On paper, Tom Seaver’s professional baseball career is remarkable. The man known in New York as “The Franchise” won the 1967 Rookie of the Year, compiled 311 career wins, recorded 20 or more wins in a single season four times, 200+ strikeouts 10 times (including nine straight seasons between 1968-1976), led the National League in strikeouts five times, won three Cy Young Awards, tossed a no-hitter and was voted to the All-Star team 12 times. Seaver’s career was cemented in 1992 with his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame, recording a record 98.8% of the vote.
By the time I arrived at Shea Stadium in mid-June, a Dwight Gooden start had become a New York event. I had been watching Gooden baffle opponents on television over the first two months of the 1985 season. The first month he shut out the Philadelphia Phillies twice and the Cincinnati Reds. From May and early June he pitched into the seventh inning in all seven of his starts. He was four days younger than I was for goodness sakes. It was time to see this with my own eyes, in person.
A pair of Chicago Cubs centerfielders, Jimmy Qualls (1969) and Joe Wallis (1975), stole two of Tom Seaver’s early bids for a no-hitter. One year after being traded from New York to Cincinnati, Seaver threw a no-hitter for the Reds. Nolan Ryan never pitched a no-hitter – as a New York Met – but after being traded to the California Angels in 1971 he nudged Mets fans every couple years, throwing seven no-hitters. “Every time he pitched you expected a no-hitter – or 15 strikeouts,” said Jay Horwitz, Mets VP/Public Relations, referring to Dwight Gooden. In May 1996, Gooden tossed the only no-hitter of his career – as a member of the New York Yankees. Even Duffy Dyer had to leave the New York Mets to catch his first no-hitter (John Candelaria, Pittsburgh, 1975), 11 years before Josh Thole was born.
You can learn a lot about a baseball team from its locker room. The clubhouse is where relationships form, character is revealed and leaders speak out (or not). For the major league rookie, clubhouse real estate is valuable — sometimes priceless. Imagine being the rookie who spent eight months out of the year next to Sandy Koufax? Roberto Clemente? Lou Gehrig? Tom Seaver? These were model athletes, wise and humble men, who used their talent to teach.
The last time I spoke to R.A. Dickey it was 2010. It was a late spring morning in Port St. Lucie and he was sitting, legs crossed, on a wooden stool, Mets pinstripe pants, three-quarter sleeved t-shirt, stirrups, no shoes, quietly gnawing on a hot dog and eating baked beans off a paper plate in front of his temporary “space” in the New York Mets locker room. From a distance, Dickey appeared lost and alone amongst the anxious rookies and loud overconfident veterans. In hindsight, he probably was — at that moment in time.
Today in New York Mets History: August 4, 1982 – Former New York Met Joel Youngblood became the first player in Major League history to get a base hit for two different teams in two different cities in the same day. He started the day as a New York Met and collected a two-run single off Ferguson Jenkins in the third inning at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. Youngblood was notified he was traded to the Montreal Expos in the fourth inning. He grabbed his bats, left the ballpark and caught a flight to Philadelphia in time for the Expos-Phillies game. He pinch-hit in the seventh inning and singled off Steve Carlton.
Joel Youngblood played for six teams over his 14-year Major League Baseball career – including two in one day. It happened 30 years ago today on August 4, 1982; Youngblood’s longest, and in an odd way, his most productive day, as a major league player.