Tom Seaver was the prince of New York City. He was the greatest New York Met of all time and there is no close second. He was the Franchise, Tom Terrific, the Hall of Fame ace of the 1969 Miracle Mets.
Books were written about him, movies were made, and when it was learned he died this week, all three New York metropolitan dailies ripped up their front pages and started anew with tributes to Tom Seaver.
New York, New York. That was Tom Seaver.
But he also pitched the final games of his career for the Boston Red Sox in 1986. And if he hadn’t hurt his knee in Toronto in late September, he would have started Game 4 of the World Series against the Mets instead of Al Nipper. With Seaver in the rotation, I believe the Red Sox would have won that haunting World Series.
“It was great to have him there with us,” Roger Clemens recalled Thursday.
Clemens was 24 years old and on his way to a 24-4 MVP season when Seaver joined the Red Sox in ’86.
“That was a special time,” said Bruce Hurst, who beat the Mets twice in the ’86 Classic. “Tom Seaver was my idol. I got to pitch in the World Series and sit in the dugout at Shea Stadium with Tom Seaver and Roger Clemens as my teammates. The magic of that was not lost on me.”
The late Lou Gorman acquired Seaver from the White Sox at the end of June in 1986 while the surprising Red Sox (81-81 in 1985) dominated the AL East thanks in part to Clemens, who was 14-0 when Seaver arrived.
Ken Harrelson was general manager of the White Sox in 1986, and the Hawk accepted Boston utilityman Steve “Psycho” Lyons straight up for Seaver. Baltimore Sun baseball scribe Tim Kurkjian quickly dubbed the deal “Cy Young for Psycho.”
The only person upset about the deal in the Sox clubhouse was DH Don Baylor, who ran the kangaroo court. Lyons was always getting fined for boneheaded plays and most recently had been docked for ending a game in Milwaukee by getting thrown out attempting to steal third base with .400-hitting Wade Boggs at the plate.
“Lyons is our main source of income,” Baylor complained.
It was a great trade for Boston. Getting the 41-year-old Seaver in the summer of 1986 was like recruiting Walter Cronkite to anchor the Channel 4 news. Grandmaster Seaver was the first 300-game winner to take the mound wearing a Sox uniform since Lefty Grove.
He started 16 games for Boston, going 5-7 with a 3.80 ERA. He didn’t get a lot of run support, but he gave the Sox a chance to win every time he took the mound. He pitched at least six innings in 12 of 16 starts and hurled a complete-game 6-1 victory in Detroit, fanning nine and walking one. By today’s standards, he was Iron Man McGinnity. At the age of 41.
“I take pride in being a power pitcher, and I learned it from Tom Seaver,” said Clemens. “Growing up, looking at the guy’s mechanics, you could see that he got his strength from his leg drive.
“Then when he came to us, I’d watch him out there and he’s 41 years old, throwing 88-89, and we’d get to the fifth inning and there’s trouble — guys on second and third and no outs — and you watch and next thing you know he pumps a couple of 93-mile-an-hour heaters on the outside corner. Because he needed a strikeout.”
The Sox’ magic number for clinching the division was down to 6 when Seaver last got the ball in Toronto on Sept. 19. With two out in the fourth, Seaver felt something pop in his right knee when he threw a pitch to Jays second baseman Manny Lee, who singled to left.
Seaver stayed in the game and got Tony Fernandez to fly to right, but that was it. He came off the field, was examined by Blue Jays team doctor Ron Taylor (a teammate of Seaver’s on the 1969 Mets), and made plans to return to Boston the next day.
He had a slight tear of a ligament in his right knee. The Sox hoped he could return for the postseason, but those hopes never materialized. After 311 wins and three Cy Young Awards, Seaver’s career was over. He was in the third base dugout — the visitors dugout — at Shea Stadium when all the bad stuff happened to Bill Buckner, John McNamara, Bob Stanley, Calvin Schiraldi, and the rest at the end of October.
Hurst beat the Mets in Games 1 and 5, then came back on short rest and almost beat them again in Game 7 . . . before the deluge.
“Every game I pitched in that Series, Seaver had things to say to me between innings,” Hurst recalled Thursday. “He was on the bench with us the whole time. He would make these little statements about the absolutes of pitching: get ahead of the hitters, get the first out of the inning. Important things like that. It was like attending the University of Seaver.”
Seaver pitched at USC — where he was a dentistry major — and was a rare professional baseball player who went to museums and carried books on buses and airplanes. Traveling with the ’86 Red Sox, I learned that if I wanted to buy the hotel’s single copy of the New York Times, I had to get up early and beat Seaver to the gift shop. He did the Times crossword puzzle every day.
We made a deal that whoever got the Times first would bring it to the ballpark to share. Trust me when I tell you that I never had this arrangement with Johnny Damon or Manny Ramirez.
“I think Tom’s intellect was off the charts,” said Hurst. “If he didn’t have a photographic memory, he was darn close. He just had so many important things to say. He literally wrote the book on pitching: ‘The Art of Pitching.’ Just like Ted Williams wrote ‘The Science of Hitting.’ I teach pitching to kids all over the world and I use Tom’s book.”
Seaver was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992. He died Monday of complications from Lewy body dementia and COVID-19. He was 75 years old.