PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Tom Seaver, one of the New York Mets’ iconic stars, and the greatest pitcher in franchise history, has been diagnosed with dementia, his family confirmed Thursday in an announcement with the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Tom will continue to work in his beloved vineyard at his California home, but has chosen to completely retire from public life,’’ the announcement read. “The family is deeply appreciative of those who have supported Tom throughout his career, on and off the field, and who do so now by honoring his request for privacy. We join Tom in sending warmest regards to everyone.’’
The news is absolutely heartbreaking.
Seaver, 74, was responsible for the Mets’ new identity, turning the lovable losers into the 1969 World Series champions. The team had hoped to celebrate Seaver’s career as the centerpiece of its 50-year reunion in June. The Seaver family said he will no longer be able to attend the ceremonies.
“We’ve been in contact with the Seaver family and are aware of his health situation,’’ Mets owner Jeff Wilpon said in part in a statement. “Although he’s unable to attend the ’69 anniversary, we are planning to honor him in special ways and have included his family in our plans.’’
Seaver was a 311-game winner with three Cy Young awards, a 12-time All-Star and five-time 20-game winner. He won 198 of those games in his 12-year career with the Mets, including a career-high 25 games in 1969.
He was a first-round Hall of Famer who garnered a record 98.8 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 1992, which stood until Ken Griffey Jr. and Mariano Rivera broke it.
Seaver, nicknamed “Tom Terrific,” was the greatest pitcher Hall of Famer Hank Aaron said that he ever faced.
In an ESPN poll, Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton and Bert Blyleven called Seaver the finest pitcher of their generation.
Seaver, who still plans to operate his winery in Calistoga, Calif., was hoping to keep his illness quiet until excerpts from a book, After the Miracle, written by former Mets player Art Shamsky, was published this week by Newsday.
The memory loss, Shamsky wrote, could stem from Lyme disease, which Seaver contracted in 1991. Shamsky quoted former Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson saying, “He can forget things that happened just a few minutes before. And he repeats himself a lot. But when he gets his rest, he still has a lot of energy.’’
Seaver, who used to regularly attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony until recent years, has made few public appearances.
Seaver conceded several years ago that he was having difficulty with his memory, saying he was terrified when his head vineyard worker of seven years came to his house, and he didn’t know his name.
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“I felt like I had the worst case of the flu every day,’’ Seaver told the New York Daily News in 2013. “And then I was having trouble remembering things and making bad decisions. I was scared. I said to myself, ‘It’s like I’m getting old before my time.
“ ‘Why is this happening?’ I was scared. I thought I’d had a stroke.’’
It was diagnosed as Lyme disease, Seaver said at the time, which can affect memory loss. He also suffered from Bell’s palsy on the right side of his face.
The last time most Mets fans saw Seaver was when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field. It was his greatest All-Star moment, Seaver would say at the game, since his first All-Star Game in 1967 at Anaheim Stadium. Seaver, who went to USC, had his entire family at the game.
That game lasted 15 innings, and Seaver was the last pitcher to take the mound, coming in after National League teammate Tony Perez hit a homer off Catfish Hunter. He ended the game by striking out Chicago White Sox outfielder Ken Berry.
It was the first time Seaver was in the national spotlight.
He has a whole lot of people now praying to see him again. In Cooperstown, walking along with the rest of his fellow Hall of Famers on that stage.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale