He was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. He also was one of the “classiest,” representing himself, his team his city with style and dignity.
Tom Seaver — "Tom Terrific” — passed away Wednesday at the age of 75. He had been suffering from acute dementia.
He’s known as the greatest Met of all time, but also pitched for the Reds, where he threw a no-hitter and recorded his 3,000th strikeout, and ended his 20-year run with the Red Sox.
But in 1984 through late June 1986 he was a member of the White Sox. And it was with the White Sox he had one of the greatest moments in franchise history, beating the Yankees on August 4, 1985 in Yankee Stadium, 4-1, to record his 300th career win.
The career of Seaver ranked as one of the greatest ever in the game, with 311 wins, three Cy Youngs, 12 All-Star Games (playing in eight), five seasons of 20 or more wins, the 1967 National League Rookie of the Year, 1969 World Series champion and Baseball Hall of Fame enshrinement in 1992.
Seaver was also studious in his craft, taking the time to dissect hitters, pour over scouting reports and hone his mechanics to the point where he never really had any arm issues despite throwing more than 4,700 innings.
He came to the White Sox in January 1984 as part of the free agent compensation pool from the Mets, where he was playing for a second stint. To show you how serious Seaver was about the game and his future, when Sox co-owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn showed up late in the night at his hotel suite to tell him the Sox selected him, Seaver made them show identification first!
The owners convinced Seaver to join the club which was coming off of a 99-win season in 1983 and appeared to have the makings of the best starting staff in the majors. Seaver would pair up with Cy Young winner LaMarr Hoyt, Richard Dotson, Floyd Bannister and Britt Burns in a killer rotation.
At the All-Star break in 1984, the White Sox had won seven straight and were leading the division before falling apart in the second half. Seaver, though, was masterful, with 33 games started, 236 innings pitched, 15 wins and an ERA of 3.95 — in his first season pitching in the designated-hitter American League.
Sox manager Tony La Russa called his 1985 club one of his all-time favorites in an interview with me. He based it on how the team rebounded from 1984, the chemistry they had, and their final record of 85-77 to finish a solid third in a good division. Seaver continued to show pitching mastery: 33 games started, 238 innings pitched, 16 wins and an ERA of 3.15.
When I asked Tony what it was like being around Tom and having the chance to manage him, he said, “It was one of my greatest fortunes to be with him those two years. He won 15 games each season and he had the most brilliant mind to go with his great talent. He taught me a lot. He taught me how a pitcher thinks … how a winning pitcher thinks and sets up hitters.”
But Tom wasn’t all work and no play. Teammates told me he was a great guy to have in the clubhouse, with a sense of humor who when he wasn’t pitching liked to do things any average person would enjoy.
Sox catcher Marc Hill had Seaver live with him as his guest when he played with the Sox, and saw a different side of him. “Tom actually lived at my house," Hill said. "My family went back to Florida, and he didn't want to live downtown. Tom liked to play golf on the day after he pitched, so he lived with me in Naperville. Tom loved to grill in the backyard. He'd love to grill any kind of fish, have some vegetables and pop open a cold Heineken. He was a very good person to be around, very class guy, too.
"Tom was a better pitcher when he was with us then back in the day when he was with the Mets. He couldn't throw as hard as he used to — I'd say he threw about 88 mph tops — but he was a lot smarter. He knew how to pitch hitters and set them up. Tom had a good curveball and a changeup.
"Certain pitchers — the Seavers the Bob Gibsons — if you're a hitter and you know you have to face them on that day, it does something to you mentally. Only the great hitters find a way to overcome that."
Seaver’s greatest day with the Sox came in front of a full house at Yankee Stadium, in his first attempt to get win 300.
The Yankees actually scored first off Seaver, on an RBI single by Ken Griffey in the third inning. The Sox, though, came back with four runs in the sixth inning. Tim Hulett’s double scored Carlton Fisk. Ozzie Guillén’s single scored Oscar Gamble with the eventual winning run, and Bryan Little’s single plated Hulett and Luis Salazar.
Having been given the lead Seaver went to work, retiring six straight before the Yankees staged a rally. With two out and runners on the corners, Seaver struck out Dave Winfield on a low outside fastball, perfectly placed.
Then in the ninth inning with a man on, Harold Baines climbed the wall in right field and robbed Willie Randolph of extra bases for the second out. Seaver, who admitted his was tiring, walked Mike Pagliarulo to bring up the potential tying run in Don Baylor. But Baylor swung at a moving Seaver fastball and flied out to left fielder Reid Nichols for the final out.
History was made, as the crowd gave Seaver a standing ovation and he was mobbed by his teammates before going over and hugging his wife Nancy and his daughters.
It was his crowning moment.
In 1986, with the Sox going nowhere, he was traded home to Boston for Steve Lyons in late June. He went 5-7 for Boston in their stretch run to the pennant, but was left off the postseason roster and retired.
Seaver went into the Hall of Fame wearing a Mets cap, but in three seasons on the South Side he made his presence felt. He was simply a magnificent pitcher: graceful, cerebral and powerful.
Tom Seaver … rest in peace.