Tom Seaver’s Major League Protest

Tom Seaver, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, died last week at 75. While his pitching exploits put him in the Baseball Hall of Fame—he won 311 victories, had 3,640 strike-outs, won three Cy Young Awards as best pitcher in the National League, and ended his 20-year career with an astounding earned-run average of 2.86—it is what he did and said off the baseball diamond that resonates now more than ever.

Seaver joined the New York Mets in 1967. That year the team placed 10th out of the 10 teams in the National League. The next year, they finished ninth. But in 1969, Seaver not only led the “Miracle Mets” to a World Series victory; he also joined the ranks of the anti-war movement—a stance overlooked by many of the media obituaries. He did so at a time of growing opposition to the Vietnam War but within a baseball culture that was the most conservative and traditional of the nation’s major sports. By 1969, Seaver had already been voted the National League’s Rookie of the Year and been an All-Star all three seasons.

By most measures, Seaver was an all-American boy. His father was a business executive and his mother a homemaker. He had joined the US Marine Corps Reserves after high school. After six months of active duty, he enrolled at Fresno City College, then transferred to the University of Southern California, one of the country’s most conservative campuses. He posted a 10-2 record his sophomore year, before signing a contract with the Mets. He remained a part-time member of his Reserve unit until 1970. He displayed no affinity for the counterculture in his hair, dress, rhetoric, or personal style. But he often visited wounded Vietnam veterans in hospitals and was upset by their suffering for a war that he viewed as immoral.

Because of his military service, Seaver had credibility about the war that other players did not, but his public stance against it triggered controversy.

Seaver was scheduled to pitch the first game of the World Series against the Orioles in Baltimore on October 11. That morning, The New York Times ran a story in which Seaver expressed his opposition to the Vietnam War.

“I think it’s perfectly ridiculous what we’re doing about the Vietnam situation,” he told the Times. Seaver said that if the Mets won the World Series, he would buy an ad in the Times saying, “If the Mets can win the World Series, then we can get out of Vietnam.” Seaver added, “I feel very strongly about this.” Seaver lost the first game of the series but was slated to pitch the fourth game at Shea Stadium in New York.

That day, October 15, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in cities around the county under the auspices of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. By then, despite President Richard Nixon’s promise to find an “honorable” peace, discontent with his policies had moved far beyond the campuses and into the mainstream.

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