By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Tom was not “Terrific” in Toronto.
Admittedly, Tom Seaver, whose dominance on the mound earned him the nickname “Tom Terrific,” didn’t pitch in Toronto until the tail end of his career, but the legendary hurler lost all three games he started at Exhibition Stadium and posted a 3.63 ERA.
In fact, the last big league game that Seaver pitched was at Exhibition Stadium on September 19, 1986. Matched up against Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Stieb, Seaver, then with the Boston Red Sox, permitted three runs in four innings before a pulled calf muscle forced him to leave the game.
The Blue Jays, who proceeded to win 6-4, also received contributions from four other Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers. Tom Henke pitched two scoreless innings to record the save, while Tony Fernandez, George Bell and Ernie Whitt all reached base at least once.
Born in Fresno, Calif., Seaver, who fared much better against the Montreal Expos during his 20-year big league career, captured National League Rookie of the Year honors with the New York Mets in 1967. Two years later, he snagged his first of three Cy Young Awards and helped the underdog “Miracle Mets” to an improbable World Series win.
Thanks to pinpoint control with his fastball and slider, Seaver was selected to 12 all-star games, registered 311 wins (18th all-time), tossed 61 shutouts (seventh all-time) and notched 3,640 strikeouts (sixth all-time) during his two decades in the majors in which he also pitched for the Reds and the White Sox. For his efforts, he was a near unanimous selection to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Seaver was listed on 98.8 per cent of writers’ ballots, which remains the highest percentage ever received by a candidate.
With a resume that strong, Seaver must have had some success against the Expos and Canadian players, right?
Here’s a rundown of some of his accomplishments against the Expos, as well as some of his other Canadian connections:
– Seaver started his first major league game on April 13, 1967 at Shea Stadium against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Facing a lineup that boasted future Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski, the 22-year-old Seaver allowed six hits and two earned runs in 5-1/3 innings and left the game when it was tied 2-2. Mets right-hander Chuck Estrada took over for Seaver and during his 2-2/3 innings of work, the Mets scored a run to take the lead. Toronto native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Ron Taylor pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn a save and preserve the Mets’ 3-2 win.
– In 49 games against the Expos, Seaver was 22-12 with a 2.65 ERA. He fanned 279 Expos in 346-1/3 innings. But the stocky righty experienced some hard luck at Jarry Park – his record there was sub .500 (5-6), despite a strong 2.65 ERA. In 12 starts at Olympic Stadium, Seaver was 5-3 with a 3.51 ERA.
– As mentioned earlier, Seaver lost all three of his starts at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. But counting home and away starts against the Blue Jays, Seaver was a combined 1-5 with a 4.41 ERA. Keep in mind, however, that all of these starts came during the twilight of his career from 1984 to 1986.
– Seaver belted 12 home runs during his career and the first two came against the Expos. The first was a solo homer in the fourth inning off of lefty Rich Nye in a Mets’ 7-1 win at Shea Stadium on July 9, 1970. The second was a solo blast in the eighth inning off of right-hander Bill Stoneman at Jarry Park in a Mets’ 2-1 victory on June 24, 1971. In both contests, Seaver pitched a complete game.
– Few Chicago Cubs fans will ever forget the “black cat” game on September 9, 1969. The Cubs were three games ahead of the Mets in the standings heading into that showdown at Shea Stadium. In the first inning, a black cat emerged from the stands and walked around Cubs third baseman Ron Santo in the on-deck circle and then allegedly hissed at Cubs manager Leo Durocher. Canadian Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) was on the mound for the Cubs that day pitching against Seaver. The black cat was a bad omen for the Cubs. The normally reliable Jenkins proceeded to allow seven runs in seven innings, while Seaver tossed a complete game in the Mets’ 7-1 victory. It was the Cubs’ sixth loss in a row and they would also drop five of their next six games and eventually be overtaken by the Mets in the standings.
– Speaking of Jenkins and Seaver, Seaver finished second to Jenkins in the 1971 National League Cy Young Award voting. Jenkins posted a 24-13 record and a 2.77 ERA for the Cubs and pitched 30 complete games. However, some have argued that Seaver should’ve won the award because of his 1.76 ERA, though he had fewer wins (20) and complete games (21) than Jenkins.
– Jenkins and Seaver were teammates on three National League all-star teams (1967, 1971 and 1972).
– By my count, Seaver had three other Canadian teammates during his career (hometown, team, years played with Seaver): Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont., New York Mets, 1967 to 1971), Brian Ostrosser (Hamilton, Ont., New York Mets, 1973) and Sheldon Burnside (Toronto, Ont., Cincinnati Reds, 1980). It should be noted that Burnside was born in South Bend, Ind., but was raised in Toronto.
– If there was one player that “owned” Seaver over the course of his career, it was Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Terry Puhl. The Melville, Sask., native, who played 15 years in the big leagues with the Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals from 1977 to 1991, was 20-for-45 against “Tom Terrific” for a .444 batting average. Puhl also slugged his first major league home run off of Seaver on April 6, 1978 (Opening Day) in Cincinnati. Batting leadoff for the Astros, Puhl socked the third pitch from Seaver over the wall at Riverfront Stadium.
– The only other Canadian big leaguers to walk to the plate against Seaver were pitchers. Swift Current, Sask., native Reggie Cleveland registered two singles in four at bats against Seaver, while Jenkins was 1-for-8 – his only hit, however, was a solo home run on April 25, 1969 at Shea Stadium.