What if the Phillies had signed Tom Seaver in 1966?
Tom Seaver was one of the greatest pitchers ever.
A 12x All-Star, 3x Cy Young, 3x NL ERA titleholder, 5x NL strikeout leader, Rookie of the Year, World Series champion, when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992, his 98.84% on his first ballot was the highest percentage of votes at that point in Hall history. He received more votes than Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, and every other great elected before him.
And he could’ve been a Philadelphia Phillie.
In 1966, the newly-relocated Atlanta Braves drafted Seaver in the first round of the January draft. He was the 20th overall pick, so a lot of other teams probably regret skipping over him, too. The Dodgers had also drafted him in 1965, but when he asked for a $70,000 bonus, they declined. Big mistake.
However, due to an NCAA technicality, the Commissioner of Baseball, William Eckert, was forced to void Seaver’s Braves contract. When Seaver’s father threatened MLB with a lawsuit, Eckert announced that other clubs could match the Braves’ offer, and they would be put into a lottery, from which Seaver’s new organization would be determined.
The Cleveland, Philadelphia, and New York were the only teams willing to match what Atlanta had offered him, which was $40,000. Again, all of this is insane, in retrospect.
The Mets won that lottery and by random chance, gained one of the greatest pitchers of the era. By 1967, he was pitching in orange and blue.
So, instead of being a Phillie, “Tom Terrific” dominated the Phillies for two decades. Over 53 games from 1967-83, he posted a 3.00 ERA against Phillies batters. 21 of his 52 starts, were complete games, and five were shutouts. That 53rd appearance? A game finished, and a save earned.
When Seaver passed away in 2020, former Phillies star Larry Bowa tweeted his condolences and recalled the pitcher as “one of the toughest” he’d ever faced.
Tough indeed, as Bowa had 138 plate appearances against Seaver – the fourth-most of any batter who faced him – and could only manage a meager .212 average against him. In all those face-offs, he homered once.
Mike Schmidt hit .188 in his career against Seaver.
In 1966, the Phillies were one of only three teams willing to take a chance on Seaver. And they’ll always wonder what could have been.