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Mets’ great Tom Seaver diagnosed with dementia at 74

Bad news from family of Mets' Hall of Famer

FILE – In this April 5, 1983 file photo, New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver throws against the Philadelphia Phillies at Shea Stadium in New York. Seaver has been diagnosed with dementia and has retired from public life. The family of the 74-year-old made the announcement Thursday, March 7, 2019, through the Hall and said Seaver will continue to work in the vineyard at his home in California. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

By Ronald Blum

AP Baseball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, the star of the Miracle Mets 1969 World Series championship team, has been diagnosed with dementia at age 74.

His family made the announcement Thursday through the Hall and said Seaver has retired from public life. He will continue to work at Seaver Vineyards, founded by the retired player and wife Nancy in 2002 on 116 acres at Diamond Mountain in the Calistoga region of California.

Seaver was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 1991, and it reoccurred in 2012 and led to Bell’s Palsy and memory loss, the New York Daily News reported in 2013.

“He will always be the heart and soul of the Mets, the standard which all Mets aspire to, this breaks my heart,” tweeted former Mets catcher Mike Piazza, a fellow Hall of Famer. “Do not feel worthy to be mentioned in the same breath.”

Seaver has limited his public appearances in recent years. He did not attend the Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner in January where members of the 1969 team were honored on the 50th anniversary of what still ranks among baseball’s most unexpected champions.

A three-time NL Cy Young Award winner and the 1967 NL Rookie of the Year, Seaver was 311-205 with a 2.86 ERA, 3,640 strikeouts and 61 shutouts from 1967-86. A five-time 20-game winner nicknamed Tom Terrific, Seaver was elected to the Hall in 1992 when he appeared on 425 of 420 ballots for a then-record 98.94 percent. His mark was surpassed in 2016 by Ken Griffey Jr. and this year by Mariano Rivera, the first unanimous selection.

Seaver pitched for the Mets from 1967 until 1977, when he was traded to Cincinnati after a public spat with Mets chairman M. Donald Grant over Seaver’s desire for a new contract.

“My biggest disappointment? Leaving the Mets the first time and the difficulties I had with the same people that led up to it,” Seaver told The Associated Press ahead of his Hall induction in 1992. “But even that I look back at in a positive way now. It gave me the opportunity to work in different areas of the country.”

He pitched his only no-hitter for the Reds in June 1978 against St. Louis and was traded back to New York after the 1982 season. But Mets general manager Frank Cashen blundered by leaving Seaver off his list of 26 protected players, and in January 1984 Seaver was claimed by the Chicago White Sox as free agent compensation for losing pitcher Dennis Lamp to Toronto.

While pitching for the White Sox, Seaver got his 300th win at Yankee Stadium, and he did it in style with a six-hitter in a 4-1 victory. He finished his career with Boston in 1986. He was a 12-time All-Star and led the major leagues with a 25-7 record in 1969 and with a 1.76 ERA in 1971. The Mets retired his No. 41 in 1988.

“From a team standpoint, winning the ‘69 world championship is something I’ll remember most,” Seaver said in 1992. “From an individual standpoint, my 300th win brought me the most joy.”

A star at the University of Southern California, Seaver was drafted by Atlanta in 1966 and signed with the Braves only for baseball Commissioner William Eckert to void the deal because the Trojans already had played exhibition games that year; baseball rules at the time prohibited a club from signing a college player whose season had started. Any team willing to match the Braves’ signing bonus could enter a lottery, and the Mets won out over Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Among baseball’s worst teams from their expansion season in 1962, the Mets lost more than 100 games in five of their first six seasons and had never won more than 73 games in their first seven years. With cherished Brooklyn Dodgers star Gil Hodges as their manager, a young corps of pitchers led by Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry and a still-wild Nolan Ryan, and an offense that included Cleon Jones and Tommy Agee, the Mets overtook the Chicago Cubs to win the NL East with a 100-62 record.

They swept Atlanta in the first NL Championship Series to reach the World Series against highly favored Baltimore, which had gone 109-53. Seaver lost the opener 4-1 in a matchup with Mike Cuellar, then pitched a 10-inning six-hitter to win Game 4, and the Mets won the title the following afternoon.

His most memorable moment on the mound was at Shea Stadium on July 9, 1969, when he retired his first 25 batters against the Chicago Cubs. Pinch-hitter Jimmy Qualls had a one-out single to left-center in the ninth before Seaver retired Willie Smith on a foulout and Don Kessinger on a flyout.

“I had every hitter doing what I wanted,” Seaver recalled in 1992. “Afterward, my wife was in tears and I remember saying to her: ‘Hey, I pitched a one-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts. What more could I ask for?’”

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