It’s been a nice sidebar story to see Dwight Gooden take such an active interest in Matt Harvey’s burgeoning Mets career, taking a seat behind home plate at Citi Field for many of Harvey’s home starts, Tweeting comments about Harvey’s performances and freely giving interviews on the subject of the Mets star sophomore.
But the cynic in some can’t help but wonder about the coincidence of Gooden perhaps hitching his wagon to Harvey’s star at right around the same time that Dwight Gooden is about to have a book on his rocky life in and out of baseball published.
At Tuesday’s All-Star Game, the Mets’ one true and undisputed, “unshared” Hall of Famer, Tom Seaver, threw out the first pitch. And, in so many ways, Matt Harvey recalls the best of Tom Seaver.
From his rookie season in 1967, when the Mets were actually much worse than they were in Matt Harvey’s 2012 rookie season, through June 15, 1977, Tom Seaver did virtually everything the right way as a Met, from the way he pitched, the way he carried himself, the way he represented the franchise (which is why he was nicknamed, “The Franchise”) and even the way he intelligently and eloquently would dissect his every pitch on Kiner’s Korner after another victory.
Harvey is blessed with the same kind of precocious maturity and undeniable presence that Seaver always had. Seaver was 25-7 when the Mets won the World Series in 1969, winning the first of his three Cy Young Awards that season. He won Cy Young Awards in 1973—when the Mets again won the National League pennant—and 1975, and turned in a better season than any of those in a year when he did not win the Cy Young, in 1971, when Seaver was 20-10 with a 1.76 ERA and a career-high 289 strikeouts in 286 innings.
About the only thing Seaver didn’t accomplish in a Mets uniform was to pitch a no-hitter; he waited until almost exactly a year after his 1977 trade to Cincinnati to do that. Matt Harvey, of course, has already flirted memorably with several no-hit bids this season alone.
Seaver and Gooden were never teammates. In fact, one’s exit unofficially paved the way for the other’s arrival. The Mets brought Seaver back to Shea for one season in 1983, when he put together a 9-14 season that belied how well he pitched for a team that was still—despite adding Seaver, Keith Hernandez and rookie Darryl Strawberry that season—pretty terrible. Seaver had a 3.55 ERA in 1983 despite getting just 3.62 runs per start with which to work that season.
The Mets, the official story goes, inadvertently let Seaver get away a second time when General Manager Frank Cashen, in one of his few missteps, left Tom Terrific unprotected in a free agent compensation pool, and the White Sox snapped up the veteran before the 1984 season. That vacated spot in the Mets’ rotation was taken by rookie Dwight Gooden, who won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1984, as the Mets went from 68 victories to 90 in a season.
My father and I sat in rainy, empty Shea Stadium on the last Saturday of the 1983 season for what we had no idea would turn out to be Tom Seaver’s last start as a New York Met. Seaver pitched one scoreless inning against the Expos that day in front of 12,144 drenched fans—and then departed with hip discomfort.
In addition to Seaver and Gooden being teammates representing one near miss in this saga of Mets aces past and present, there are a couple of other historic near-misses and baton-passings that are also intriguing.
On Sept. 19, 1986, Seaver left another game against another Canadian team with another lower-body injury. Pitching for the Red Sox, Seaver came out of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays after four innings with a strained knee that day—never to pitch again. Seaver missed, by one month, closing out his career by pitching against the Mets in the World Series.
On June 1, 2012, Johan Santana finally accomplished for the Mets what Seaver never had, pitching the franchise’s first no-hitter. Santana threw 135 pitches that night, and had exactly two effective outings the rest of his 2012 season—and probably his career. Santana made a start on July 20, and then went on the disabled list. Matt Harvey took Santana’s place in the rotation and made his first major league start in Phoenix six nights later.
The rest is Mets history.