John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Tom Seaver is the living, breathing embodiment of the 1969 Miracle Mets, so the news that he has dementia is bound to cast a pall over this summer's 50th anniversary celebration of that championship team.
The Hall of Fame pitcher won't be able to attend the ceremony at Citi Field, and while the Mets on Thursday said they plan to honor him in his absence, there's no way to avoid the sense of sadness that prevails when the one guy everyone wants to see will be missing.
However, it does make for something of a perfect opportunity to right a long-standing wrong and lift the spirits for Mets' fans everywhere in the process:
Unveil a Seaver statue outside the ballpark that night.
It would be a long-overdue tribute to a pitcher whose importance to the franchise can't be overstated.
Indeed, he's not called The Franchise for nothing: Seaver's greatness as a young pitcher was at the heart of the remarkable '69 season, when he won 25 games, earned the first of his three Cy Young Awards, and finished as the MVP runner-up in the National League.
As such, no one was more responsible for transforming the Mets from lovable losers, famous for going 40-120 in their expansion season of 1962, to the team that shocked the baseball world in '69, knocking off the mighty Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
Mets' fans long have clamored for the organization to embrace its own history in more visible ways, and new GM Brodie Van Wagenen seems to be pushing ownership in that direction, just this week hiring Al Leiter as a front-office advisor while also expanding John Franco's mostly ceremonial role to be more a part of the baseball side of the operation.
Van Wagenen has spoken publicly about wanting to create a more positive feeling about the Mets' history, and suffice it to say nothing would be a more symbolic step in that direction than a statue to honor Seaver.
You could even make the case that it would help heal whatever wounds remain from the way management bungled the later years of Seaver's career, needlessly preventing him from being a lifetime Met.
First came the infamous 1977 trade, when the Mets enraged their fans by dealing Seaver to the Reds essentially over a salary dispute that became personal for a lot of reasons with owner M. Donald Grant.
Then, after bringing Seaver back in a 1982 trade so he could end his career in New York, the Mets failed to protect him in a free-agent compensation draft and were embarrassed when the White Sox claimed him - more so when he earned his 300th win in 1984 at Yankee Stadium while pitching for Chicago.
So Seaver never got a proper sendoff as a Met, but he did earn recognition as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, being elected into the Hall of Fame in 1992 by what was then the highest-ever percentage of votes - 98.84 percent.
The Mets retired Seaver's No. 41 in 1988, and they had him throw a final ceremonial pitch to Mike Piazza when they closed down Shea Stadium in 2008 before moving to Citi Field the following season.
But Seaver hasn't been around the Mets in retirement, preferring to spend his time at home in California, where he loved tending to his vineyards and producing his own wine label.
Over the years he struggled with memory loss, which was attributed at least partly to a bout of Lyme disease, so perhaps it wasn't a total surprise to hear that he has been diagnosed with dementia, but it is shocking nevertheless.
Seaver, 74, was such a vibrant personality, both as a player and even as a broadcaster, where he worked nationally with ABC but enjoyed nothing more than needling Phil Rizzuto while working in New York as part of Yankee telecasts.
And while he wasn't always the easiest interview, when he was in the mood nobody spoke more eloquently or passionately about what he called "the art of pitching."
He was the quintessential power pitcher of his era, famous for his drop-and-drive style that would leave his uniform dirtied at the knee, yet Seaver loved the cat-and-mouse game of outsmarting hitters as well as throwing the fastball, changing speeds with his secondary pitches.
"What's with these guys and this obsession today with velocity?" Seaver railed in an interview with the Daily News' Bill Madden in 2017. "How about just pitch? Learn how to pitch."
In the end, that mentality, that mastery of his craft, is what allowed Seaver to pitch 20 years in the big leagues and produce a record of 311-205, along with 3,640 strikeouts and a 2.86 ERA.
Such brilliance will still be celebrated during the '69 reunion, but it won't be the same without Seaver on hand. Dementia is a cruel disease and there is no getting around the sadness you feel upon hearing the news.
A statue won't change any of that. But on the June night when the Mets honor the '69 championship team, finally unveiling such a structure in Seaver's honor would make the ceremony feel a little less empty.