NEW YORK -- The Franchise is finally on display outside Citi Field.
A long-awaited statue of pitcher Tom Seaver was unveiled Friday by the New York Mets in a 40-minute ceremony that began about 2 1/2 hours before their home opener against Arizona.
With thousands of fans gathered around, cell phones held high and craning their necks to see, the late Hall of Famer’s wife and two daughters were front and center for the festivities.
Following an introduction from longtime Mets radio announcer Howie Rose and speeches by owner Steve Cohen and former slugger Mike Piazza, the blue curtain was pulled away to reveal a striking monument that stands 10 feet tall and 13 1/2 feet long. It depicts Seaver in the middle of his classic drop-and-drive delivery, baseball in his right hand.
“Hello, Tom,” said his emotional widow Nancy, choking back tears. “It’s so nice to have you here where you belong.”
The sculpture by William Behrends - who also designed and created statues of Willie Mays in San Francisco and Tony Gwynn in San Diego - weighs 3,200 pounds (2,000 pounds of bronze and 1,200 pounds of structural stainless steel). The granite pitcher’s mound came in nine pieces that weighed 33,600 pounds and added about 3 feet in height.
“Tom Seaver is our royalty,” Piazza said.
The statue was placed next to the Mets’ popular home run apple from old Shea Stadium in front of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda that serves as the main entrance to Citi Field. Fans streaming off the elevated No. 7 subway train are now greeted by the Seaver memorial just beyond the foot of the steps they descend.
“When I was a kid, when I thought of the Mets, I thought of Tom Seaver,” said Cohen, a longtime fan even before he bought the club. “He transformed the Mets, transfixed New York and won the hearts of Mets fans.”
Seaver won three Cy Young Awards during 12 seasons with New York and pitched the Miracle Mets to the club’s first World Series championship in 1969 - earning him the nickname The Franchise.
“They could have built a statue for him right then and there,” Rose said.
Seaver went 198-124 with a 2.57 ERA and 2,541 strikeouts for the Mets and remains the club’s career leader in wins, ERA, strikeouts, shutouts (44), complete games (171) and starts (395). He also played for Cincinnati, the Chicago White Sox and Boston during his 20-year career, finishing with 311 wins, a 2.86 ERA and 3,640 strikeouts from 1967-86. The Mets retired his No. 41 in 1988 and he was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.
“Tom Seaver is our sunshine,” Rose said, noting the appropriately nice weather Friday. “He impacted us all.”
While many other major league ballparks feature statues of franchise greats, Mets fans have long clamored for one of their own at Citi Field, which opened in 2009.
Under the previous ownership of the Wilpon and Katz families, the club announced plans for a Seaver statue in June 2019, when the address of Citi Field was changed to 41 Seaver Way. The team initially hoped to unveil it during the 2021 season, but the tribute was pushed back to opening day 2022 in consultation with the pitcher’s family after the artist asked for more time given delays related to the pandemic.
“Our feelings are, it’s about time. He deserves this, and the fans deserve it, too,” said Larry Goodman, a 71-year-old Mets fan from Long Island who attended the ceremony.
“Bigger than I thought it was going to be - which is nice. As they say, larger than life.”
Seaver died at age 75 in his native California on Aug. 31, 2020.
“I refuse to speak of Tom Seaver in the past tense. I’m sure we all feel his presence right here, right now,” Rose said.