Tom Seaver, 75, the Hall of Fame pitcher who led the New York Mets to a World Series championship in 1969, died on Monday.
According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Mr. Seaver died from complications of Lewy body dementia and COVID-19.
Mr. Seaver finished his career with a 311-205 record, 2.86 ERA, and 3,640 strikeouts. He won three Cy Young awards and was a 12-time all-star. He led the National League in wins three times, strikeouts five times, and ERA three times. He won 20 games five times.
And he was almost a Phillie.
Here is a look at how Mr. Seaver, a rival for his whole career, nearly wore the red and white uniform:
Lee MacPhail, then the top assistant to baseball commissioner William Eckert, called Tom Seaver on April 2, 1966, from a hotel room in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Seaver had signed two months earlier with Atlanta, which drafted him that January in the first round. But his $50,000 contract was voided by the commissioner because Seaver had signed after his college season at Southern California was under way.
Three teams – the Phillies, Mets, and Indians – were willing to match the $50,000. Eckert placed all three team names into a hat, and MacPhail, the father of current Phillies president Andy MacPhail, dialed up Seaver.
The future of one of baseball’s all-time great pitchers came down to a hotel-room lottery.
“The commissioner is putting his hand in the hat,” MacPhail said to Seaver. “The winning team is the New York Mets.”
The Phillies came within a lucky draw of landing Seaver, who was one of the best pitchers of his generation. The right-hander won three Cy Young Awards with the Mets and posted a 2.86 ERA over 20 major-league seasons. No pitcher has more strikeouts against the Phillies than Seaver, who fanned 350 Phillies in 396 innings. He was a power pitcher who led the National League in strikeouts five times over a seven-year span and three times led the NL in ERA.
“The funny thing about him, he actually got faster after he signed,” Paul Owens, who ran the Phillies’ minor-league operations at the time of the Seaver sweepstakes, told The Inquirer’s Frank Dolson in 1992. “But he had that great delivery like Robin Roberts. It was amazing to me that only three clubs were willing to give him the money. I remember saying ‘Geez, we have a chance.’ ”
Seaver sped through the minors, debuting with the Mets in 1967, a year after the commissioner pulled their name from the hat. He made his first of 12 All-Star teams that season and was the National League’s rookie of the year.
“Tom Terrific” had arrived. Seaver pitched the 1969 Mets to a surprising World Series title while the floundering Phillies lost 99 games.
“I often thought, ‘The Mets are down, really struggling,’ ” Owens said. “Maybe they figured, ‘Aw, let’s give him to the Mets.’ ”
In February 1972 – six years after losing out on Seaver – the Phillies traded with St. Louis for Steve Carlton, who is one month younger than Seaver. Carlton went 27-10 that season for a 59-win Phillies team and anchored the rotation as the Phils returned to relevance in the mid-1970s and won their first World Series in 1980.
Carlton was the premier left-handed pitcher of his generation, but what if he joined a Phillies rotation that already included Seaver?
Instead, they were rivals. They faced each other 16 times with Seaver’s team coming out on top 13 times. They defined their franchises, with Carlton regarded as the greatest Phillies pitcher and Seaver the best Mets pitcher.
But what if the commissioner pulled the Phillies instead of the Mets? Would having a rotation headed by both Seaver and Carlton be enough for the Phillies to reverse those disappointing finishes in the late 1970s and win a World Series before 1980?
The Mets traded Seaver to Cincinnati in June 1977 after his relationship with Mets management soured, but the Phillies may have been able to extend a marriage with the pitcher.
The Phillies even tried to trade for Seaver after he listed the Phillies as one of the four teams he would pitch for, and they believed their offer was better than what the Mets received from the Reds.
“They reached into the hat and got a handful of dandruff from the Reds in return for the best pitcher in baseball,” The Daily News’ Stan Hochman wrote in 1977.
With Seaver, perhaps the Phillies could have matched up with the Big Red Machine in 1976. Or maybe there’s no Black Friday in 1977. The Phillies were unable to use Carlton until Game 3 in 1978 against the Dodgers. Having another ace would have given them a better hand.
“We were close to having a hell of a tandem,” said Owens, who died in 2003. “I often wondered what we would have done with those two guys. I always used to kid Seaver about it. We might have been a dynasty forever.”
From 1972 to 1980, Seaver and Carlton led the National League in strikeouts. Seaver logged 35 shutouts, the most in that time by a National League pitcher. Carlton’s 29 ranked third. Seaver posted a 2.76 ERA while Carlton finished those eight seasons with a 2.98 mark.
The pitchers cemented themselves in the 1970s as Hall of Famers. They were enshrined two years apart in Cooperstown. But what if Carlton and Seaver were wearing the same hat on their bronze plaques?
If only the Phillies had better luck when the commissioner reached his hand into that hat.