Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Project ShaqBox Remembers Tom Seaver

This week, Project Shaqbox remembers Tom Seaver’s turns with the Mets.
This week, Project Shaqbox remembers Tom Seaver’s turns with the Mets.
Image: (Getty Images)

I don’t know if I ever saw Tom Seaver pitch live. His last season was when I was 5, so it’s possible that at some point my parents did take me to a game where Seaver was on the mound, but if that happened, I don’t remember it.

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My memories of Seaver, who died on Monday, are as a broadcaster on Yankees games on WPIX. I also saw plenty of Seaver highlights, as one of the VHS tapes that I wore out as a kid was the Mets’ 25th anniversary film, “An Amazin’ Era.

So, this week, Project ShaqBox is all about The Franchise.

Illustration for article titled Project ShaqBox Remembers Tom Seaver
Image: Jesse Spector
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1984 Topps Tom Seaver

Seaver was 38 when he had his return season to the Mets in 1983, and he pitched pretty well, going 9-14 with a 3.55 ERA, completing five of his 34 starts. The next year, with the White Sox, Seaver tossed 10 complete games, including four shutouts.

Suffice to say, the game has changed quite a bit since the early 1980s. The last time any pitcher threw four shutouts was 2012, when Felix Hernandez had five. In 1984, Seaver was one of nine pitchers to do it, as Bob Ojeda and Geoff Zahn tied for the American League lead with five shutouts.

Zahn was 38 when he completed five scoreless games for the Angels. Since then, Rick Reuschel (1987), Bert Blyleven (1989), and Randy Johnson (2002) have had four-shutout seasons at age 38. No 39-year-old has had four shutouts in a season since Seaver did it for the 1984 White Sox.

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Of course, it wasn’t that common before him. In the modern era, the only other pitchers with four or more shutouts at age 39 or later are Cy Young (1907), Eddie Plank (1915), Babe Adams (1922), Jack Quinn (1928), Dazzy Vance (1930), Ted Lyons (1940), Early Wynn (1959 and 1960), Warren Spahn (1960, 1961, and 1963), and Phil Niekro (1978). All but Adams and Quinn are enshrined with Seaver in the Hall of Fame.

Illustration for article titled Project ShaqBox Remembers Tom Seaver
Image: Jesse Spector
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1982 Fleer Doug Flynn, 1983 Donruss Pat Zachry, 1984 Fleer Dave Kingman, 1977 Topps Joe Torre, 1979 Topps Bobby Valentine

Seaver had to come back to New York, of course, because they let him go in the first place, trading the best player in team history to Cincinnati as part of a series of trades known as the Midnight Massacre, at the trade deadline on June 15, 1977.

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For Seaver, the Mets got back Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, Dan Norman, and Pat Zachry. Flynn won a Gold Glove at second base in 1980, but also has the lowest career wins above replacement figure of anyone with at least 500 games played in the live ball era. A career .560 OPS will do that, no matter how good you might be in the field.

After the 1981 season, the Mets traded Flynn and Dan Boitano to the Rangers for Jim Kern, who never played a game for them because in February of 1982, the Mets traded Kern, Greg Harris, and Alex Trevino to the Reds for George Foster, who wound up reunited with Seaver on the 1983 Mets, and played for the 1986 Mets but was released that August.

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Norman played 139 games for the Mets over four seasons, hitting .227 with 11 homers. In 1981, he got traded with Jeff Reardon to the Expos for Ellis Valentine, who was on the downside of his career but a decent fourth outfielder for New York for a year and a half before leaving as a free agent. Reardon went on to be a four-time All-Star as a closer, so that wasn’t such a great trade, either.

