If You Rooted For The Yankees, Could You Root For Tom Seaver?
Hall of Famer and baseball great Tom Seaver died Monday, August 31 at age 75 and a piece of my childhood died along with him. The accolades, recollections and recounting of stats will continue to flow for the next few weeks.
But not everyone who saw Seaver play rooted for this consummate pro. Especially kids like me.
Being a Yankees fan in the late 1960s and early 1970s was not fun. A New Yorker has to choose teams. A real New York fan can’t root for both the Rangers and Islanders or the Jets and the Giants. You certainly cannot be a fan of both the Yankees and the Mets. So you make choices.
As a New York baseball obsessed kid who collected trading cards, I examined both teams carefully. I chose to be a fan of the on-his-last-legs Mickey Mantle led Yankees. Bad choice. Mantle retired immediately upon my declaration of loyalty.
The 70s Yankees teams featured players like Jake Gibbs, Jerry Kenney, Mike Kekich, Steve Kline, and Horace Clarke.
Arguments on the summer camp bus about who was better, the Yankees or Mets ended with the words Tom Seaver.
Rooting for the Yankees meant rooting against Tom Seaver. Comparing Tom Seaver to any Yankee player was a futile exercise in partisanship.
“The Yankees have Mel Stottlemyre.”
“We’ve got Tom Seaver.”
“Well, we’ve got Bobby Murcer, Thurman Munson and Sparky Lyle.”
“We’ve got Tom Seaver.”
Even dipping down to a slightly lower echelon of solid Yankees would not change the outcome for who’s team was better and had the best ballplayer.
“We’ve got Stan Bahnsen, Roy White and Ron Blomberg.”
“Yeah, and we’ve got Jerry Koosman, Rusty Staub and Cleon Jones….
and Tom Seaver.”
Seaver, The Face of The Mets
Tom Seaver. “The Franchise.” “Tom Terrific.” Kids emulate their heroes. So a lot of pitchers in New York’s little league’s had one of their pants legs digging into the dirt trying to copy Seaver’s powerful follow through.
Within three years of his arrival in 1967, Seaver took a fledgling team to the top. The “Miracle Mets” world championship in 1969 would not have happened without Tom Seaver. The Mets made it to the World Series again in 1973. Across town, the Yankees suffered a postseason drought of eleven consecutive years from 1965-1975.
Even if the Yankees record was be better in some of those years, Seaver’s Mets attendance was always larger. The final humiliation for Yankees fans was having to go to Shea Stadium for Yankee home games from 1974 to 1975 while Yankee Stadium was undergoing renovations.
Seaver carried the load for the duration of his Mets career. If Seaver was a winner then It was expected the Mets should be winners too. This was not the case. Even when the Mets had a subpar season, Seaver was pitching his heart out. Seaver was more valuable to the Mets than any Yankees player was to the Yankees. Case in point, the Yankees heartless 1975 trade of their best player, Bobby Murcer to the Giants for Bobby Bonds.
Seaver’s disappointing 11 win, 11 loss, 1974 season was an aberration. He showed everyone that by bouncing back with a league leading 243 strikeouts and 22-9 record in 1975. That same year the Yankees acquired ace Catfish Hunter, who’s name could at least be mentioned in the same sentence when being compared to Seaver.
The Mets traded Tom Seaver to the Reds in mid-season 1977. With “The Franchise” gone there was no reason to root against Tom Seaver and the Mets who completely collapsed, losing more than 90 games for five of the next six seasons.
I knew Seaver was great, but no longer on the enemy Mets, I grew to tremendously appreciate Seaver’s skill, durability and perseverance in the second half of his career. He returned to the Mets in 1983 for one lackluster season and number 41 retired at age 41, splitting 1986 between the White Sox and the Red Sox.
If someone’s in charge of making the late great, all-time, all-star team they can now say “we’ve got Tom Seaver.”