The Tom Seaver statue finally debuted at City Field on Friday, hours before the Mets home opened in 2022, and years after that, it could probably be built.
The statue depicts Seaver – who turned the Mets from a mockery to a world champion more than 50 years ago – in his famous drop-and-drive delivery to the home board. It was a movement that was so strong that his back knee sometimes scratched the embankment, creating stains on his uniform that were a testament to another decisive performance by the best player in Mets history.
The statue, designed by sculptor William Behrends, is made of bronze and stainless structural steel. He is 10 feet tall, weighs 3,200 pounds and at first glance on Friday was almost stunning. He will now welcome fans who arrive at the main entrance to the stadium, some of whom were old enough to see the Seaver field and many not. And at least a few from both groups might gratefully look at the statue and wonder if all of this could have been done some time ago while Seaver was still alive and in relatively good health.
The issue didn’t seem to matter at Friday’s late-morning ceremony, which drew a massive outpouring of lively Mets fans, happy the sun was shining, happy to see the statue for the first time, happy, too, that the Mets are this season started with a score of 5-2. They later scored 6-2 with a Arizona strike.
They were cheering when the injured Jacob deGrom, perhaps the best Mets pitcher from Seaver, appeared in Mets baseball pants and a sweatshirt and sat in the front row to accept it all. They scoffed when Queens Mayor Donovan Richards went too long in his comments, cheering when Mike Piazza spoke and more or less applauding when Steven Cohen, who took over as Mets owner a year and a half ago, stood up to speak.
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And when Nancy Siver, sometimes using a wheelchair, gracefully backed away from the script as she talked about her late husband and ended with “Bless you all,” the audience chanted her name. It was such a ceremony.
Seaver’s statue will undoubtedly become a meeting place for fans before the game, a role that has so far more or less belonged to the old Home Run Apple. This should make a good upgrade.
Indeed, in recent decades, many teams have erected statues outside their stadiums as a way to pay tribute to their famous players (and even some beloved broadcasters). But the previous owners of the Mets, Wilpons, decided not to do so, even though greeting Seaver that way seemed like an easy enough thing.
Things changed in June 2019, when the Wilpons announced that a statue of Seaver was being ordered and that the address for Citi Field was being changed to 41 Seaver Way. Just a few months earlier, Seaver’s family had discovered that he was suffering from dementia and was withdrawing from public life. He died at the end of August 2020, his death is attributed to both coronavirus and dementia, and it was hard to ignore that the statue had not yet been completed.
It was scheduled to be unveiled last summer, but the pandemic delayed things. And it was postponed again when the start of the 2022 season was postponed by a recent downtime.
The fact that the ceremony finally took place on April 15 – Jackie Robinson Day, when Robinson’s first game in the major leagues is honored every year in baseball – was a nice touch, no matter how accidental it may have been. As it is, Seaver’s statue is near the Rotunda of City Field, which is adorned with a great tribute to Robinson. Thus, the hero of Queens, number 41, will be at a distance from the hero from Brooklyn, who famously wore number 42.
The Mets will also soon withdraw the number 17 worn by Keith Hernandez at a ceremony scheduled for this summer. He was the leader of the Mets champion team in 1986 and, for some, the best player the Mets have had since Seaver. As with the Seaver statue, it probably took too long to pay homage to Hernandez. As with the Seaver statue, the decision to withdraw number 17 from circulation was actually made by the Wilpons, as well as the decision to withdraw number 36 carried by Jerry Koosman, Seaver’s left-handed aide, last August.
In each of these cases, better late than never. If the Wilpons could do it all over again, they might have acted faster. But that, of course, is not the way things work. Instead, you fix it when you can and keep showing up.
That’s what Fred Wilpon, now 85, did on Friday. The former main owner of the team sat in the second row during the dedication of the statue and stayed after that. Asked if he wanted the statue to be discovered many years ago, he considered the question and replied: “I am glad that it has been done now. It was a beautiful ceremony. “