Mets’ 1969 teammates hold Tom Seaver in the highest regard
PORT ST. LUCIE — When 41 Seaver Way is officially unveiled, when the Tom Seaver statue takes its rightful place at Citi Field in 2020, Seaver will be walking with his teammates … forever.
Never forget that.
Ron Swoboda made that clear at First Data Field on Thursday, when he was joined by his 1969 teammates Jerry Grote and Wayne Garrett in the Mets dugout.
“Let’s not talk about Tom like he’s gone,’’ Swoboda said of the Hall of Famer. “Tom is still out there in Calistoga [Calif.] and he is going to walk out into the vineyard when he feels up to it. We’re only upset because it means this dementia he is struggling with is making his life more difficult. Tom’s here and we had a great visit with him.
“Art Shamsky brought a bunch of us out there and he had a great day. Tom is here, man. We only wish he could be with us in a physical presence.’’
Then Swoboda got to the heart of the matter of those 1969 Mets, the first Mets team to win a World Series, beating the Orioles in five games.
“There was a great line by Fred Shero the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team,’’ Swoboda said. “They were going out to play a championship game, ‘You win this one, you win the Stanley Cup.’ Shero wrote on the blackboard: ‘Win this one tonight boys and we walk together forever.’
“The minute I heard that it made the little hairs on my neck stand up because, no matter what our situation is, a lot of us are not here and we regret that, but we walk together forever because of what happened in ’69.”
When a team wins a championship, its members are forever linked. It happened for the ’69 Mets and the ’86 Mets. Will it happen again? Will the Mets ever be world champions again?
For Seaver, 74, whose family announced recently he suffers from dementia and has retired from public life, his condition is sad news, but those ’69 Mets will never forget Seaver’s leadership.
“Without Tom Seaver, none of this happens,’’ Swoboda said.
“Tom was a legend,’’ Garrett said. “There was a presence about him. Whenever you were around him, especially when he walked out on that mound, there was a presence. Even when he didn’t have his best stuff, he would find a way to beat you. I get emotional now just thinking about him. Tom meant a lot to all of us, he meant a lot to me.’’
Garrett, who came up in the Braves organization and was grabbed by the Mets in the Rule 5 draft before the 1969 season, remembers a friend in the Oakland organization telling him about the Mets young guns.
“He played against our pitching staff in the minor leagues and he said when you go to spring training you are going to see some good live arms,” Garrett said.
This Mets team has some good live arms, but they have to put so much together as a team, especially in the difficult NL East.
“Seaver stood head and shoulders over the rest of the pitching staff,’’ Garrett said. “I hate to see him in the condition that he is in, it’s sad.’’
Noted Swoboda, “I thought Tom Seaver was Hall of Fame from the day he showed up. He was that guy from Day 1 and there aren’t many people who can do that. He’s the only one I can think of.
“When he came out of the box, he had the confidence and the stuff to go out and be Tom Seaver.’’
The Right Stuff. In every way.
That season Seaver won 25 games and lost only seven. His ERA was 2.21. He threw 18 complete games. He was 24 years old. He led the rotation. He led the Mets.
“We owned New York, especially the city,’’ Grote said of that ’69 team.
The 50th anniversary celebration will come in June with Seaver in California. Still, those Mets will walk together with No. 41, out front, forever leading the way.
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