Mets fans have had plenty of heartbreak over the years — the mid 2000s collapses, devastating injuries, World Series losses — but perhaps none can match what happened 40 years ago today. That’s when the Mets thought it would be a good idea to trade Tom Seaver.
Seaver was a homegrown superstar, and by June 15, 1977 was by far the best player in franchise history (still is) and one of the best pitchers in the game (still among the best ever). But his relationship with Mets chairman M. Donald Grant had deteriorated to the point where everyone wanted a divorce.
Everyone except for the fans.
So despite the public squabbles over money and Dick Young’s scathing columns in the Daily News, with information allegedly fed to him by Grant, fans were still stunned when we woke up to the headlines the day after the trade deadline (which was June 15 back then), to learn Seaver had been dealt to the Reds. Dave Kingman, the only other player on the team worth a damn, was also sent to San Diego. It was dubbed the “Midnight Massacre” because Grant pulled off the deal under the cover of darkness.
In return for the future Hall of Famer, the Mets got four young players who they hoped would blossom into stars. Pat Zachry was 25 years old and coming off a Rookie of the Year season. He made the All-Star team in 1978 but his six years with the Mets were perfectly average. Doug Flynn was a 26-year-old no-hit, all glove second baseman. He won a Gold Glove in 1980 but his five years with the Mets were unspectacular. Steve Henderson, 24, got off to a fast start with the Mets, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year balloting the year of the trade. But despite decent numbers over four years, he never lived up to his early promise. Dan Norman was just 22 when the trade happened, and he just never panned out.
Even though he was already 32 at the time of the trade, Tom Seaver would go on to win 122 more games, including nine with the Mets when they reacquired him in 1983. The plan was likely for Seaver to pitch a few more years, win his 300th game in the blue and orange, then retire as a Met.
But it didn’t happen because the Mets screwed up again. Back then MLB had a free agent compensation draft, in which every team was able to protect a certain number of players, and teams that lost free agents could pick from the remaining pool. Given his age and salary, the Mets did not think anyone would pick Seaver. But the White Sox defied conventional thinking and snagged Seaver. I remember the Mets tried to make a deal to send another player to Chicago, but the Sox really wanted Seaver. He ended up winning his 300th game in that hideous uniform, in Yankee Stadium, to add insult to injury.
There are two things about the Tom Seaver saga that many people do not remember. He was a member of the Red Sox during the 1986 World Series but did not pitch in the postseason. Imagine if Seaver somehow played a role in denying the Mets that championship?
And second, Seaver attempted a comeback with the Mets in 1987. If memory serves, he threw in simulated games but at age 42, he just did not have it anymore and decided to call it a career.
It was a career that should have been spent entirely in Flushing. But it was simply not meant to be.