I woke up this morning to the news that Tom Seaver had died. Tom Terrific Seaver. The Franchise, as he was known. Because of the time difference between Israel and New York, fortunately, I was spared hearing the news last night as New Yorkers did. I do not know how I could possibly have slept last night had I already heard.
The 75 years old great had 311 career wins, 198 with the Mets, 61 career shutouts, 41 with the Mets, 3640 career strikeouts, and three Cy Young awards, all with the Mets.
Too many people think that sports is just for kids, that adult men should be embarrassed to care so much about it. They just don’t understand.
If you never enjoyed a day at the ball park, never watched that one great player on your losing home town team strike batters out or hit home runs, if you did not inherit the baseball tradition from your father as I did, then you will never understand.
If you didn’t get the movie “Field of Dreams,” stop reading now! You don’t deserve to read the rest of this.
For some perspective, when the Mets won the World Series in 1986 I was a high school junior. The next day in school the principal, a rabbi, came up to me and asked what I now got out of their winning. He was not a sports fan and was not impressed by the sports enthusiasm. I told him, “fond memories,” to which he replied, “oh, they’ll keep you warm at night.”
He was being cynical, but he was right. Those memories do keep me warm. Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter hitting two home runs in game against the Red Sox and getting the game winning walk off double in his first game ever as a Met in the 1985 home opener, the pitching of Dwight Gooden, etc.
But more are the memories growing up hearing about Tom Seaver and the 69’ Mets.
Tom “Terrific” Seaver was the one truly great player who came up within the Mets farm system in their 58 year history. He is one of only two players to have had their numbers retired by the team and both went to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown as Mets. The other is Mike Piazza. The New York Yankees, in contrast, boast countless hall of famers in their history and have almost run out of room for all the players’ numbers which they have retired.
For Mets fans, for more than fifty years now, Tom Seaver has been synonymous with the team. He truly was the franchise.
They called him The Franchise, and that he was. In July of 1969 people the world over thought that nothing could possibly happen again that so impossible as men landing on the Moon. At least not for the rest of that year. Then three months later the 1969 Mets, known as the Amazins, won the World Series in five games over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles. And it was all thanks to Tom “Terrific” Seaver. That is no exaggeration and it is why they called him the franchise.
The team was known as the miracle Mets. Why was that? Founded only 7 years before, they replaced the NY Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers in the hearts of all of those New Yorkers who had been fans of those two teams. Those fans hearts had been broken just four years earlier when the Giants and Dodgers jumped to California.
The new New York National League Baseball Club, the Metropolitans, would set records their first year, records in futility. They had more loses that year, 120, then any team before or since against just 40 wins. The fans didn’t care. They sold out every game. They loved the manager, Casey Stengel, who had won five consecutive World Championships as the manager of the Yankees a decade before.
They loved their old-time favorite players like Duke Snider and Gil Hodges who returned from Los Angeles to finish their careers in New York.
But the loveable losers lost too much. After the novelty of the new supposedly state of the art Shea Stadium’s opening in 1964, people lost interest. Then came 1969.
Sure, plenty of other players contributed that year too. But Seaver, having been the first Met to win Rookie of the Year honors in 1967, was the center of the team. Without him there would have been no miracle.
Personally, I was not even born yet at the time. And I was only three years old when the Mets lost to the Oakland A’s (they went by the short nick name then) in 1973.
Then the world changed. On June 15, 1977, at the trade deadline that year, the Mets sent The Franchise off to Cincinnati for four, at best, mediocre players. Free agency was new as an option to players at the time. Tom Seaver’s contract was up at the end of the year and the Mets’ ownership would not pay him what he was worth to keep him with on team. So they traded him.
I remember how devastated my older brother was. He was 12 years old at the time and could actually remember both the 69’ and 73’ Mets teams.
Fans called it the Midnight Massacre. Everyone was in shock. I remember it was a bigger deal in my family than even the Iran Hostage Crisis two years later. In 1979 we were still cursing the team for letting Seaver go. For five years Mets’ fans mourned the loss.
Even when the Mets were terrible in the mid-1970s, the fans still came out to the park. That is until the owners traded Tom Seaver away in the middle of the 1977 season. They still drew as much as 1.5 million a year until the. In 1979, however, attendance dropped to only 788,905, the worst in the team’s history.
I remember going to games back then with my family. The stadium was so empty you had no trouble moving up to the box seats closer to home plate. The ushers didn’t care where your ticket really was after the end of the second inning.
The running joke was that when watching a game on TV there were so few fans in the stands that you could hear a pin drop on the field. Or that on a Dave Kingman home run Ralph Kiner said, “… and that ball is going, going, gone, home run, and the fan here at Shea is going wild.”
I went down to Shea by train with my brother to see the Mets last home game of 1980 against the Pirates. We were off from school because it was Hol Hamoed Sukkot. They were so awful that year and the stadium was empty. We actually got field level seats at the stadium box office day of game. Then we moved down and sat right behind the Pittsburgh dugout. We could see players like Willie Stargel clearly as they went back into their dugout. We could almost reach out and touch them.
The Mets were sold to new owners in 1980 who promised that they would be different. And they were. On this hope attendance went up above 1 million again that season. It would have been higher in 1981, but a players strike shortened the season.
Then, before the 1983 season, the new ownership brought the franchise back. I went to opening day at Shea that year with my father and brother. It was a sellout crowd. People were so happy to see Tom Seaver back at Shea in a Mets uniform. The Mets won the game, but Seaver got a no-decision.
The Mets were terrible that year, but no one cared.
Good bye Tom Terrific. Your memory will always keep me warm.