By: Tristan Jung
Legendary New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver was best known for his success on the mound, but many are unaware that he also served in the Marine Corps Reserve for a year before embarking on his baseball career. Seaver served with AIRFMFPAC 29 Palms, spending six months on active duty, between June 1962 and July 1963.
Back in the 1960s, there wasn’t a clear pipeline to baseball like there is now. Out of high school, Seaver had few alluring options to play college baseball due to being too small, so he joined the Marines. The New York Daily News reported that Seaver entered the Marine Corps Reserve at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds and left a strong 6-foot-1, 210-pound prospect. He remained a part-time member of the Marine Corps Reserve until 1970.
Seaver always credited the Marine Corps Reserve with helping him become an all-time great. In a 2011 interview, Seaver spoke about the lessons he learned:
“What they taught me was so much about discipline, so much about focus, so much about team spirit…Just boot camp, you get through it and you feel like you’ve accomplished so much…The things that I’ve learned, and especially learned to integrate into when I was a pitcher in the big leagues … the discipline and the focus and respect for uniform, etc., were an extremely important part of my career.” — Tom Seaver, 2011 interview with Nick Diunte
Seaver then went to Fresno City College for a time before being signed onto a scholarship by the University of Southern California. He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1966, but a ruling by then-commissioner William Eckert voided the deal on a technicality. Seaver’s father complained directly to the commissioner, who allowed the offer to be matched by any team in baseball. The New York Mets were actually awarded his draft rights via lottery, a stroke of luck that changed the franchise forever.
Seaver quickly proved he belonged in the major leagues by making the roster in 1967 and winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award. After a brilliant year in 1968 confirmed his status as a rising star, Seaver dominated in 1969 to the tune of a 25-7 record and 2.21 ERA. His performances led the 1969 “Miracle Mets” to an improbable World Series victory over the favored Baltimore Orioles. Seaver pitched all 10 innings in a memorable Game Four win that set up the Mets’ first-ever title.
Seaver would go on to have an outstanding career with the Mets, earning the nicknames “Tom Terrific” and “The Franchise”. He made 10 All-Star teams between 1967 and 1977, winning three Cy Young Awards. Seaver still leads the Mets’ all-time records in ERA (2.57), wins (198), strikeouts (2,541), and games started (395).
Although he was controversially traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1977 during the infamous “Midnight Massacre”, Seaver’s success didn’t end there. He pitched another nine seasons in the majors, including one more with the Mets, making two more All-Star teams before he retired in 1986 with the Boston Red Sox. Ironically, Seaver was with the Red Sox when the Mets won their second and most recent World Series title that year.
Seaver retired in 1987 and spent years as a broadcaster for the New York Yankees and the Mets. He also became an accomplished California winemaker. Seaver passed away on August 31, 2020, at age 75 after complications from dementia and COVID-19.