By Joe Rini
His laughter was a high pitched cackling laugh of joy.
The uniform number 41…the steaming fastball powdered by his locomotive legs with his drop and drive delivery punctuated by a dirt stained right knee..yet to me, the foremost image I have a Tom Seaver is the image I saw on TV as a six year old first grader in Brooklyn, the image of the joyous, boyish man of 24 celebrating in the clubhouse with his teammates the improbable championship of the 1969 Mets.
Tom Seaver was the Mets and the Mets have been a major part of my life since captivating my imagination with their championship in 1969. I never met Tom Seaver yet he has been a part of my life’s journey.
For Mets fans who share a city with the memory of Yankee legends like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle in addition to the legacies of the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, Tom Seaver was our legend and all-time great that no one can take away from us, not even death.
My Dad would take me to a game or two on his vacation when I was a kid and Labor Day 1975 found us at Shea Stadium. On this day, Seaver was not only seeking his 20th win but six strikeouts would give him 200 for an unprecedented eight seasons in a row. As we sat in the mezzanine along the right field line, Seaver pitched a four hit shutout and I can still see my Dad’s pumped-first, pencil in hand, and the explosion of the crowd as Seaver fanned Manny Sanguilen in the seventh inning, a strikeout immortalized in my Dad’s scorecard with a circled letter “K.”
I haven’t seen my eighth grade autograph book in years but I still remember what my buddy Tom wrote in my book in June 1977: “A girl for a guy who thought Seaver wouldn’t be trade” a few days after the Mets inexplicacbly had done just that. Full disclosure. I also remember my Grandma Maggie wrote on a blue page, “May you never be the color of this page.”
I was in college six years later and after my last class on April 5, 1983, I headed to Shea Stadium via the subway from Manhattan. Exiting the number 7 train, I joined my buddies Pat and Tom in the upper deck behind home plate just in time to join the roar of the crowd as Seaver made his way to the field from the bullpen in right field. The Franchise was back.
In a match-up with Steve Carlton and Phillies, a team seemingly filled with future Hall of Famers, Seaver struck out Pete Rose to leading off the game and he pitched six shutout innings enroute to a 2-0 Mets victory, with the Mets first run being driven in by Mike Howard, an outfielder as innocuous as Seaver was iconic.
And then suddenly, Seaver was gone again after one season. Instead of the malicious dismissal at the hands of M. Donald Grant in 1977, the new Mets front office lost him in a move that was as bewildering a blunder as a dropped popup.
Seaver was gone but he thrived as his absence from the Mets kept them out of the postseason in 1984 and 1985. Mets fans cheered as he picked up his 300th win in New York City, albeit at Yankee Stadium in a White Sox uniform. That oddness of Seaver winning number 300 at Yankee Stadium was matched a year later as the Mets won the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium with Seaver in a Red Sox uniform in the visiting team’s dugout.
After an abortive comeback in 1987, Seaver retired and on July 24, 1988, Pat, Tom, and I sat in the Loge section behind third base as the Mets officially retired his number 41. As Seaver ran to the mound to bow to the fans in all corners of the stadium, I shook my head in the presence of his greatness and told my friends we’d never see another Met like him again.
And now days after his death, I find myself at 57-years-old closer to Seaver’s age at his passing, 75, than his age of 24 in 1969, I say again, “We’ll never see another Met like him again.”
He was The Franchise and there will never be another Franchise.