My Turn – Remembering the classy Tom Terrific

Oh, my poor old heart nearly broke in two Wednesday evening when I heard the news Tom Seaver had died. The National Baseball Hall of Fame reported Seaver, 75, died Monday in his sleep of complications of Lewy body dementia (the same disease that plagued Robin Williams) and COVID-19.

Seaver — perhaps best known as “Tom Terrific” or “The Franchise,” one of the pitchers who led the New York Miracle Mets to a World Series championship over the Baltimore Orioles in 1969 (don’t forget about Nolan Ryan, baseball’s strikeout king, who pitched 2 1/3 innings for the save in Game 3 in his only World Series appearance) — is one of the immortals of the game whose name is apt come up anytime anyone anywhere talks about the game’s greatest pitchers.

Seaver, a three-time Cy Young winner and 12-time All-Star, lost Game 1 4-1 on the road against the favored Orioles, but he picked up a spectacular 2-1 extra-inning win in Game 4 (after shutting out the mighty Orioles for eight innings) to put the Mets up three games to one. The Mets took the series the next night in Game 5.

In a 20-year career (Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox) from 1967 to 1986, Seaver chalked up 311 wins and a 2.86 earned-run average. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1967.

As one might imagine, Seaver cast a large shadow in Fresno where I grew up. Six years ahead of me (Class of 1962), he played baseball at my alma mater, Fresno High School, and later, following a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, at Fresno City College (11-1 record in 1964) before he earned a scholarship to pitch at the University of Southern California. In 2013, Echo Avenue in front of FHS was renamed Tom Seaver Lane.

I never met Seaver, but I worked in the Public Information Office at FCC when Seaver was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992 — named on 425 of 430 ballots (98.84 percent).

I’m guessing this story probably isn’t very well known and may never have been told before, but Seaver picked up the tab for a trip to Cooperstown for the players he played with on his way to the top so they could share the happy moment with him. At FCC, we created fake newspaper stories to be shared at the party among the players that were a kind of a roast of Seaver based on a series of interviews with those who had shared the field with him. I always really admired Seaver’s classy overture to his former teammates.

I remember the former FCC catcher said Seaver could never, ever throw a strike, but he got really good at moving his mitt back into the strike zone so quickly it often fooled the umpires. Given Seaver’s success in the Big Leagues, he suspected the pro catchers must have been even better at making that move than he was.

I’m not easily star-struck, but just the same I had the college photographer print a 5 x 7 of Seaver on the mound in an FCC uniform for me (a photo we used in the fake newspaper stories), and I asked the catcher if he would take the photo to New York and ask Seaver to autograph it for me.

Sure enough, sometime during that Hall of Fame party, Seaver signed that little photo for me, and the catcher returned it a few days later.

Well, here we are. The big guy upstairs just drafted one of the best starters of all time, and I just want to pause for a moment and remember and say thanks again for everything. You truly are one of the greats.

Rest in peace, Tom Seaver.