Zachry, who had been the 1976 Rookie of the Year, was an All-Star in 1978, but struggled with injuries and never wound up putting it all together again. After the 1982 season, he was traded to the Dodgers for Jorge Orta, who, like Kern, never played a game for the Mets because they traded him in February of 1983 to Toronto for Steve Senteney, who also never played a game for the Mets before getting traded in June of 1983, along with Marvell Wynne, to Pittsburgh for Arthur Ray and Junior Ortiz, a catcher who played 108 games for the Mets in 1983 and 1984, putting up a .522 OPS and getting left unprotected for the Rule 5 draft, where he was picked back up by the Pirates.

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Henderson, meanwhile, was second to Andre Dawson in the 1977 Rookie of the Year vote but his 12 homers that year wound up being a career-high. And in February of 1981, the Mets traded him to the Cubs for… Dave Kingman.

Kingman was the other central figure in the Midnight Massacre, and the Padres were just the second of his four teams in 1977. He got claimed on waivers by the Angels on September 6, and traded back to New York and the eventual World Series champion Yankees on September 15.

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Kingman’s second go-around with the Mets lasted from 1981-83, and included him leading the National League with 37 homers in 1982, the first time a Met had won the home run crown. Kingman was joined by Darryl Strawberry with 39 homers in 1988 and Howard Johnson with 38 dingers in 1991, but remained the only righty Mets slugger to lead the league until last year, when Pete Alonso went deep a rookie record 53 times.

When Kingman played the last game of his first Mets stint, Joe Torre was their manager, but also a reserve first baseman. Torre played one more game for the Mets after the Midnight Massacre, flying out to right field as a pinch-hitter against the Astros on June 17, then became a full-time manager, which is how he wound up a Hall of Famer.

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In the sixth inning of Torre’s last game as a player, Torre the manager used Bobby Valentine, acquired in the Kingman trade, as a pinch-hitter ahead of himself. That was Valentine’s Mets debut, and he drew a walk.

Torre and Valentine, of course, wound up managing against each other when the Yankees beat the Mets in the 2000 World Series.

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Illustration for article titled Project ShaqBox Remembers Tom Seaver
Image: Jesse Spector

1986 Topps Ron Gardenhire, 1991 Donruss Dwight Gooden, 2019 Topps Jacob deGrom

Speaking of managers of the 21st century, Ron Gardenhire was one of the players the Mets chose to protect from the free-agent compensation draft between the 1983 and 1984 seasons, and the least defensible pick for that list, which Seaver was not on. So, in not so delicate terms, the Mets chose to keep Ron Gardenhire over Tom Seaver, and, hey, remember those 10 complete games and four shutouts Seaver pitched for the 1984 White Sox? Well, the Mets finished six and a half games behind the Cubs in the 1984 NL East race.

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Could Seaver have made a difference? Well, the Mets gave a combined 28 starts to Ed Lynch, Tim Leary, and Mike Torrez that year. Maybe!

The other thing that letting Seaver get away meant was that he never was officially teammates with Dwight Gooden, who debuted in 1984 and won the Rookie of the Year, just as Seaver had done in 1967. Gooden then won the Cy Young in 1985, joining Seaver in 1969, 1973, and 1975 as the only Mets to be honored as the league’s top pitcher. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey joined the Mets Cy Young club in 2012, and in the last two years, Jacob deGrom did what even Seaver never did, winning back-to-back Cy Youngs.

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That Cy Young lineage led to the best thing we saw all week, a side-by-side-by-side look at Seaver, Gooden, and deGrom.

PROJECT SHAQBOX CARDS OF THE WEEK

Illustration for article titled Project ShaqBox Remembers Tom Seaver
Image: Jesse Spector
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1993 Upper Deck Bret Saberhagen, 1991 Score Frank Viola (Dream Team)

Bret Saberhagen and Frank Viola were Cy Young winners in the American League, but not after they got to New York, perhaps because they insisted on throwing apples instead of baseballs after joining the Mets. And not even good apples, but Red Delicious. Tom Terrific would never.

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Do you want to get 10 random baseball cards in the mail? All you need to do is share your address, and you can be part of Project ShaqBox.

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.

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