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Seaver, George Thomas ("Tom")

SEAVER, George Thomas ("Tom")

(b. 17 November 1944 in Fresno, California), National Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher, a hardworking, consummate professional whose intelligence on the mound matched his physical talents, and the charismatic young leader of the 1969 "Miracle Mets," a New York team that captured the scruffy, underdog spirit of the late 1960s.

Seaver is the son of Charles H. and Betty Lee (Cline) Seaver. Growing up in southern California, Seaver excelled in athletics and academics and was a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching great Sandy Koufax, often going to games with his father to see Koufax pitch. "I learned about pitching from watching Koufax, even when he lost," Seaver told James Mauro in a 1992 interview. "But it was more—it was seeing someone do what they love, and do it so well."

Seaver served with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves in 1963 before attending Fresno City College in 1964, then transferring to the University of Southern California (USC). While at USC he married Nancy Lynn McIntyre; they have three daughters. While a senior at USC, Seaver was illegally signed to a contract by the Atlanta Braves' Richmond, Virginia, farm club. (Major league clubs are not allowed to sign players to professional contracts while they are in college.) He was declared ineligible to play his final college season, and the Braves were forbidden to draft him. Any club willing to match Atlanta's $40,000 contract offer was allowed to enter a lottery. Three teams entered, and on 3 April 1966 the New York Mets of the National League (NL) were drawn out of a hat in the baseball commissioner's office.

It would prove to be the luckiest day in the Mets' history. During the 1960s the Mets were a team of bumbling, ordinary guys with whom fans sympathized. They attracted a cult following as the proletarian antithesis to their cross-town rivals, the Yankees, baseball's patrician dynasty. Fitting into the Mets culture with his work ethic, Seaver instantly became a team leader, pitching his initial game on 13 April 1967. At six feet, one inch and 206 pounds, the right-handed pitcher was a commanding figure on the mound. In his first season he won sixteen of the team's sixty-one victories and was named 1967 NL Rookie of the Year.

Mets fans had never seen such a terrific player on their side. "Here was the ball club's entire future hopes wrapped up in one sensational arm and in an athlete who was wise far beyond his years in the craft of pitching," wrote the Mets historian Peter C. Bjarkman. "Indeed, never has it been any more crystal clear that a single player held the key to an entire franchise's future." Seaver, mature beyond his years, would meet or exceed all the inflated expectations.

In 1968 Seaver boosted the team to seventy-three wins, one game ahead of the last-place Houston Astros. It was the best season in the Mets laughable seven-year history. Nobody expected much improvement in 1969. The Mets were essentially the same team as in 1968 and were 100-to-1 underdogs to win the pennant. Yet, with Seaver piling up win after win, the team's fortunes soared. On 9 July Seaver came within two outs of a perfect game, beating the first-place Chicago Cubs. Eventually, the Mets overtook the Cubs, and Seaver went through nearly two months of the pennant drive without losing a game. He finished the season with twenty-five wins against only seven losses, and a 2.21 earned run average. He won the Cy Young Award as the National League's best pitcher and narrowly lost in the voting for Most Valuable Player, an honor rarely bestowed on a pitcher.

Seaver won one game in the NL championship series against the Braves and another in the World Series, as the Mets beat the Baltimore Orioles to cap their incredible season—a year in which Seaver and the Mets seemed perfectly in tune with the antiestablishment spirit of the times. Seaver also won the 1969 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award.

"It was right when Vietnam was going on," Seaver recalled in a 2000 on-line interview sponsored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame. "…You know that with all the tension that's going on in New York City you're giving some sort of relief."

After the Mets' World Series victory, Shea Stadium resembled the landmark music festival, Woodstock, held just a few months earlier in upstate New York. Delirious fans climbed the railings and tore up the turf, and the exuberant but peaceful celebration spilled over into the city streets. "It was an eruption of joy not surpassed in New York City since the Times Square celebrations that rang out World War II," recalled Bjarkman.

From this memorable beginning Seaver went on to greater achievements during a twenty-year career with the Mets and Cincinnati Reds in the NL, and the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox in the American League (AL). On 22 April 1970 he struck out a record-tying nineteen batters in a game, including a record ten in a row to end the game. He was named to the All-Star team eleven times, and led the NL in victories three times. He won the Cy Young Award again in 1973—when he again pitched in the World Series—and in 1975. He finished his career with 3,640 strikeouts; at the time, only two other pitchers had ever struck out more batters. Seaver was the seventeenth pitcher in Major League Baseball history to win at least 300 games, finishing with 311 wins and 205 losses with a career earned run average of 2.86. Seaver compiled 4,782 and two-thirds innings pitched, 231 complete games, and 61 shutouts in all.

After his retirement Seaver became a Yankees broadcaster and a national television baseball commentator for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). During and after his playing career, Seaver authored many books, including: Pitching to Win (1971); Pitching with Tom Seaver (1973), with Steve Jacobson; How I Would Pitch to Babe Ruth: Seaver vs. The Sluggers (1974), with Norman Lewis Smith; The Art of Pitching (1984), with Lee Lowenfish; Tom Seaver's All-Time Baseball Greats (1984), with Marty Appel; Great Moments in Baseball (1992), also with Appel; and even a murder mystery, Beanball: Murder at the World Series (1989), with Herb Resnicow.

Seaver, known by fans as "Tom Terrific," was an icon in late 1960s New York, one of the athletic embodiments of a youth culture that seemed to defy received wisdom and break down barriers. His poise and maturity—and the intelligence evident in his deep study of the game and his concentration on the mound—reflected the thoughtful, intense spirit of the times. Seaver's contributions to American sports broadened after his playing days, as he became a recognized authority on baseball and one of the most respected and well-known athletes of his era. Seaver was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on 7 January 1992, being named on a record 98.84 percent of the ballots.

Seaver collaborated on three autobiographical books: The Perfect Game: Tom Seaver and the Mets (1970), with Dick Schaap; Baseball Is My Life (1973), with Steve Jacobson; and Tom Seaver: Portrait of a Pitcher (1978), with Malka Drucker. Biographies of Seaver include George Sullivan, Tom Seaver of the Mets (1971); John Devaney, Tom Seaver: An Intimate Portrait (1974); Paul J. Deegan, Tom Seaver (1974); Dick Belsky, Tom Seaver: Baseball's Superstar (1977); Gene Schoor, Seaver: A Biography (1986); and Norman L. Macht, Tom Seaver (1994).

Michael Betzold

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