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Today in Baseball History: Tom Seaver goes from the Braves to the Mets

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Everyone knows that Tom Seaver was the Mets ace who led them to their miracle 1969 World Series win.

Everyone knows that the Mets, to their fans’ eternal consternation, traded him to the Reds for four mostly-forgotten dudes in 1977.

Everyone knows that after Seaver’s time in Cincinnati he went back to the Mets for one “eh, the magic is gone” season, had a mini-renaissance with the White Sox, and then had a final respectable season with the Red Sox before retiring following the 1986 campaign.

Everyone, of course, knows that after all of that was said and done he was, indisputably, the best pitcher of his era and is one of the few men with a legitimate claim to being the best pitcher to ever walk Planet Earth.

But did you know that he was originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves? And that he signed with them and everything? He did. But then that deal got voided and, on April 3, 1966 — 54 years ago today — he signed with the New York Mets, where he would make his name and his fame.

Actually, the Braves weren’t even the first team to draft Seaver. The Dodgers drafted him out of USC in the 10th round of baseball’s first-ever draft in June of 1965. Seaver had just completed his sophomore year at the University of Southern California then and, probably realizing he was better than a 10th round pick, he did not come to an agreement with Los Angeles. This kind of thing still happens today. It happens all the time.

There were two drafts back then, —  one in January and one in June — and the Braves took him in the January 29, 1966 draft. It took close to a month for Seaver and the Braves to agree to a bonus, but they came to agreement on February 24, 1966, with Seaver agreeing to a $40,000 bonus.

There was a slight problem, however: Seaver’s junior year season at USC was in progress by February 24 — they had played in two preseason exhibition games — and baseball had a rule then which held that you could not sign a deal with a player whose season was going on. The fact that they had that rule while still having a January draft makes little sense to me, but that was the deal.  No matter the justification, Baseball Commissioner William “Spike” Eckert held that the Braves’ contract with Seaver was void.

Let’s talk about Eckert for a second.

Baseball’s Commissioner from 1965-1968 had perhaps the least distinguished tenure of any baseball Commissioner ever. He had no real experience for the job. Virtually his entire professional career consisted of his military service — he was an Air Force general — and private sector military consulting. He wasn’t even originally considered a candidate to replace Ford Frick in 1965, but was recommended to baseball owners by the legendary general Curtis LeMay, whose stature was such that even the Lords of Baseball were impressed. This, by the way, was the only time baseball chose its Commissioner the way a lot of people think they should still do so today: by throwing out a name of a famous and/or smart guy who generally likes baseball and arguing that he should have the job. People do that all the time with guys like George W. Bush or Bob Costas but they never get offered, let alone take the job because being smart and/or famous and generally liking baseball are not really applicable skills for the gig.

No matter how he got the job, Eckert was in power when the Braves signed Seaver. Which, yes, per the rules, was a problem, but then Eckert made the problem worse. He decisively voided Seaver’s deal with the Braves, but given that Seaver had signed a professional deal, voided or not, he was immediately declared ineligible at USC. That meant that he couldn’t play anyplace. As Seaver said looking back at that time a few years ago, “so now to the professionals I’m an amateur and to the amateurs I’m a pro, and I’m stuck.” It probably would’ve been better to have acted before Seaver’s season at USC had begun, but for whatever reason he didn’t.

Whatever the case, it put Seaver between that rock and that hard place, and that led to rumblings that Seaver’s father was going to sue Eckert over the matter. So Eckert acted: held a lottery.

Specifically, he invited all the other big league clubs who were not the Braves to the party and, as long as they agreed to match the $40,000 the Braves promised Seaver, allowed them to toss their name into a hat. Yes, a hat. Eckert literally put their names into a hat, pulled out the slip of paper with “Mets” on it, and the rest — the 1969 and 1973 World Series, 311 wins, and three Cy Young Awards — was history.

Eckert would soon be history too. Not because of the Seaver business, but because he simply wasn’t popular in office. The fans were mad at him in 1968 when he didn’t cancel games following the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. More dangerous for Eckert’s job security, however, was that he didn’t seem to have much of a plan for countering the Players Union which, by then, had Marvin Miller at the helm and was beginning to assert itself for the first time. Eckert was eventually canned by the owners with three years left on his contract and Bowie Kuhn would be given the job. One wonders if Eckert would’ve done any worse against the MLBPA than Kuhn did, but now we’re getting into speculative history.

I will engage in some speculative history about the Braves and Seaver though. In 1969 they won 93 games and lost to those Mets in the first ever NLCS. One has to assume that the Mets aren’t there without Seaver and that the Braves are better with him, so that certainly could’ve changed things. Atlanta did not finish higher than third in any subsequent season until 1982, so presumably Seaver would not have even seen a second World Series like he did in New York if he had stayed with the Braves. Hard to say. He definitely would’ve seen his numbers fall a bit, as Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium was probably the most hitter-friendly park in the game in the 1970s. It wasn’t called the launching pad for nothing. It all ended up working out OK for Tom Terrific.

I suspect, though, that he still would’ve left his first team no later than 1977 or so even if he had stayed with Atlanta. Ted Turner bought the Braves in 1976, you see, and in those early years Turner really had no idea what he was doing. I could easily see him dealing Seaver for some nobodies just like the Mets did. Well, maybe not nobodies. Turner loved big names back then. He just had a bad habit of acquiring them well after their best days were behind them. He probably would’ve trade Seaver for Jim Fregosi or Lou Brock or Catfish Hunter or somebody like that.

