Hall of Famer Tom Seaver is most known for his time with the New York Mets but he also pitched for the Reds from 1977-1982.
When Reds General Manager Bob Howsam acquired Seaver, it gave the Reds their first bonafide ace hurler since Jim Maloney. Seaver was the ace, the stopper, the big man.
Seaver was one of a kind. He’s in the Hall of Fame. He started 16 Opening Days. He once struck out ten batters in a row. A 12-time All-Star. He won 311 games. He won the Cy Young Award three times and was runner up with the Reds in 1981.
Did he fit in with the Reds? Well, imagine a battery of Tom Seaver and Johnny Bench. Add Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Dave Concepcion. Throw in George Foster, Cesar Geronimo and Ken Griffey.
I write this article because Tom Seaver passed away Wednesday at the age of 75. The last couple years of his life were tough, for him and his family due to his battle with dementia.
And so there are some memorable games that Tom Seaver pitched that stand out to me, as both a Reds and a baseball fan.
Here’s four of them:
The Near Perfect Game
In July of 1969, the Chicago Cubs played the New York Mets in a crucial three-game series.
It was the first crucial series ever for the Mets and they had been in existence since 1962. The Cubs and Mets were 1-2 in the National league East and the Mets had knocked off the Cubs in the first game, defeating Chicago ace Ferguson Jenkins, thanks to a couple of miscues by Cubs centerfielder Donnie Young. “We beat their big man,” said Mets centerfielder Tommie Agee defiantly after the game, “now they got to beat our big man.”
The Mets “big man” was Tom Seaver who pitched the second game in front of a sold out Shea Stadium and a nationwide audience on WGN television. WGN was a big deal for me, a new cable superstation that carried all 162 Cub games which mean I could see the Reds 12 times a year, guaranteed, on television.
Seaver was vintage Seaver that night. He retired the first 24 Cub hitters he faced and had a perfect game after 8 innings. The Mets had a comfortable lead, the game wasn’t in doubt, and the 9th inning approached.
Randy Hundley led off for the Cubs and on the first pitch laid down a bunt— but it went directly back to Seaver who threw him out. That brought up Jimmy Qualls, the centerfielder, who had replaced Young.
Qualls was a lefthanded hitter, a guy who made contact with little power. He hit a clean single to left field that broke up Seaver’s perfect game.
I met Jimmy Qualls three years ago in Warsaw, Illinois and we talked about that game and his career. He wound up with the Reds, playing Triple A ball in Indianapolis before making the move to Japan to play baseball there. “Sparky [Anderson] loved the way George Foster and Ken Griffey played so the outfield was crowded for me,” said Qualls. “That was before Pete Rose moved to third base and we also had Bobby Tolan.”
And yes, I asked him about Seaver’s game. “I was looking for hard stuff in that at bat, a fastball, a slider,” said Jimmy Qualls, whose name will be forever linked with that of Tom Seaver.
“Seaver was a machine that night,” said Jimmy while sipping on a cup of coffee over our campfire. “He was tough. It was like a playoff game. “
Game 1 of the 1973 Playoffs
The Reds had to face Tom Seaver in Game 1 of the 1973 NL playoffs at Riverfront Stadium when they hosted the Mets. He was vintage Seaver that day, too, striking out 13 batters. Fortunately, Jack Billingham was up to the task and he kept the Reds in the game. Trailing 1-0 in the 8th, Rose connected off Seaver for a home run and Johnny Bench hit a game winning homer in the 9th inning. After beating Seaver, most of us felt the Reds were in the driver’s seat. It didn’t work out that way.
Ultimately, the Mets prevailed and Seaver won the deciding fifth game of that Series.
Tom Terrific’s debut as a Red
The two biggest trades in my lifetime as a Reds fan were the ones that involved Tom Seaver and Ken Griffey Jr. I omit Bob Howsam’s Mega Deal after the 1971 season as it stands on its own merits. Howsam traded Pat Zachry, Steve Henderson and Dan Norman to the Mets for Seaver before the trade deadline in 1977.
He made his first start against the Montreal Expos on June 18, 1977, winning 6-0 and throwing a three-hitter. He walked none and struck out eight. He was 2 for 4 at the plate driving in two runs.
Seaver then made the Sports Illustrated cover in a Reds uniform. “Look who’s in Cincy!” blared the headline.
Tom Seaver eventually did pitch a no-hitter and it was in a Reds uniform against the Cardinals at Riverfront Stadium on June 16, 1978. The Reds won that game 4-0 and while Tom Terrific wasn’t overpowering (he walked three, struck out three) he got the coveted no-no, inducing George Hendrick to ground out, unassisted, to first baseman Danny Driessen for the last out of the game.
Tom Seaver was one of my favorite pitchers to watch. When the Reds were in St. Louis and Seaver was scheduled to pitch, I’d make the drive down there to watch him. I’ve done that for no other pitcher.
I’ve been lucky enough to see some great ones—Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins, Catfish Hunter, Nolan Ryan, Johnny Cueto, Steve Carlton, Mario Soto, Greg Maddux, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, Steve Stone and Jim Palmer.
In one game at the Astrodome in 1978, I watched Seaver and JR Richard battle it out. It was a classic. Seaver and the Reds won 2-1 on the strength of a two-run homer by George Foster in the first inning.
Man, I loved to watch him pitch a game in a Cincinnati Reds uniform.
Rest in peace, 41. Thank you for the memories.