By Glen Sparks
A Dodger scout named Tommy LaSorda drove to USC one spring day in 1965 to scout a Trojan right-hander named Tom Seaver. LaSorda liked Seaver well enough. He wrote in his report that the kid from Fresno displayed “good aptitude” and that he threw a fastball “with good life.” His already “good” curveball had the potential to get even better, LaSorda wrote. (Lasorda uses the word “good” eight times in his report. It’s a, eh, good report.)
Seaver posted a 10-2 record for USC in 1965. The Dodgers drafted him in the 10th round of the MLB draft. Seaver, who, according to LaSorda, “wants to beat you,” asked for $70,000. The pitching-rich Dodgers (Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, etc.) said “no.”
A year later, Seaver signed with the New York Mets following a convoluted mess. The Atlanta Braves had selected him in the first round of the June amateur draft. Baseball Commissioner Spike Eckert, though, ruled the contract null and void. Seaver signed the deal after USC had played a couple of exhibition games, Eckert pointed out. That violated Major League rules even though Seaver didn’t pitch in any of those games.
The Mets won Seaver’s rights in a draft lottery held soon afterward. The power pitcher with the distinct drop-and-drive delivery compiled a 311-205 won-loss record in a 20-year big league career (most memorably with the Mets, but also with the 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.
Below is a list of some Seaver’s career highlights. The great right-hander :
- struck out at least 200 batters for nine straight seasons (1968-76);
- led the National League in strikeouts five times and threw 61 career shutouts;
- struck out 19 consecutive Padres in one game, including the final 10;
- posted a 1.76 ERA in 1971 with 289 strikeouts;
- completes two seasons with WARs above 10 (1971 and 1973);
- helped the Miracle Mets of 1969 to a World Series title and the You Gotta Believe Mets of 1973 to an N.L. pennant;
- pitched a no-hitter June 16, 1978;
- won at least 20 games five times; and
- made 12 All-Star teams.
Bill James rated Seaver as the sixth-best pitcher of all-time 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 to “Tom Terrific,” born Nov. 17, 1944, in Fresno, Calif.
(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.)