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Tom Seaver, Born to be a Dodger?

By Mike Silva ~ January 23rd, 2012. Filed under: New York Mets, NY Baseball Memories.

I had an opportunity to chat with Steven Travers last night, author of a new book called “The Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times,” on my radio program. Never before has someone delved into the career of the man known as “The Franchise.” You all know about his accomplishments on the field, but Travers and I discussed Seaver the man, where he stands amongst the all-time greats, and the unlikely events that led him to New York. One thing that stood out was how close he was to becoming a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers throughout his career.

“He was born to be a Dodger,” Travers said. “Born and raised in California, went to USC, had season tickets to Dodger games because his uncle has season tickets in Los Angeles, and he would use them every fourth and fifth day to see Koufax and Drysdale.”

As luck would have it, Seaver was drafted by the Dodgers in the 10th round of the 1965 draft. Seaver wanted $50,000 to sign; the Dodgers offered $2,000 along with advice from a scout by the name of Tommy Lasorda. “Good luck with your dental career,” Lasorda said. This was in reference to the fact that Seaver was a pre-dental student at USC.

Seaver would sign a contract with Atlanta the following year, only to see it voided by the commissioner’s office because his college team played some exhibition games. He couldn’t return to school since he was now considered a “pro.” The league responded by setting up a lottery with interested teams. The Dodgers tried to get involved once again, but ultimately failed to follow through, which led to the Mets winning Seaver’s rights in the lottery over Cleveland and Philadelphia.

The third time the Dodgers lost out on Seaver was in 1977. We all know the story as to why the Mets put Seaver on the block. Before they traded him to Cincinnati, the Dodgers offered the Mets Don Sutton for Seaver. The Mets passed and decided on a quantity package that included Pat Zachry, Steve Henderson, Dan Norman, and Doug Flynn.

Sutton was 32-years old, the same age as Seaver, and was entering the late prime of his career. He still had plenty left as from 1977-80 he went 54-39 with a 3.21 ERA. In comparison, Seaver went 63-34 with a 3.00 ERA. The Mets never could have received comparable value for Seaver; Baseball-Reference ranks only two pitchers (Roger Clemens and Walter Johnson) with more value in the history of the game; but Sutton was as fair a deal as they could have made.

Imagine the course of both teams history if Seaver wound up signing with Los Angeles. He could have taken over as the ace of the franchise for Koufax, who retired the year before Seaver’s debut. He might also have won far more than the 311 games which he finished.

During the 70s, he often had terrible offenses supporting him. Travers believes Seaver could have won 30 games during his 1971 season; a year that many believe was his best ever. Seaver finished 20-10 with a 1.76 ERA and set, the then, strikeout record for a RHP with 289. Ironically, Ferguson Jenkins won the Cy Young Award due to his 24 wins, despite posting an ERA a run higher.  ”Seaver could have won 30,” Travers said. “He had 36 starts and I believe 31 to 35 of them are absolute possible victories. If he gives up 3 runs, forget about it, much less two. He has to win 1-0, 2-1 to win games. He could have been 31-3 in 1971, that’s how good he was.”

Also imagine the impact Seaver would have on the 1977 and 1978 Dodger teams that went to the World Series against the Yankees. Sutton lost 2 games in ’78 Series, posting an ERA over 7.00. I give the Dodgers great odds of winning at least one of those years with Seaver as their ace. In another bit of irony, Tommy Lasorda was their manager.

The Mets are 50 years old this coming season. They haven’t been blessed with the best luck, but in the case of Tom Seaver it was probably the luckiest thing that has ever happened to the franchise. It might be the worst $50,000 dollars the Dodgers elected to save.


You can download the entire radio show from last night by clicking here. Jon Springer, author of “Mets By the Numbers,” joins me later on as we discuss whether the Mets should retire Gary Carter‘s number, and whether Mike Piazza should go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Mets cap.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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3 Responses to Tom Seaver, Born to be a Dodger?

  1. swedski

    Tom Seaver should have been a life long Met like Jeter will be! What the Mets did was not only stupid but sad. Yes the Yanks have over paid Mariano Jeter Posada and Petite but at least they have taken care of THOSE guys. (>Think of the money, market and intake the Yanks have beacuse of CORE FOUR)
    A-Rods contract is a disaster (and that was an owners move) but in 5 years all this is off the books so we begin again.

    I hate this ‘Oh we have to look at the bottom line ‘ for everything. In the case of the Yanks, Red Sox and several other teams ‘Moneyball’ is not an issue.

    Big market small market different needs different challenges.

  2. Stu B

    @swedski: Jeter will not be a lifelong Met – he’s a Yankee!

    But there’s more to the Seaver story. Bing Devine, who left the Cardinals to become Mets president from 1964-1967, was the man who convinced Mets ownership to enter the lottery and pony up for Seaver’s bonus. If Devine had never left St Louis, the Cards might have signed Seaver and teamed him with Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton!

  3. Joe Wenzel

    All these new owners that MLB are vetting or will be vetting over the coming years they need to make sure they are legitimate billionaires (or close to it). If this is folllowed, eventually through attrition there will be no more small market teams because every team will have a seriously wealthy owner.

    This will take away the excuse of “But we’re a small market team and we can’t compete”–WAAAAAH! I’m tired of it!

    The problem is currently we have old time owners (used car salesman and their ilk) who cashed in and bought franchises for the relatively paltry sum of $10.8 million (I’m talking to you Selig) and seem to always choose new owners who are also financially lacking just like they were. I was given a chance let me give this schlub a chance, too.

    Baseball would solve a lot of its financial problems and put everyone on the same footing with the Yankees if they all had the big pocketbooks.

    They can’t find 30 seriously wealthy people in the US or the world who want to own a MLB franchise? I find that hard to believe.

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