“Tom Terrific” Turns 70 Today

By Glen Sparks

A Dodger scout by the name of Tommy LaSorda drove to USC one spring day in 1965 to scout a Trojan right-hander by the name of Tom Seaver. LaSorda liked Seaver well enough. He wrote in his report that the kid from Fresno had “good aptitude” and that he threw a fastball “with good life.” His already “good” curveball could get even better, LaSorda wrote. (Lasorda uses the word “good” eight times in his report. It’s a, eh, good report.)

Happy birthday, Tom Seaver.

Happy birthday, Tom Seaver.

Seaver posted a 10-2 record for USC in 1965. The Dodgers drafted him in the 10th round. Seaver, who, according to LaSorda, “wants to beat you,” asked for $70,000. The pitching-rich Dodgers (Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, etc.) said “no.”

The following season, Seaver signed with the New York Mets after a convoluted mess. The Atlanta Braves had selected him in the first round, but Baseball Commissioner Spike Eckert ruled his contract null and void. Seaver had signed the deal while the USC season was going on. That violated Major League rules even though the pitcher had yet to play a game that year for the Trojans.

The Mets won Seaver’s rights in a draft lottery. The power pitcher with the distinct drop-and-drive delivery compiled a 311-205 won-loss record in a 20-year big league career  (with the Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox). He posted a 2.86 ERA (127 ERA+), struck out 3,640 batters (sixth on the all-time list) and retired with three Cy Young awards. In 1992, the baseball writers elected Seaver to the Hall of Fame with 98.84 percent of the vote, the highest percentage in history.

Here are some of Seaver’s career highlights:

  • Struck out at least 200 batters nine straight seasons
  • Struck out 19 consecutive Padres in one game, including the final 10
  • Posted a 1.76 ERA in 1971 with 289 strikeouts
  • Had two seasons with WARs above 10 (1971 and 1973)
  • Pitched a no-hitter June 16, 1978
  • Selected to 12 All-Star teams

Bill James rated Seaver as the sixth-best pitcher ever in his Historical Baseball Abstract and wrote that “there is actually a good argument that Tom Seaver should be regarded as the greatest pitcher of all time.”

Happy birthday No. 70, “Tom Terrific.”

(I highly recommend Pat Jordan’s feature article about Seaver. This is not simply a great piece of sports journalism. It is an emotional story of two friends talking about life, success, a few failures and the pure enjoyment of growing grapes in the California sunshine.)

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