Baseball lost an icon when the Hall of Fame announced that Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver had passed away due to complications of Lewy body dementia and COVID-19.
Seaver’s career began in the 1960s and was still going strong in the 80s. “Tom Terrific” had been the Rookie of the Year in 1967 but his entire career seemed like a never-ending highlight. He struck out over 200 for the first of nine straight seasons in ’68 and led the Miracle Mets to a title in ’69. On April 22, 1970, he struck out 19 of the 27 hitters he faced including the last nine San Diego Padres who dared step into the box. He pitched a no-hitter and won 311 games.
Ron Darling told this special story about a night when he had dinner with Tom Seaver.
Ron: “I was in your study and I saw drawers full of baseballs – 61 to be exact – what are those?”
Seaver: “Ah, those are the shutouts.”pic.twitter.com/NMTjDBa8CT
— SNY (@SNYtv) September 3, 2020
Seaver was a master on the mound thanks to his talent but also a keen mind. He also had a good sense of humor.
In memory of Tom Seaver, 1944-2010, a baseball card @Topps made and pulled at the last minute. Many players tried to fool the photographer by posing “the wrong way.” I don’t know of any but Seaver who tried it the first time he posed for a card. To me it defines his confidence: pic.twitter.com/XOp1zybjtK
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) September 3, 2020
Here’s a look back at some of his most important baseball cards through some of his greatest seasons. We’ve kept the list below to mainstream manufacturers, but there’s a wealth of other great Seaver cards because it was hard to have a set in the 1970s and early 80s without including the game’s best pitcher.
1. 1967 Topps Rookie Card
Sharing the card with future broadcaster Bill Denehy, Seaver had come to the woeful Mets after just one minor league season. The USC product didn’t disappoint, winning 16 games and earning the save in the All-Star Game (by pitching a scoreless 15th inning).
Seaver’s card is in the final series and its scarcity is one reason why his rookie card is among the most valuable of the era.
2. 1969 Topps
You can’t have a Seaver collection without the 1969. After two seasons of something less than mediocrity, the Mets surprised the world and Seaver was the main reason why. He won 25 games and his first Cy Young Award and earned a critical victory in Game 4 of the World Series.
This card, #480 in the set, is sometimes plagued by scuffing because of the dark background and is often off-center but still a great portrait shot.
3. 1971 Topps
A 1.76 ERA and 289 strikeouts in 286 innings? Safe to say Seaver was borderline unhittable in ’71, a year he has stated was his best of all-time. The 1971 Topps #160 is rare at high grades because of those pesky black borders. A great vintage card of a Hall of Famer at the peak of his powers.
4. 1972 Topps Boyhood Photo
This was one of Topps’ best ideas ever and one that appealed to kids (including this writer) more than any others that season. Big leaguers and their families gave Topps photos of themselves as youngsters, which were then turned into a great subset.
The back offers a nice summary of his earliest memories on the diamond.
5. 1974 Topps #80
Credit Topps’ design team for this one. They didn’t use horizontal poses very often in the 1970s but getting a great shot of Seaver’s follow-through and putting it on a card was genius. It also comes with one of those classic cartoons on the back: “Tom enjoys playing bridge.” Who knew?
6. 1974 Topps Strikeout Leaders with Nolan Ryan #207
How amazing was Nolan Ryan’s strikeout total in 1973? Seaver led the National League with 251–and finished 137 behind Ryan. Seaver was also coming off his third ERA title in ’73 and second Cy Young while the Mets were winning the pennant– so he had plenty of reasons to smile.
Both Hall of Famers on one card, a great expression from Seaver, those amazing numbers on the back…this is simply one of the best non-rookie cards of the 70s.
7. 1975 Topps
Seaver won his third and final Cy Young Award in ’75, led the NL in wins and strikeouts for the seventh straight year, a feat noted on the back of this card, which is a different kind of shot showing him hanging around the batting cage.
The Fresno, CA native wasn’t a spectacular hitter, but he could handle the stick well enough to knock 12 homers and even had five triples over the course of his career.
8. 1978 Topps
A bitter contract dispute (and you couldn’t really blame him) with the Mets led to the unthinkable break-up in June of 1977. This card is his first as a Red. Seaver tossed his first no-hitter with Cincinnati in ’78 and the trade had become a Mets nightmare.
One of his cheapest vintage cards from one of his most memorable seasons, you can own one for a couple of bucks.
9. 1982 Fleer Dynamic Duo with Johnny Bench
It seems impossible to think that these two were once a battery. Seaver wasn’t on a lot of dual player cards over the first dozen years of his career–except for the leader cards–but the arrival of Donruss and Fleer changed that for the better.
This is another cheapie because of how many are out there and the fact that it is a little goofy, but the passage of time has led us to appreciate some of the 1980s issues like this one a little more. The fun part of this is that it shows Seaver holding a microphone, which is exactly what he spent many hours doing when he wasn’t pitching. Later in life, he became the owner of a vineyard and became known for wine. There wasn’t much the guy couldn’t do well.
10. 1984 Fleer Update
Lost in the mania over Puckett and Clemens rookie cards were some of the other gems in the 1984 Fleer Update box set, which once sold for hundreds of dollars. Pete Rose as an Expo–and Seaver who had gone back to New York but was left unprotected in the free agent compensation pool at age 39 and claimed by the White Sox.
He had a couple of decent years left in him and it was with the Sox that he won his 300th game. Another card one could easily claim was undervalued, but its real worth is that it represents Seaver sailing along into the latter stages of his career, this time with another Hall of Famer catching him: Carlton Fisk.
In honor of #41, here’s a look at the 41 current ‘most watched’ Tom Seaver baseball cards up for auction.