An intelligent, hard-working perfectionist and the quintessential professional, Seaver was the first true star for the Mets and led them to their miracle World Championship in 1969. In his 10 years in New York from 1967 to 1977, he won 25% of the Mets’ games. The 17th 300-game winner in major league history, Seaver set a major league record by striking out 200 or more hitters in 10 seasons, nine in a row from 1968 to 1976.
Seaver came to the Mets via a strange lottery: In 1966, the Braves offered him $40,000, but the NCAA and baseball commissioner William Eckert voided the offer and made Seaver, still at USC, available to any team willing to match the Braves’ offer. The Phillies, Indians, and Mets were willing and, in a drawing held in the commissioner’s office, the Mets were picked out of a hat. Seaver was an immediate star, picked to the All-Star team in his first season when he won 16 games for a Met team that won just 61 games, and captured Rookie of the Year honors. In 1969 he won his first of three Cy Young Awards with a 25-7 record and a 2.21 ERA and led the NL in wins and winning percentage. On July 9, Seaver lost a perfect game when rookie Jimmy Qualls of the Cubs singled with one out in the ninth. The game was more important, however, since the Mets won 4-0, and began to make their move on the Cubs on their way to the World Championship. In Game One of the LCS against the Braves, Seaver was pinch hit for in the eighth inning, down 5-4, and emerged the winner over Phil Niekro as the Mets rallied for five runs. Seaver had less luck in Game One of the World Series, as he surrendered a homer to the Orioles’ first batter, Don Buford, and lost 4-1. He came back to win a 2-1 ten-inning thriller in Game Four, helped by Ron Swoboda‘s game-saving catch in the ninth inning.
Seaver picked up where he left off the next season. On April 22, 1970, he struck out 19 Padres, including a record 10 in a row to end the game, to tie the then-ML record for a nine-inning game, set by Steve Carlton. Although he didn’t duplicate his 20-win season, he led the league in strikeouts (283) and ERA (2.81). Seaver himself felt that 1971 was his best season; he compiled a 20-10 record and led the league for the second year in a row in with a 1.76 ERA and 289 strikeouts. Overshadowed by Steve Carlton in 1972, in 1973 Seaver became the first non-20-game winner to win the Cy Young Award when he led the NL in ERA (2.08) and strikeouts (251) and tied for the lead in complete games (18) while leading the Mets to another improbable pennant. In Game One of the LCS, Seaver drove in the Mets’ only run and almost made it stand for the victory, walking none and striking out 13, but he gave up solo homers to Pete Rose and Johnny Bench in the eighth and ninth innings to take the loss. The Mets’ chronically weak offense often let him down during his career, but never so glaringly. He did come back in Game Five to win the clincher 7-2, giving up only one earned run. He took a no-decision in the Mets’ 11-inning 3-2 loss in Game Three of the World Series, striking out 12 in eight innings. He pitched another strong game in the sixth contest, surrendering two runs in seven innings, but once again lost a tough one 3-1.
A sore hip caused Seaver’s worst season in 1974 with an 11-11 record and his first ERA over 3.00 (3.20). He bounced back in 1975 with his last great season for the Mets, going 22-9 and leading the league in strikeouts, wins, and winning percentage to capture another Cy Young trophy. In September, Seaver put together a seven-game winning streak, including another near no-hitter against the Cubs, broken up by Joe Wallis. By 1976, Seaver was having trouble with Met general manager M. Donald Grant over Seaver’s salary and how the team was being run, and the two traded private and public taunts. On April 17, 1977, Seaver pitched his third one-hitter against the Cubs, a single in the fifth by Steve Ontiveros keeping him from the elusive no-hitter. Two months later, on June 15, the bomb dropped. Seaver was unceremoniously dealt to Cincinnati for four players, Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, and Dan Norman, a trade that ripped out the hearts of New York fans. Seaver completed his last 20-win season with the Reds, finishing with a combined 21-6 mark and leading the NL with seven shutouts. Almost exactly a year from the trade, on June 16, 1978, Seaver finally got his no-hitter, blanking the Cardinals 4-0. Seaver had four winning years with the Reds, including 1979, when he went 16-6 and led the NL in winning percentage and shutouts (5). He took another tough no-decision in the LCS when he left Game One after eight innings tied 2-2 with the Pirates’ John Candelaria; Pittsburgh won in the 11th inning. In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Seaver went 14-2 and led the majors in victories but lost a controversial Cy Young vote to rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela.
After Seaver slumped to 5-13 in 1982, the Reds completed the circle by trading The Franchise back to the Mets for three players. Although compiling only a 9-14 record (due mostly to the Mets’ usual poor offense; his ERA was a better-than-average 3.55), fans were outraged when he was claimed by the White Sox after he was mysteriously left unprotected in the free agent compensation pool. He won 15 games for the White Sox in 1984, and 16 in 1985 when he set several career standards. On August 4 in Yankee Stadium, he won his 300th game, a 4-1 complete game on a six-hitter. On October 4, he moved past Walter Johnson into third place on the all-time strikeout list. After getting off to a slow start the following season, he was dealt to Boston (closer to his Greenwich, CT home), where he finished his career. An ankle injury prevented him from appearing against the Mets in the World Series, and the Red Sox released him following the season. Seaver tried to latch on with the Mets in 1987, but called it quits when he wasn’t satisfied with his performance while getting into shape. After sitting out the 1988 season, Seaver was named to replace newly named National League president Bill White in the Yankee broadcast booth, and replaced Joe Garagiola for NBC Saturday telecasts with Vin Scully.