He was a 13-year-old New York kid sitting in the upper deck between home plate and third base at a jam-packed Shea Stadium with his friend Robert Joseph the electric night when Tom Seaver was perfect through eight innings against the Cubs and captured the imaginations of Mets fans young and old and fueled them with hope and all the grand possibilities that had been the province of Yankees fans.
“What I’ll always remember from that night was the ovation that he got when he came to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning,” said Howie Rose, the 13-year-old boy who today we all know as the WCBS (880 AM) Mets play-by-play man. “There was an ovation the likes of which I had never heard before and frankly I’ve never heard since.
“What this ovation was about the minute he left the on-deck circle was this realization, this celebration, washing over 57,000 people at once, that we — meaning Mets fans — had our Mickey Mantle, or our Sandy Koufax, or our whomever. It just all crystallized that night.”
It was Jimmy Qualls who ruined Seaver’s perfect game bid with a one-out single in the ninth toward the end of a warm July night.
“The Qualls hit just was a shot to the solar plexus,” Rose recalled.
But he recovered quickly thinking about what this gift from the baseball gods had done, and what he would soon mean, a pitcher who will forever be remembered as Tom Terrific and The Franchise, the Hall of Fame pitcher who succumbed Monday to dementia at age 75.
“I always said that was the night the Mets were bar mitzvahed, because that was the first night that I went home from Shea Stadium thinking, ‘Oh my God, they just might be good enough to pull this off,’ ” Rose said.
And, of course, they were. And the love affair between Tom Seaver and the Howie Roses of the city never ended, even after M. Donald Grant unconscionably traded Seaver to Cincinnati.
Rose was working for WHN as a morning sports announcer at the time, and he was instructed to get a quote from Seaver at the airport before his flight to Montreal.
“I wanted to grab him back by the collar and say, ‘Come on, you’re not going to Montreal, you’re pitching tomorrow for the Mets,’ ” Rose said. “It was heartbreaking in one respect, and in another it was time for me to grow up too.”
Days before what they called the Midnight Massacre, June 15, 1977, Rose had been at Shea when Seaver struck out Dan Driessen for his 2,397th strikeout, moving him into 13th place in front of Sandy Koufax, and received a two-minute standing ovation.
“Do you think the ovation you got after that record-breaking strikeout was really the fans pleading with you to work it out and to stay?” Rose asked Seaver afterward.
“He just kinda looked at me almost condescendingly — he didn’t know me from Adam, and he said, ‘Obviously,’ ” Rose recalled.
Seaver would get to know Rose from Adam in the Mets broadcast booth together years later.
“Working with him at first was as big a thrill as was working with Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner,” Rose said, “because they’re all part of the same family that I grew up wanting to be part of, if you will.”
Rose soaked up every last bit of Seaver’s baseball knowledge.
“He was a sensational role model for a young kid,” Rose said. “He was a great partner on the air, the same professionalism that he brought to the mound he brought to the booth and he had that same whimsical kind of fun side to his personality that would get through on the air. But man, he was so astute, so sharp — we once did a game in St. Louis, I saw him call a balk before the umpire did.”
Seaver likened pitching to art, and he was the right-handed Picasso. On his way to the ballpark, Seaver would visualize what he liked to call his WCS — Worst Case Scenario — and plan his attack.
“I think when Tom Seaver was on the mound, the entire world outside Shea Shea or whatever ballpark he was pitching in could have come completely apart. There could have been who knows what happening outside that ballpark,” Rose said. “But the intensity of his focus and the singularity of his purpose when he was on the mound — he had one thing to do, and that was figure out how he was next going to beat that team in that night.
“I can’t imagine that anyone could have been more cerebral about how he went about his business on the mound and gotten more results with brainpower than Tom Seaver did.”
Rose was euphoric when Seaver came back home, infuriated when then-GM Frank Cashen left him on the unprotected list for the White Sox.
“He should have won his 300th game as a Met — that was the plan,” Rose said. “And then, to leave him unprotected … that was all Frank Cashen’s fault. Just utter dereliction of duty.”
Rose, along with legendary Mets public relations director Jay Horwitz and owner Jeff Wilpon, visited Seaver at his Calistoga, Calif., vineyard in June 2016 to give him an NL Championship ring.
“Sadly, it’s the last time I saw him,” Rose said.
Citi Field, since the announcement 15 months ago, now stands on Tom Seaver Way.
“I wish it would have happened sooner,” Rose said. “I wish it would have happened when Tom and the family could have enjoyed it in good health and accepted it for what it was always meant to be.”
Rose was having dinner Wednesday night with his wife and daughter when producer Chris Majkowski called.
“Did you hear?” Majkowski said.
“What?” Rose said.
“Seaver,” Majkowski said.
“No …,” Rose responded.
The 13-year-old boy is 66 now.
“I wish,” Howie Rose said, “he would have stayed a Met forever.”