 425 out of 430 ballots for those trying to work out the math. Of the other five, legend has it that at least three of those ballot slips were empty.
That 98.8 mark is the highest ever—including Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ryan, and Cal Ripken—all considered to be among the greatest that ever lived.
So next time you're considering the greatest pitchers of all time, don't forget about Tom "Terrific" Seaver. Don't let Seaver go as the best pitcher that nobody ever talks about. Ensure that he is talked about in the same breath as Ryan and Young. It's the least you could do for the man who captivated a whole generation with his brilliance.