BY JOHN ERARDI | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Long before Tom Seaver was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1992, he was thinking how cool it was going to be up on the dais with Pete Rose, his teammate on the 1977 Reds.
"My last year (in baseball) was 1986, and Pete's last year was 1986, so that meant we were going to be going in together," Seaver said Friday. "Of course that thought crossed my mind. It would have been impossible for it to have not crossed my mind."
That thought no longer crossed Seaver's mind when Rose was banished from baseball in 1989 for his involvement in gambling.
Seventeen years later, Rose remains on the outside looking in when it comes to baseball and the Hall of Fame. Seaver, meanwhile, still has the highest percentage of votes (98.84 percent) in the 70-year history of the Hall of Fame.
"The only reason that nobody before received a bigger percentage of votes is only because there were some older writers who weren't going to vote for anybody on the first ballot, no matter who the player was," Seaver said. "I mean, Joe DiMaggio didn't make it on the first ballot. How much more do you need to know?"
Seaver's comments came on a day-long series of brief interviews to promote MasterCard's "Pay Pass," which allows "contact-less" payment.
Seaver agrees with the experts that Rose might have been the first unanimous electee in Hall history had he not gotten into trouble.
"It's difficult to imagine what might have been (had Rose not been banished)," Seaver said. "I'm like everybody else. I wish it (Rose's betting on baseball) had never happened."
Seaver was arguably the best pitcher in baseball when he was traded by the Mets to the Reds.
"That was a tremendous group (of starting eight) players that I joined in 1977," Seaver recalled. "What nobody realized at the time is that it was a team in transition."
Despite the fact that Seaver was 14-3 with the Reds in 1977 (he was acquired June 15 and three days later pitched a three-hit shutout in Montreal), the team - which was coming off consecutive world championships in 1975 and '76 - finished 10 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Seaver said he had great chemistry with catcher Johnny Bench.
"I remember one time he came out to the mound when I was getting hit early - single, double, single ... and all he said was, 'Are you even trying?' and then just turned around and walked away. I went out behind the mound with my back to home plate and just busted out laughing. John knew that all I needed to do was exhale. We won the game 4-2 and I got the win."
In only five seasons with the Reds, Seaver was 75-46 (.620 winning percentage, seventh-best in club history), was an All-Star in 1978 and 1981 and, on June 16, 1978 at Riverfront Stadium, pitched his only major-league no-hitter.
"I'll never forget - even though it was 25 years ago - that we had the best record in baseball (66-42, .611, in the strike-shortened season) in 1981, but they (Major League Baseball) aced us out of the playoffs by splitting the season into two halves," Seaver said. "They wanted the big-market teams to make it to the World Series (which is what happened, as the Dodgers beat the Yankees, 4 games to 2) and the hell with the 1981 Cincinnati Reds.
"Do I still sound upset?" asked Seaver, laughing.
Seaver, 61, who has his first batch of grapes from Napa Valley, Calif., "in the oak" that will be sold as wine next year, will be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame this summer, with Tom Browning and Lee May. They were voted in by fans last year.
"It's an honor," Seaver said.