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Happy Franchise Day

Taking a brief pause from celebrating the Mets’ welcome decision to celebrate their heritage here to wish the Met of Mets, George Thomas Seaver, a happiest of birthdays. 41 is the new 67 today. We should all wear a commemorative patch.

Seaver, it was announced yesterday amid a flood of upbeat, non-field announcements, is the lead bobblehead of the five the Mets plan to give out next year, each one commemorating a different decade in Mets history (no foolin’ [1]). Aside from that being a most understandable and appropriate choice — even if they did a Seaver bobble in 2000 and even if Casey Stengel would be an even more apt subject for the fiftieth anniversary — it’s a reminder that Franchise players can come home again. Seaver has at least three times: in 1983, when he returned to pitch six years after somebody thought he should be traded; in 1987, three years after somebody pulled the clerical boner of the decade [2]; and in 1999, after various post-retirement snits and slights were cleared away. At last check, Tom Seaver is a Mets Ambassador and legend-on-call when he’s not back in California getting his grape on.

As David Gates sang in a song that rode high on the charts [3] as Tom Seaver participated in his first major league Spring Training that wasn’t conducted in blue and orange, baby, goodbye doesn’t mean forever. In March 1978, Seaver was a Red and the Mets were out of the Seaver business. They promoted Craig Swan and Pat Zachry and Nino Espiñosa as the kinds of pitchers you should be excited about. Life went on that way for an overly long and terribly unpleasant interval.

Then Tommy came marching home again (hurrah! hurrah!) and it was like he was never gone…three times. The Mets could sell shirts emblazoned with 41 on them, safe in the knowledge that they weren’t taking their eye off the marketing ball. They could fire up film clips from 1969 and 1973 and not inadvertently advertise that things were indisputably better when Tom Seaver wore their 41, and not somebody else’s. The memory of Seaver as Met merged forever more with the enduring reality of Seaver as Met. Today, on his 67th birthday, you can almost forget Seaver spent nearly nine of his twenty big league seasons as not a Met.

Something in which to take long-term comfort, perhaps, in case the closest thing the Mets have to a franchise player stops being a Met himself in the coming weeks.

I’ve heard it said by fans within my chronological demographic that “I survived Tom Seaver being traded, I can survive anything.” I can identify with that sentiment, yet I also wonder why I’d want to test Jose Reyes’s potential departure against the baseline for Worst Happenstance Imaginable in the realm of Mets exits. There’s only one Seaver, but that’s hardly the issue. Reyes isn’t Seaver. But he’s close enough. He’s as Seaver as we’ve had lately (David Wright notwithstanding). The Mets of 2012 without Reyes will be close enough to the Mets of 1978 without Seaver. They’ll still be the Mets, but less so. Putting aside the reconstruction of the small-f franchise and ever present financial considerations, it will be incredibly weird having the Mets and not having Jose Reyes on them.

I was 14 when Tom Seaver was traded [4]. I survived and all that, but I’m still stunned that it happened. I had never known a Mets team without Tom Seaver. A Mets fan who is 14 now has never known a Mets team without Jose Reyes. I won’t speak to the potential stunnage of current 14-year-olds, but I can tell you that when the Mets played a marvelous montage of  1962-2011 highlights at their press conference yesterday and topped it off with all the players we can expect to see in their 50th Anniversary season, and there was no discernible sign of Jose Reyes anywhere, I was stunned. I all but knew there wouldn’t be any Jose as soon as the video started to roll, yet it was still still stunning. As stunning as it is, to me, that Tom Seaver, 67 today, was traded when he was 32 and I was 14.

But on the bright side, should Jose wind up elsewhere, there’s quite possibly a 75th anniversary bobblehead with his name and partial likeness on it come 2037. May Gold’s Horseradish [5] and I live so long.