Luck of the Draw: April 3rd, a day of Infamy
While December 7th is Pearl Harbor day and known as the “day that will go down in infamy for Americans, April 3rd is also a day of infamy in the hearts and minds of Atlanta Braves fans. The question that might linger for many Braves fans is, what their baseball future might have been? Especially if Commissioner William Eckert did not pull the Mets name from a hat, awarding the young Mets the opportunity to sign Tom Seaver.
Originally, the Atlanta Braves signed the talented pitcher from southern California in the first round of the June 1965 secondary Amateur Draft. Unfortunately the contract was voided because USC had already played two exhibition games, Tom Seaver played for USC. Never mind that Mr. Seaver did not play in either game. William Eckert, through all his wisdom voided the Braves draft choice of Seaver. He was a retired Air Force Lt. General who replaced former commissioner Ford Frick when he retired Eckert fit the job requirement wanted by the majority of baseball owners. He was a baseball outsider. Most of the owners did not have a clue who he was. Eckert did not have much of clue about the National Pastime either. For example, Eckert admitted to not attending a game over the past decade. And he was quoted as referring to the St. Louis ball club as the Cincinnati Cardinals. While the former General understood business and bureaucracy, he was inept at running the game of baseball. To remedy Eckert’s shortcomings, the owners attempted to surround him with qualified baseball personnel. This did not prevent him from making the Seaver decision.
Thomas George Seaver was a “late bloomer.” His record at Fresno High School was 6-5, not exactly an eye opener. His high school already had the reputation of producing several major leaguers like Jim Maloney, Dick Ellsworth and Dick Selma. But even with a mediocre won and loss record, Tom still made the All-City team as the third pitcher. Surprisingly not a single scout approached him or college recruited him. He graduated high school in 1962 and decided to attend Fresno State College, played baseball with the intentions of winning a scholarship. Seaver always had his eyes on playing for USC. Tom won the last eight games at Fresno to finish at 11-2. Also that year he married his college sweetheart, the former Nancy McIntyre, on the last day of the semester.
Before offering Tom a scholarship at USC, Ron Dedeaux the legendary college coach requested him to play in the fast Alaska summer league. This would acclimate with a higher level of competition. Some of his teammates were Graig Nettles, Danny Frisella, Rick Monday, Curt Morton and Gray Sutherland. In August of 1964, his team in Alaska competed in the National Baseball Congress tournament. He was named to the NBC’s all-star team and earned his scholarship to USC.
After completing the 1965 seasons with a record of 10-2, he was drafted by the Dodgers, but demanded a $70,000 signing bonus. The Dodgers passed up on him because of the dollar amount. The following year, he returned to the Alaska after completing his collegiate season. Many of the ex-pros in that circuit felt he was major league material. Tom returned to USC for his junior year and based on his record there, the Braves drafted him in the first round of the secondary June 1965 Amateur Draft. Tom was ticketed for the Richmond Braves (AAA) in following March.
This is where things got messy, Eckert, who was proving he was a bad choice for commissioner nullified the Braves pick in 1966. He based his decision on USC already having played two exhibition games, although Seaver did not participate in either one. Seaver decided to go back to college and finish the baseball season at USC. Unfortunately, the NCAA concluded that he signed a contract with Atlanta, that he was ineligible to play collegiate ball. When Seaver’s father heard this, he threaten to sue baseball. Eckert presented a back up plan and decided that anyone who could match the Braves offer could sign the pitcher from USC. The Phillies, Indians and Mets wanted to the opportunity, Eckert decided on a lottery, he would put all of their names in a hat. That day, the Mets were the winners of a better and brighter future.
Later, Seaver would admit that he was happy to be a Met. Dick Selma, his friend and high school teammate was also playing in New York. After the Mets signed Tom, new broke that the Indians were willing to give Seaver $80,000. He attempted to get the Mets to increase their offer, but they would not budge. Nelson Burbrink, the Mets chief scout informed the draftee, “(Seaver) could accept the offer or sit out until next year’s draft.” Obviously Seaver honored the Mets offer.
Tom Seaver went to pitch for Jacksonville (AAA) after signing. His first professional start was nothing less than sensational, a 4-2, six-hit victory over Rochester. Seaver would register three victories in his first three starts; two, which were complete, games, including a shutout. He struck out 27 in his first 261/3 innings with a cumulative ERA of 0.68.
The manager of one of his victims, Red Davis of the Buffalo Bisons said, “This kid didn’t pitch and beat a bunch of rookies. He beat a veteran team. From what I saw tonight, he could be a great one.”
Solly Hemus, his manager at Jacksonville, compared him to Robin Roberts.
Frank Lary, Jacksonville’s pitching coach stated, “What I like about him, is you never need to tell him something twice. He learns so quickly, I like his future.”
Seaver ended up with a 12-12 record with four shutouts his first season at, Jacksonville.
Tom Seaver joined the New York Mets in 1967. Ron Swoboda, his Mets’ teammate remembered, “Seaver had Hall of Fame written on him when he walked into camp and pitched his first game for the Mets.”
Since the New York Mets acquired Seaver via luck of a lottery, is easy and natural to speculate, “What if?”
What if Eckert pulled out the Phillies name from the hat or the Indians? What would the Braves have been if Eckert did not make his decision?
So I have looked at the three seasons after he began playing with Mets. What I did was replace the bottom pitcher (stats wise) with Seaver’s stats of the same season on each the Phillies, Indians, and Braves. By doing this, I determined if and/or how much of an improvement in the standings for each team.
This is a very simplified way of reaching this conclusion, and I am sure there are more complicated statistical ways of reaching a result.
Tom Seaver finished with a 16-13 his rookie year. If he would have pitched at Philadelphia that season and replaced Dick Ellsworth in the rotation, would have resulted in a four game improvement of the team’s record. Still it would not be enough to advance the Phillies in the standings. The Phillies would have remained in fifth place.
If Tom were with the Cleveland Indians, he would have replaced John O’Donoghue and also result in a four game improvement. In this case, the Indians would have moved from eighth to sixth place in the standings.
If he stayed with the Braves and replaced Tony Colinger, Atlanta would have jumped up to fifth from seventh place.
The Mets finished in the basement for 1967.
Seaver finished with a 16-12 record this season also. If he had pitched for the Phillies, he would have replaced Jerry Johnson. This would have moved them into a tie for sixth from their actual seventh place finish.
If Tom replaced Steve Hargan in Cleveland, the Indians would have moved into second from their actual third place in the standings.
This season they would have vastly improved the Braves sending them into second from their actual seventh.
The New York Mets moved up to ninth for the 1968 season.
This was truly a miracle season of the Amazon New York Mets. It was also the inaugural season for playoffs in baseball. Seaver won his first Cy Young award with a 25-7 record.
The Phillies would have jumped up fourth and the Indians into third. Both the Braves and Mets won their respective divisions. In their playoff series, the Mets swept Atlanta and Seaver won the first game by beating the Braves’ ace Phil Niekro. It could be argued that if Seaver was wearing Braves uniform the results might have been different.
Then again, the Mets did prove through 1969 that they were simply AMAZING!