Could’ve been fun? I dunno.

 

Also today in baseball history:

1923: Two members of the Chicago Black Sox — Swede Risberg and Happy Felsch — sue the White Sox seeking $400,000 damages and $6,750 in back salary for conspiracy and injury to reputation in the aftermath of the court cases arising out of the 1919 World Series, in which they were acquitted. Their suit will be unsuccessful;

1984: Barbaro Garbey of the Tigers becomes the first Cuban refugee to play in the majors since Fidel Castro closed the border to would-be emigrants in 1961. Garbey, a member of the Cuban national baseball team, had defected in the Mariel boat lift in 1980.

1985: The MLBPA agrees to the owners’ proposal to expand the League Championship Series from the best-of-five games to best-of-seven; and

1989: Mariners’ 19 year-old center fielder Ken Griffey Jr., making his major league debut, doubles off of Oakland’s Dave Stewart in his first big league plate appearance.

 

 

Marlins clinch 1st playoff berth since 2003, beat Yanks 4-3

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK (AP) Forced from the field by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins returned with enough force to reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2003 championship.

An NL-worst 57-105 a year ago, they sealed the improbable berth on the field of the team that Miami CEO Derek Jeter and manager Don Mattingly once captained.

“I think this is a good lesson for everyone. It really goes back to the players believing,” Mattingly said Friday night after a 4-3, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees.

Miami will start the playoffs on the road Wednesday, its first postseason game since winning the 2003 World Series as the Florida Marlins, capped by a Game 6 victory in the Bronx over Jeter and his New York teammates at the previous version of Yankee Stadium.

“We play loose. We got nothing to lose. We’re playing with house money.,” said Brandon Kintzler, who got DJ LeMahieu to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded after Jesus Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th. “We are a dangerous team. And we really don’t care if anyone says we’re overachievers.”

Miami (30-28), second behind Atlanta in the NL East, became the first team to make the playoffs in the year following a 100-loss season. The Marlins achieved the feat despite being beset by a virus outbreak early this season that prevented them from playing for more than a week.

After the final out, Marlins players ran onto the field, formed a line and exchanged non socially-distant hugs, then posed for photos across the mound.

“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”

Miami was one of baseball’s great doubts at the start of the most shortened season since 1878, forced off the field when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia.

“Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. Other teams have been through a lot, too,” Mattingly said “This just not a been a great situation. It’s just good to be able to put the game back on the map.”

New York (32-26) had already wrapped up a playoff spot but has lost four of five following a 10-game winning streak and is assured of starting the playoffs on the road. Toronto clinched a berth by beating the Yankees on Thursday.

“I don’t like any time somebody celebrates on our field or if we’re at somebody else’s place and they celebrate on their field,” Yankees star Aaron Judge said. “I’m seeing that too much.”

Mattingly captained the Yankees from 1991-95 and is in his fifth season managing the Marlins, Jeter captained the Yankees from 2003-14 as part of a career that included five World Series titles in 20 seasons and is part of the group headed by Bruce Sherman that bought the Marlins in October 2017.

Garrett Cooper, traded to the Marlins by the Yankees after the 2017 season, hit a three-run homer in the first inning off J.A. Happ.

After the Yankees tied it on Aaron Hicks‘ two-run double off Sandy Alcantara in the third and Judge’s RBI single off Yimi Garcia in the eighth following an error by the pitcher on a pickoff throw, the Marlins regained the lead with an unearned run in the 10th against Chad Green (3-3).

Jon Berti sacrificed pinch-runner Monte Harrison to third and, with the infield in, Starling Marte grounded to shortstop. Gleyber Torres ran at Harrison and threw to the plate, and catcher Kyle Higashioka‘s throw to third hit Harrison in the back, giving the Yankees a four-error night for the second time in three games.

With runners at second and third, Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly.

Brad Boxberger (1-0) walked his leadoff batter in the ninth but got Luke Voit to ground into a double play, and Kintzler held on for his 12th save in 14 chances.

Miami ended the second-longest postseason drought in the majors – the Seattle Mariners have been absent since 2001.

Miami returned Aug. 4 following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the 18 players on the injured list and won its first five games.

“We’re just starting,” said Alcantara, who handed a 3-2 lead to his bullpen in the eighth. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

TOSSED

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected for arguing from the dugout in the first inning. Plate umpire John Tumpane called out Judge on a full-count slider that appeared to drop well below the knees and Boone argued during the next pitch, to Hicks, then was ejected. Television microphones caught several of Boone’s profane shouts.

“Reacting to a terrible call and then following it up,” Boone said. “Obviously, we see Aaron get called a lot on some bad ones down.”

ODD

Pinch-runner Michael Tauchman stole second base in the eighth following a leadoff single by Gary Sanchez but was sent back to first because Tumpane interfered with the throw by catcher Chad Wallach. Clint Frazier struck out on the next pitch and snapped his bat over a leg.

SLOPPY

New York took the major league lead with 47 errors. Sanchez was called for catcher’s interference for the third time in five days and fourth time this month.

REMEMBERING

Mattingly thought of Jose Fernandez, the former Marlins All-Star pitcher who died four years earlier to the night at age 24 while piloting a boat that crashed. An investigation found he was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system. The night also marked the sixth anniversary of Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.

UP NEXT

RHP Deivi Garcia (2-2, 4.88) starts Saturday for the Yankees and LHP Trevor Rogers (1-2, 6.84) for the Marlins. Garcia will be making the sixth start of his rookie season.