Bruce Sutter's induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame today is well deserved and not much of a surprise. Tom Seaver's induction into the same august body fourteen years ago this Wednesday was more deserved and less surprising.
Tom Seaver's induction into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame two weeks ago was shocking.
Tom Seaver was a Red for about 5-2/3 seasons. He won 75 games for them, pitched a no-hitter and started the only playoff opener they had during his tenure. Good stuff, but in Met terms, he was somewhere between Bobby Jones and Al Leiter for the Reds. I'll bet the Mets never induct Bobby Jones into their Hall and that Al will be waiting a while.
Don't the Reds, with roots reaching back to 1869 (the current franchise's continuous National League participation actually dates to 1890), have enough Red legends of their own to fill a Hall? Maybe not. They beat us to existence by 93 years, yet have only three more world championships to show for it — and that's counting 1919, when the other team wasn't trying particularly hard to beat them.
The Reds began their Hall of Fame in 1958 and have inducted 64 players, managers and executives. One-quarter of them, including Seaver, are righthanded starters. Of the other fifteen, none is Tom Seaver.
It is clear that Cincinnati is less choosy than we are. Seaver contemporaries Jack Billingham, Jim Maloney, Gary Nolan and Mario Soto are all in. Do they strike you at first glance as Hall of Famers? Even team Hall of Famers? Jose Rijo is the Reds HOFer of most recent vintage. Jose Rijo? With no offense to these pitchers or their Cincy righty predecessors (Ewell Blackwell, Dolf Luque, Bob Purkey among them), Tom Seaver — even not quite six years of Tom Seaver — is the greatest righthanded pitcher they've ever had.
I don't bring this up to take gratuitous shots at another organization. Actually, I applaud a team that understands its history is made up of many memorable components and remain disgusted that voting for the Mets' Hall of Fame has fallen into oblivion.
The last Met to be honored with a bust in a case on the Diamond Club level — well out of general public view — was Tommie Agee four years ago, one year after his passing, or long after he could have enjoyed it. Ten years ago, the first primarily '80s-era Met, Mookie Wilson, was inducted. A year later, Keith Hernandez followed. Four years blew by before somebody thought to immortalize Gary Carter. Assuming they don't pull a surprise and place a wreath on the head of a deserving '86er on August 19, that means we'll have had two inductees in an eight-season span.
Disgraceful. Absolutely, positively disgraceful. This franchise, with 45 years to its credit, does not lack for candidates. It does not cheapen the institution to cast a slightly wider net than has been used to capture for eternity only 21 individuals.
1 General manager
2 Field managers
I don't know if it's neglect or internal politics or that maddening assumption that nobody cares, but in a season when the Mets are doing so many things right, this remains a blot.
The Reds found 64 persons to call Hall of Famers. The Orioles, whose modern tenure as a big-league club runs only eight years longer than the Mets', boast 53, including newcomers Doug DeCinces and Chris Hoiles. DeCinces and Hoiles? I wouldn’t have thought of them, but I'm not an Orioles fan. I'm a Mets fan, and I'd think of a lot of Mets and those with Mets ties…
Ron Swoboda, Ron Hunt, Rube Walker, Jane Jarvis, Yogi Berra, Jon Matlack, Joe Pignatano, Felix Millan, Bob Scheffing, Bob Mandt, Craig Swan, Frank Thomas, Al Jackson, Donn Clendenon, Richie Ashburn, Wayne Garrett, Jack Lang, Karl Ehrhardt, Dave Kingman, Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn, Hubie Brooks, Nolan Ryan
…to consider inducting even before opening the floodgates and making room for those associated with 1986.
They're missing a great opportunity and failing to do the right thing by not activating a great piece of historical equity. I don't know who's responsible for this massive oversight, but I certainly hope someone's appointed to take up the task very, very soon. During one of the Mets' games in Cincinnati, SNY showed the Reds' physical Hall of Fame and it looked like a doozy, like the product of a team that cares about its past, which is to say cares about its fans. That same week, I was in Baltimore and stopped by the new home of the Orioles Hall of Fame, right next door to Camden Yards, and it, too, was a shrine to behold. I sincerely hope the stadium that won't be named Shea will make proper space for a Mets of Hall of Fame and pay proper homage to more Mets Hall of Famers.
As impassioned as I'm feeling on this topic, it's not even my primary thought at the moment. My thinking is focused on that new Cincinnati Red Hall of Famer, that old New York Mets Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. Any day is a good day for a Mets fan to think about Tom Seaver. Today, Hall of Fame Day, it's mandatory.
How's he doin'?
Seriously, I have no idea. I don't mean from a health standpoint. I assume he's fine. My glimpses this year have portrayed a fit enough 61-year-old. But those glimpses have been distant, fleeting and a little discomfiting.
Remember what a big deal it was when Tom Seaver was welcomed back into the Met fold before the 1999 season? The greatest of Mets had been estranged from the Mets since his own 1988 Mets HOF induction and number-retirement. He came back for a night in his honor when he made it to Cooperstown (highest percentage of the vote ever, it always bears repeating) in 1992, but it rained and the ceremony at Shea was kind of half-assed and they rescheduled a second one and he didn't show. He made himself scarce for the 25th anniversary activities of the '69 Mets in '94, at least those on the field. So it was not a little thing that Tom Seaver was coming home in '99.
