Coutinho: Tom Seaver, New York’s All-Time Greatest Pitcher

By Rich Coutinho
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On MLB Network’s “Studio 42” with Bob Costas, Hall of Famer Tom Seaver will discuss a multitude of topics, including why current day pitchers can’t seem to finish games.

The network was kind enough to send me a screener – the episode airs tonight – and it is an absolute must-watch. Listening to Seaver got me to thinking about his greatness. Not only what he meant to Mets fans, but also to the sport of baseball.

To fully understand his importance consider this important fact: no player in baseball history — not Ruth, Gehrig, Musial, Williams nor DiMaggio — received a larger percentage of Hall of Fame votes upon his induction than Seaver. He was an icon in New York and season after season was as dominating a pitcher as there was in the sport.

To Mets fans, Seaver was the first player we could say had star power. When he burst onto the scene in 1967, he gave the team hope for the future. As a 7-year-old boy, my first trip to a ballpark was to see Seaver in his rookie year. My dad didn’t have much money and worked 60 hours a week as a laborer, but told me on my birthday he would take to see the Mets.

And as he put it, “I want you to see Tom Seaver pitch because years from now, you will understand his greatness.”

So, I got a chance to see a ballgame in living color (at that point all we had in our living room was a black and white TV). I saw Seaver win a game and at the same time saw another player I idolized, Henry Aaron, as the Mets beat the Atlanta Braves. I’m sure there are tons of stories like this. Seaver won so many games at Shea. But the thing that always impressed me about The Franchise is he pitched with smarts, elegance and above all, a will to win that the Mets sorely needed. The arrival of Gil Hodges in 1968 put a fire in the manager’s chair as well,  but make no mistake — this was Seaver’s team.

And then came 1969.

I don’t know if this town has ever experienced a bigger 12 months in pro sports. The Jets won the Super Bowl, the Mets won the World Series and then the Knicks took home an NBA title. The three biggest stars in town were Seaver, Joe Namath and Walt Frazier  — and all three were champions. I remember a game early in that ’69 season when the Mets reached .500, which was a tremendous feat considering the team had lost every Opening Day in their history (and had only escaped the cellar twice in their eight year history). Seaver said, “.500 is not an accomplishment — our goals are far higher than that.”  Those words were indeed prophetic as the Mets spent the summer chasing the Chicago Cubs, but by mid-August fell to 9.5 games back of the crew from the Windy City.

From that point on, the Mets were unbeatable as Seaver and Jerry Koosman were nearly flawless down the stretch. Seaver went 25-7 capturing his first of three Cy Young Awards and won two postseason games for the Miracle Mets.  Four years later, Seaver pitched great down the stretch again as the Mets returned to the World Series before succumbing to the Oakland A’s in 7 games.

In a way, that 1969 World Series was the end of an era in baseball. Soon, cookie cutter AstroTurf fields would be commonplace. There would be fewer day World Series games — if any — and free agency would forever change the finances of the game.

Seaver was in many ways the poster child for what baseball was — and what it would become.

Those 1969 Mets were as pure a baseball story as there is: a 100 to 1 shot becoming the best in the world. But changes were coming and Seaver’s Mets uniform would become a casualty of the changing times. A bitter feud with Chairman Of The Board M. Donald Grant made the unthinkable happen. Seaver was traded for four players from the Cincinnati Reds — none of which would help the Mets.

The franchise would never be the same until Frank Cashen arrived with a plan to re-build it via a solid farm system and some crafty trades. Seaver would return to the Mets in 1983, but as a shell of his former self. He would go on to win 311 games and ironically, win No. 300 at Yankee Stadium was notched as a member of the Chicago White Sox. But when he went into Cooperstown on his first ballot, he went in as a New York Met–the only “true New York Met” in The Hall Of Fame.

I know when time passes in life, we hear older people talk about players and we laugh. I am here to tell here that Seaver will forever be the greatest player in Mets history. He is the one person that made this team relevant in NYC. Before he came, they were a laughingstock. By the time he left, he gave Mets fans two pennants and a World Championship that will forever live in the annals of New York sports history.

He also gave Mets fans another important gift: he elevated them to a more important place in the city than the hated Yankees, who from his arrival in 1967 through 1975, were an afterthought when compared to the Mets, much in the same way the 80’s Mets did a decade later.

So, the next time you go to Citi Field, go to the Mets museum and see what Tom Terrific meant to the team. Take to your children to Cooperstown and tell them about the 25-7 season, the 1.76 ERA season, the near perfect game in 1969 and more importantly, tell them you don’t have to be the tallest, biggest or strongest person to be successful. Seaver was none of those things. But he was the always the best prepared and smartest player on the field. He was always able to get the most out of his ability. He hated to lose and knew that greatness is only achieved if we win on the days we don’t have our best stuff.

Growing up watching Seaver was a life lesson for me. Be professional. Be prepared. Be Flexible. Be a good teammate.

Rules to live by, and Seaver illustrated all of them, every day I saw him pitch — and as a reporter, every time I listened to what he had to say.

Do you rank Tom Terrific as NYC’s all-time greatest pitcher? Let Coutinho know in the comments below…

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  • frostysfatdad

    great article. you really summed it up. i was too young for Seaver Part 1. And who can forget hiw 1987 comeback (#2) to the Mets, aborted in spring training when he retired. How amazing could it have been to see him and Gooden pitch together.

  • BOB

    as Mike said Whitey

  • Herb

    Wow! Sounds like a man-crush to me! Please note you didn’t say starting pitcher – you said pitcher. I’ll offer up Whitey Ford as the best Starter ever in NYC. But, if you choose any pitcher, starter or reliever, it has to be Mariano Rivera.

    • frank

      whitey ford had alot more run support no comparison,seaver was best ever in ny

    • Tom

      A joke – no relief pitcher rates ahead of a top starter. Mo got to the bullpen because he flopped as a starter initially, remember? Put Seaver, Ford, etc into a close role, and they would obviously close out most games. But Rivera into a starter role and there’s no way he comes close to those guys.

      • FYI

        The question here was the greatest pitcher to ever wear a NY uniform.

        Mo was a pitcher, the greatest of them all in New York.

        Here’s something you will see in the coming years, Mariano River will be the first 100% Hall of Famer. His career numbers speak for themselves, no joke.

        • Tom

          Greatest pitcher, exactly. And the greatest pitcher is not a relief pitcher. Ever. There’s a reason a pitcher is sent to the bullpen – his talent is too limited to succeed as a starter.

          • FYI

            OK Tom, don’t have a heart attack. We’ll put Seaver right up there with Mo. Does that make the big baby feel better? Did the pain in your chest go away? very good, glad to help.

            I’m sure Seaver could have used Mo back in his days; he would have easily won 450 games and be considered the greatest pitcher ever, with Mo’s help of course.

            In baseball, the PITCHER is the player who throws the baseball from the pitcher’s mound toward the catcher.

            Gee, what a cry baby.

            • shamsky24

              If all Tom Seaver ever had to do was come into a game with the bases empty and pitch one inning night after night, he’d have saved about 1000 games. But he didn’t have to, because unlike Mariano Rivera, Seaver played in an era when pitchers were expected to finish what they started.

              Rivera is the best ever at what he does, but what he does pales in difficulty in comparison to the role of a starting pitcher. Tom Seaver was the best pitcher in NY history. Deal with it.

            • herb

              FYI… thanks for the support! I’d take you into battle with me anytime! Lol!!! This is why I specifically said what I said. The writer did not take exception to relievers, so, I felt it was ok to mention Rivera. Any conversation that talks about best pitchers anywhere, must take into consideration Mariano Rivera from now on. thanks again!

              • Tom

                Anyone who puts Mo in the same breath with Seaver knows zero about baseball.

                • ...

                  And this coming from a Mets fan. Makes you wonder where you got your baseball knowledge. I’m sure it’s not from watching the Mets. The only thing you learn from them is losing.

    • FYI

      Great point, the Yankees do not win all those titles without Mo closing. During the Yankees long run in the last 17 yrs (12 AL East Div., 7 Pennants & 5 WS Titles & 16 playoffs appearances) Mo has been the most important player on the team and during the post season is when Mo is at his best.

      There’s a reason why Mo Rivera is the best closer in baseball history.
      Best pitcher (closer or starter) to EVER wear a NY uniform.

      • shamsky24

        Yes, there’s a reason why Mo River is the best closer in baseball history: it’s because when he was given a chance to be a starter, he flopped.

        No disrespect to Rivera, but starting is just a much tougher job. Just ask Rich Gossage, another HOF reliever who couldn’t cut it as a starting pitcher.

  • WHAT!!!

    Let’s not go crazy in saying “his importance consider this important fact: no player in baseball history — not Ruth, Gehrig, Musial, Williams nor DiMaggio — received a larger percentage of Hall of Fame votes upon his induction than Seaver.”

    Those players are baseball Icons. Seaver was great, but his name will never be mentioned in the same breath as those Hall of Famer immortals.

    Ruth, Gehrig, Musial, Williams, DiMaggio, Mantle, Cobbs, Mathewson, Mays, Walter Johnson are first tier greats

    Seaver would fall in the second tier all time greats with Ford, Koufax & Rose

    Hall of fame votes is pure nonsense & meaningless, Ozzie Smith got 91%, Mantle received just 88.2% & DiMaggio received 88.84%.

    Does this mean that Ozzie was better than those two immortals?

    Smith does not even belong in the Hall.

    Coutinho is a die-hard Mets fan and everything about the Mets he considers great and here he’s grasping for straws to even say look at Seaver Hall of Fames votes compare to those great Icons.

    • Tom

      Seaver is easily one of the top ten pitchers of all time, of course his name belongs in the same conversation with the others. He was also a better pitcher than Matthewson when you compare each guy’s stats to the norm for the era each played in.

      • ?

        Coutinho finally wrote something that’s true, and I’ll quote “To Mets fans, Seaver was the first player we could say had star power

        Key words there Tom ‘To Mets fans”

  • Pat F

    I don’t need to watch that show to know that he was great – anyone that has heard him on a broadcast has heard him say it plenty.

    • Paul

      Spoken like a true Yankees fan!!!

      • Pat F

        That is the worst insult I have ever heard.

  • Wombat Attack

    There have been a lot of great pitchers in New York history, but the two that stand out head and shoulders over all the rest are Mathewson and Seaver. As a Mets fan, to be fair, I have to say that Mathewson has the edge over Seaver. It’s close. Like Seaver I believe Mathewson pitched for one world series champion: the 1905 Giants – and he had the greatest series ever by a pitcher – 3 complete game shutouts. That is why I have to give the edge to Christy.

    • shamsky24

      Matthnewson pitched in an era when a sluggers were 150-pound white guys and anyone who threw 90 mph was a freak of nature. He was great in his time, but he could never have enjoyed that kind of success in Seaver’s era..

  • Pete Nabel

    Why haven’t the Mets erected a Tom Seaver statue outside of Chit Field??

    It’s an embarrassment!

  • ...

    Shame he played for the worst of all the NY teams in baseball. All those Mets teams SUCKED big time other then the ‘69 team.

    The ’73 Mets were lucky. Their .509 winning percentage is the lowest of any pennant-winner in major league history as of 2011.

    That goes to show how great Seaver was.

  • Tom

    Seaver is No. 1 in NY history, beating out Christy Matthewson (by a little) and Whitey Ford (by a lot). A winning pct. more than 100 points higher than his teams’, a 2.40-odd ERA his first ten years (2.86 for his entire career, including the later years when his dominant days were behind him), and three Cy Young Awards (and he didn’t even get it in his best season – 1971).

  • Mike

    Whitey Ford …

    • shamsky24

      A very distant third behind Seaver and Matthewson. Fourth if one considers Sandy Koufax a NY pitcher (although he really wasn’t).

  • IHC

    No doubt, Tom is the greatest pitcher to ever grace any NY uniform. As an afterthought, I will always wonder how great Doc Gooden would have been if not for the demons that he allowed to capture and destroy his career. He could have been another “great.”

  • Paul

    As a Mets seasons ticket holder, I scheduled my visits to Shea around Tom Seaver’s pitching schedule. I cried when he was traded. My 19 year old son recently cried when Reyes was traded; guess it runs in the family. Tom Terrific gave all Mets fans something that will always be remembered. None better.

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