What I’m Hearing: Bob Nightingale on the passing of baseball player Tom Seaver
NEW YORK – The legend began on a spring day in Florida more than 50 years ago.
The Mets were still a laughingstock in baseball then. Five straight losing seasons had soured their reputation. Another last-place finish was on the way.
The franchise had little hope, but it had Tom Seaver. And when the 22-year-old rookie took the mound, his teammates realized that everything was about to change.
“We knew from Day 1 that Tom Seaver was going to be a star,” first baseman Ed Kranepool said. “Once he stepped on the field at Huggins-Stengel Field for Spring Training, he had everything going for him. He had poise, he had class, he had a great arm and a great work ethic.”
“It was a changing of the organization, a changing of the guard.”
Tributes poured in around the Mets world on Thursday after the passing of legendary pitcher Tom Seaver.
Seaver, the greatest player in Mets history, died on Monday at the age of 75 from complications from Lewy body dementia and COVID-19, according to a release from the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Mets held a moment of silence on Thursday before their matinee against the Yankees. A video montage played on the board at Citi Field. A 12-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young winner, Seaver left an indelible mark on the franchise.
“When you played behind Tom Seaver, you were playing behind greatness,” outfielder Ron Swoboda said. “And you saw it almost every time.”
For 12 years, the Mets got to witness one of the greatest pitchers in major league history. Seaver went 311-205 in his Hall of Fame career. He won the NL ERA title three times. He recorded 231 complete games, an unthinkable achievement today.
It all added up to a 78.8 career WAR as a Met. No other player cracked 50 with the team.
“It’s just unbelievable to look at the numbers and all the awards and everything that he did,” manager Luis Rojas said. “It is very special to see that.”
For Rojas, the loss of Seaver was personal. Rojas’ dad Felipe Alou became friends with Seaver after facing off early in their careers. Alou fondly recalled the time when he got a hit off the young right-hander.
“My dad was already in the Big Leagues for a couple of years and he stared down my dad like you’re lucky,” Rojas said. “You’re lucky that you got that one.”
“This kid back then was pretty sure of himself. He knew that he could beat you.”
Former teammates described Seaver as a player who not only changed the pitching staff, but the mood of the team. It was clear from his first season in 1967, when Seaver won 16 games and the Rookie of the Year award. Whenever it was his turn to pitch, the fledgling Mets could expect to be competitive.
‘THE FRANCHISE’: 5 most impressive numbers of Seaver’s career
“Tom Seaver was the Tom Seaver that he’d be for the next 10, 15 years,” Swoboda said. “Complete confidence in his power stuff and command and control and focus of himself. His personality was incredible. He knew who he was. He had both hands on the steering wheel and he knew where the car was going. That wasn’t true with all of us, but it was with Tom Seaver.”
Seaver would go on to become the Mets all-time leader in wins, strikeouts and shutouts, among others.
“He was our franchise,” Kranepool said. “He turned the organization around from a laughingstock ball club to a competitive team instantly.”
“We weren’t so sure of ourselves. But he had us believing in ourselves.”
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