Of course as the Mets were never given the benefit of the doubt then, the story wasn't Tom was going to be a broadcaster and pitching advisor/genius, but that they were firing Tim McCarver for being hypercritical and that Tom would be a company man in the booth. Seaver sat behind a mic for seven seasons on Channel 11 and chatted half-interestedly about pitching and what Jerry Koosman once said and occasionally offered praise for this or that “young man” on the field. Seaver wasn't a terrible announcer. He wasn't terribly engaged either. As for the other portion of his gig, he touched down in Port St. Lucie each March to impart wisdom to the pitchers, usually the righties. Never heard whether anything he said was put into action.
When SNY formed, they didn't come right out and say whether Seaver was going to be a part of their broadcasts. They named their team of Cohen, Hernandez and Darling, but left dangling the possibility that old hand Seaver and older hand Ralph Kiner would have a role. Ralph has appeared on odd Fridays and it's been reassuring. Seaver slipped almost completely out of sight.
His one headsetted television appearance during a game was downright bizarre. It came during the first Subway Series contest at Shea. He had been making the rounds that day in the way ex-players, particularly ex-great players, do. He was doing his best Kaz Matsui impression, popping up all over the place. I caught him on Joe Benigno early in the afternoon, excited for a second, disappointed the second I realized Hall of Famers who aren't in general circulation generally only make appearances to plug something. Indeed, Tom came on with Joe to let it be known that Mets fans could swipe a magnetic strip of some sort and pay for their overpriced concession purchases quick as you please. Whatever fawning questions Benigno asked (I'm not criticizing — I'd fawn, too) were bracketed by softballs to Seaver about the strip.
Great, I thought. Tom Seaver has become the ultimate Shea Stadium credit card hawker. I wondered if he'd be enticing passersby with complimentary towels and thin nylon jackets.
Tom materialized on the SNY pregame show that evening and then slid into the WB11 booth alongside Gary and Ron. He was wearing one of those dead-giveaway golf shirts. It featured the credit card sponsor's logo, meaning that Tom wasn't just coming by to say “hi” or dissect Jeremi Gonzalez's mechanics. Gary was going to have greet him with great curiosity about that magnetic strip. He was going to have to do it twice. And he did while managing to elicit a brief update of Seaver doings and Seaver thoughts.
Tom's visit lasted a half-inning. When the third out was made, Gary asked, as a matter of course, if Tom wouldn't mind sticking around for the next half-inning. Everybody sticks around for the next half-inning. The King of Sweden sticks around for the next half-inning. Yet without so much as a “thanks but I can't,” Tom insisted he had a car waiting to take him to Manhattan. And he left.
You're gonna tell me a Hall of Famer was gonna lose his ride — presumably idling outside the ballpark where he became a Hall of Famer — if he stayed for another 10 minutes? And that even if he was somehow stranded on Roosevelt Avenue, he couldn't use his credit card connections to hire another car?
I never read an explanation, thus was compelled to infer that Tom Seaver isn't all that interested in being the Met icon of Met icons these days. I don't remember him making his annual appearance as pitching guru in St. Lucie. He wasn't throwing out first balls early in the year. During the Baltimore-Cincinnati homestand, however, I did spot him on TV once, dropping by a Diamond View Suite as a special treat for a fan; once on DiamondVision, joining Rusty Staub in visiting a senior center in Brooklyn; and once on my computer, doing a mets.com chat in which I learned, among other things, that being in the Hall of Fame “is better than a sharp stick in the eye!” Tom was around, then he wasn't, leading me to divine that he must have a deal to be an intermittent goodwill ambassador, which is what Staub (another former Mets broadcaster, in case you've forgotten) has been for several years.
Nice work if you can get it.
It appears Tom Seaver is still part of the family, so if he's at the Sutter ceremonies today, I doubt he'll be sneaking away to scratch the NY off his plaque. That he's chosen to be detached uncle instead of patriarch…well, I suppose he's entitled to the rest of his life. Still, I hope he inches back to center stage for all our heritage occasions, that when the serious part of October dawns that Tom is on the mound for at least one ceremonial fling…that when spring breaks next year that maybe Mike Pelfrey or Phil Humber takes a tip or two from Tom…that when they get around to inducting the next Mets Hall of Famer that it is Tom who acts as emcee…that it is Tom Seaver who peels the final number off the right field wall in September 2008 and accepts the most thunderous ovation next door in April 2009. It doesn't feel right having a franchise without The Franchise.
I'm not being dreamy about Tom Seaver. I've heard the stories that he's not the warmest immortal on the block; I've also heard he's a perfectly fine fellow, so who knows? Better yet, who cares? I'm a member of an exceedingly large club of Mets fans who count him as their all-time favorite baseball player, albeit in the presumably slim subsegment that doesn't aspire to shake his hand or tell him he was my hero. I don't have to. I saw him pitch.
I just want to keep seeing him every now and then is all.
When the Mets had the same three announcers for their first seventeen seasons, it was rare that Lindsey Nelson or Bob Murphy or Ralph Kiner ever missed a game. But on the last weekend of July 1975, Ralph had to excuse himself. He had business in Cooperstown, his own overdue induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As the Mets were home that Sunday, Ralph had to record, in advance, a Kiner's Korner instead of doing it live after the game. His guest was Tom Seaver, booked on the premise that Tom, like Ralph, would be enshrined upstate one of these days.
Seaver was in ninth season then, but there was no doubt. We couldn't have known there'd be a detour to Cincinnati and other outposts or that his relationship with the Mets would go awry more than once. But we did know he'd always be great and he'd always be ours.