On April 29, 1967 — the day Atlantic Records released Aretha Franklin’s single “Respect” — the New York Mets were shutout, 7-0, by the Cincinnati Reds. The loss dropped the Mets into ninth place (7 ½ GB) in the National League just two weeks into the season.
Nothing new for the hapless, “lovable losers” from Queens.
But the loss infuriated Mets rookie Tom Seaver. “I hadn’t been raised on the ‘Met legend,’” he said. “I never did find defeat very amusing.”
It was that mindset that brought Mets fans hope. In Tales from the Mets Dugout, Mets fan (and later broadcaster) Howie Rose said, “There was this inescapable culture of losing, and at least among their fans, a growing sense of losing was going to be something permanent. People who watched [Seaver] as a rookie got the sense that they had finally developed a player who was capable of doing special things, and therefore capable of helping the Mets achieve some pretty good thing of their own along the way.”
The Mets went on to finish the 1967 in last place, 59-103, and on November 20, Seaver was honored as the 1967 National League Rookie of the Year.
Despite winning 16 games in 34 starts (35 appearances), 18 complete games in 251 innings pitched, Seaver was unhappy. He acknowledged the award saying, “I want to pitch on a Mets’ pennant winner, and I want to pitch the first game in the World Series. I want to change things … the Mets have been a joke long enough. It’s time to start winning, to change the attitude, to move ahead to better things. I don’t want the Mets to be laughed at anymore.”
Seaver didn’t like it, and he wasn’t willing to accept a losing reputation. Twenty-five years later, on the eve of his Hall of Fame induction, New York Times sports columnist George Vescey described what Seaver brought to the franchise:
The Youth of America arrived in the spring of 1967 with thick thighs and a stocky butt and a wise head and excellent pitching mechanics and a cackling laugh about clubhouse pranks, but no sense of humor about losing … Seaver fixed us with a cold stare and did not allow himself to be incorporated into the shtick of the Mets. Seaver had not failed yet, and he never did fail. He won 311 games in the major leagues, and last night he became the first true Mets player ever voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame — with the highest percentage of any player in history.
Like Franklin, Seaver demanded respect. The only way he (and the Mets) would get it was to earn it by building a winner. Two years later, in 1969, Seaver accomplished his mission: pitch on a Mets’ pennant winner (check); pitch the first game in the World Series (check); I want to change things (World Series championship, check); R-E-S-P-E-C-T (check).