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Mets 101 Seven in Seven Series: Biggest Blockbuster Met Moves #3-The Franchise Leaves Town

December 16th, 2012 at 8:11 AM
By Mike Phillips

Just in time for the holiday season, Mets 101's Seven in Seven series returns as our gift to you. Each week, the Mets 101 staff will begin a countdown of topics related to the New York Mets (i.e. best third baseman, worst defeat, etc.). We will begin our countdowns with the number seven and work all the way to number one. This week's Seven in Seven list is a blockbuster, as we will break down the biggest off-the-field moves that stole the headlines throughout Metropolitan history. We continue the countdown with the third biggest blockbuster in franchise history, the decision to trade away Tom Seaver

The Buildup:

After a remarkable run of two World Series appearances in four years, including one championship, the New York Mets core group began to show its age.  While the team did post winning seasons in both 1975 and 1976, the team was rapidly losing key pieces to the championship puzzle. One key piece they still had was ace pitcher Tom Seaver, who had already won three Cy Young Awards in his ten years with the Mets. Seaver's contract was due to expire after the 1977 season, and Seaver was working on an extension with the team. Seaver sought to be paid at the same level as the elite pitchers in the game, but chairman of the board M. Donald Grant refused to meet that demand. Seeing no middle ground in sight, Seaver attempted to bypass Grant by appealing directly to owner Lorinda De Roulet and General Manager Joe McDonald to negotiate his extension with them. Before the ink could dry on a potential three year extension with the Mets, a scathing column about Seaver was released in the New York Daily News by Dick Young. Young, a favorite beat reporter of Grant's, wrote that Seaver was greedy and being pressured by his wife to get more money than Nolan Ryan. Seaver was infuriated by the column and went to McDonald to demand a trade immediately. Seaver, who could not co-exist with Grant anymore, got his wish on June 15, 1977 when he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds as part of the "Midnight Massacre".  (Be sure to check out this story from the Daily News' Bill Madden for more about the Seaver trade). 

'Tom Seaver Display at Mets Hall of Fame' photo (c) 2010, slgckgc - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Headed to the Mets:

SP Pat Zachry: Pat Zachry was a talented young starter for the Cincinnati Reds. Zachry had won the 1976 National League Rookie of the Year award after going 14-7 with a 2.74 ERA for the Reds. Zachry also won two critical games in the postseason to help the Reds beat the Yankees in the 1976 World Series.

2B Doug Flynn: Doug Flynn came to New York as a light hitting middle infielder. Flynn was a very good defender, but he could not hit enough to crack the every day lineup for Cincinnati. 

LF Steve Henderson: Steve Henderson was a top hitting prospect for the Reds at the time of the trade. Henderson, who was a fifth round pick in the 1974 draft, was batting .326 for Cincinnati's Triple-A affiliate at the time of the trade.

RF Dan Norman: Dan Norman was another hitting prospect for the Reds. Norman was playing for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in 1977 alongside Steve Henderson. Norman was not as polished a hitter as Henderson was for the affiliate, batting only .249 in the first two and a half months of the season. 

Headed to the Reds:

SP Tom Seaver: Seaver's credentials spoke for themselves at that point. Cincinnati gave up four players to acquire the nine time All Star and three time Cy Young winner in the hopes that Seaver would become the ace they needed. The arrival of Seaver gave hope to the Reds and their fans that the Big Red Machine could become the next great dynasty in baseball

How the Mets Fared:

The trade was a flat out disaster for the Mets. The trade, along with the departure of popular slugger Dave Kingman the same day, came to be categorized by Mets fans as "The Midnight Massacre". Trading away Seaver decimated the Mets as none of the players they acquired came even close to matching the production they gave up in Seaver. The team plummeted into last place for three straight years as fans stayed away from Shea in droves. Shea Stadium came to be known as Grant's tomb as M. Donald Grant was reviled for driving away the franchise's superstar. Grant was fired following the 1978 season and GM Joe McDonald was sent packing in 1979 as a new ownership group purchased the team. It would take new owner Nelson Doubleday another four years to get the Mets out of the cellar, making it seven straight years the Mets finished with 68 wins or fewer.

How the Reds Fared:

The Reds made out like bandits in the trade as Seaver became the ace they needed. Even as the Big Red Machine crumbled around him, Seaver continued to be a dominant force on the mound for Cincinnati. Seaver wasn't able to pile up as many wins in Cincinnati due to injuries and a lack of run support, but the Reds did make the postseason twice in Seaver's tenure. To add insult to injury for Mets fans, Seaver managed to throw a no-hitter for Cincinnati on June 16, 1978 against the St. Louis Cardinals. Mets fans had watched Seaver throw five one hitters in his Mets career and had yet to see the Mets throw a no-hitter of their own. Seaver's feat would spark a trend of great pitchers throwing no-hitters either before or after their time in Flushing, and the Mets would not see a no hitter of their own until Johan Santana accomplished the feat nearly 34 years later. 

Hindsight is 20/20: 

Any deal that involves trading away an ace pitcher is very risky because you never know if the return will match the ace's production. This is a dilemma the Mets are facing right now as they look to move their current Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey, to the Toronto Blue Jays. The difference between Dickey's situation and Seaver's is the point they were at in their careers. Dickey is nearing the end of his career on a team that isn't built to win in 2013, so a carefully calculated trade to land pieces that can help for the future isn't the worst thing in the world. Seaver was an ace in his prime who wanted to stay in New York but ended up demanding to leave after a dispute with M. