Once upon a time, sports was a welcomed respite from everyday life, and in particular, politics. In contemporary America, professional sports has become an exercise in the leftist antics of spoiled, rich man-children who think nothing of disrespecting the nation that affords them the opportunity and freedom to be who they are.
Over 50 years ago, another leftist upheaval was taking place that created hippies, free love, rampant drug use, high divorce rates, enormous government growth, feminism, and affirmative action.
Moreover, in 1967, tens of thousands of young adults flocked to San Francisco to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” That same year, Tom Seaver, a native of nearby Fresno, California, found himself taking the mound for the worst team in Major League Baseball (MLB), the New York Mets.
Seaver was the antithesis of the counter-culture, a clean cut, hardworking hurler, whose expectation of winning came to him as natural as breathing. Perhaps such traits followed Seaver from his stint serving in the Marine Corps Reserve.
Seaver was more than an ace baseball pitcher for the Mets, but a stable and consistent presence amid an era of Americana that had veered terribly off-course. Seaver made his presence felt immediately by winning the 1967 National League’s Rookie of the Year award.
Seaver’s manager was another Marine named Gil Hodges, who was awarded the Bronze Star for valor while fighting on Okinawa during World War II, a fact lost on many people in MLB. Such heroics only underscore how Hodges was much more than just a great baseball player with the Dodgers and manager of the New York Mets, whom Seaver called a second father.
Hodges was at the helm when the Miracle Mets of 1969 shocked the MLB establishment by winning not only the National League pennant, but the World Series over a heavily favored Baltimore team despite losing the first game of the series.
Through it all, Seaver had 311 career wins, 198 with the Mets, 61 career shutouts, 41 with the Mets, 3640 career strikeouts, and three Cy Young awards, all while wearing a Mets uniform. Throughout their 58-year history, Seaver was the one truly great player who came up through the Mets’ farm system albeit briefly, and who was aptly dubbed, “The Franchise.”
For most New York baseball fans, the trade of Tom Seaver in June the following year was like a death in the family. Whether you were a Met or Yankee fan, you knew that Seaver was one of the great ones destined for Cooperstown. The shock was so deep-rooted that the New York press labeled it the Midnight Massacre and it would haunt the Mets’ universe for years to come.
The Mets sent The Franchise, who was simply the best pitcher in baseball, to the Cincinnati Reds, the defending World Series champion, no less, for four mediocre players. Free agency was new to MLB, and Seaver’s contract was up at the end of the season and the Mets had no intent on paying Seaver what he was worth.
The architect of the Mets’ version of the Titanic was M. Donald Grant, who would be vilified similar to Branch Rickey, who, 20 years before, took the Dodgers west to Los Angeles. It was then that I started to comprehend how diehard Dodger fans like my mother must have felt when the Boys of Summer deserted Brooklyn less than three years after they won their first World Series in 1955.
The Dodgers fleeing Brooklyn was like an open wound that has affected this proud New York City “Borough of Churches” arguably to this very day.
With Seaver gone, I was done with the Mets, but still followed The Franchise. When Seaver’s book “The Art of Pitching” came out long past his retirement in 1994, I could not resist even though my playing days were now antiquity.
Seaver’s death extinguished another light of my New York childhood. I have made it a point to watch numerous interviews and old games and have enjoyed that much more than the placard attended games now being foisted upon a COVID-19 public that seemingly wants to get back to the business of living and not like East Germany, circa 1967.
The expression “end of an era” is bandied about with such regularity that it has cheapened the coin of the realm. Era-endings include the fall of the Roman Empire, the demise of the rotary telephone, and to this columnist, the passing of The Franchise, Tom Seaver.