Keidel: Tom Seaver Was As Terrific a Man As He Was a Baseball Player


Some stars are too large to quantify. Between their talent, temerity, and popularity, and their impact on a team and town, there are too many dimensions to cover with words.

Tom Seaver was such a man, such a player, such a star. Seaver is more deeply burned into Mets history than any single player on any single team, perhaps in any single sport. He is the Mets. He was the Mets. He will be the Mets. Unlike any former Met or New York Giant or Brooklyn Dodger or even New York Yankee, Seaver is the greatest pitcher ever to grace New York City, in a New York uniform. (Koufax wasn't Koufax until his team moved to Los Angeles.)

Some folks think you need to be a fan of a particular player or club to give proper respect, or to deliver the right eulogy. But often the opposite is true. You need a Yankees fan to tell you how loathed the ‘86 Mets were, how we hated their romp to the World Series, or how to grudgingly respect their game, or how to tell Mets fans that even we felt the loss and abject sadness when Gary Carter died. Just a few Mets were so good, so admired, that even Yankees fans had to give it up. Tom Seaver tops that list.

If you need numbers, Seaver was a 12-time All-Star, a World Series champion, a five-time NL strikeout leader, and pitched a no-hitter - naturally - right after the Mets traded him to the Reds. For the longest time, Seaver had the highest percentage of Hall of Fame votes, with 98.84 percent. That number stood like a career talisman until Mariano Rivera - perhaps the only pitcher since Seaver who deserved it - got 100 percent of the vote. His career record is 311-205, with a career 2.86 ERA. He fanned 3,640 batters, sixth-most in the history of our pastime. He's one of just ten pitchers to win 300 games and strike out 3,000 batters.

Perhaps the best compliment a Hall of Famer ever gave another came from Reggie Jackson, who said blind fans pay to hear Seaver pitch. As Grantland Rice once wrote about Babe Ruth, Seaver was more than a ballplayer; he grew into a symbol, an emblem.

There are no Miracle Mets sans Seaver. There is no pushing the dynastic A's to the brink in 1973 sans Seaver. There's no independent identity as a baseball club, no sliding from the Yankees' biblical shadow, without Seaver. Forget the black cat and the Cubs; it was Seaver who anchored the team to its new heights. If you need just a little more statistical context, Seaver leads the Mets all-time in wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, ERA, starts, and shutouts. And this is for a franchise known to have some fine pitching on occasion.

You'd think the only people who can dominate in the Big Apple and own the hearts of New Yorkers would have to be natives themselves, but our legends come from odd places. Eli Manning came from the Deep South. Joe Namath came from steel and coal mining country. Lawrence Taylor came from Virginia. Mickey Mantle came from Commerce, Oklahoma.

Seaver was a Fresno kid with California cool, especially in the big moments. Proof of his transcendence can be found in the most sterile halls of the sport. Gary Cohen and Howie Rose morph into slack-jawed teens when musing over Seaver. Jack Curry said everyone in his New Jersey neighborhood wanted to be like Tom Seaver, even as Wiffle ball players.

Who knows why the Mets do what they do, why Fred Wilpon built a field for the Mets and dedicated it to the Brooklyn Dodgers, with Jackie Robinson the only statue beaming from the ballpark. Who knows why they waited until Seaver was diagnosed with dementia before they changed the club's corporate address to 41 Seaver Way. Who knows why they just now are ready to unveil a statue of the greatest player in team history, a founding father of the franchise. Or why they committed the most mutinous act in Big Apple sports history by trading Seaver to the Reds in 1977 for Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, Dan Norman, and Pat Zachry - the equivalent of a bag of balls and a fistful of subway tokens.

But this is time to salute Tom Terrific, who was so labeled long before another Tom (Brady) tried to pirate the handle. It's hard to wave farewell to an immortal, to a player whose impact mushroomed beyond the mound.

While yours truly never met Tom Seaver, my father did. A television director in the '70s and '80s, my old man got all kinds of gigs around America, from sitcoms to commercials to pharmaceutical videos to even a big-time movie pitch. One of his more prized clients was Boystown, Father Flanagan's famous home in Nebraska for wayward kids. My dad would reach out to reps for Mike Tyson or Steve Spurrier or Larry Brown or Jerry Tarkanian or anyone in that orbit to pitch a PSA for Boystown.

It was free work, so some celebrities demurred regardless of the righteous cause they would have served. Out of the dozens of bona fide movie stars and All-Stars my pops directed for these public service announcements, he said two people were kinder and more giving of their time than anyone else: Nicolas Cage and Tom Seaver.

So as if Tom Seaver weren't great enough as a pitcher, he was equally great as a person. It's hard to beat that, or Tom Terrific. And if there's a baseball team in Heaven, you can be sure Tom Seaver is the starting pitcher.

Follow Jason Keidel on Twitter: @JasonKeidel

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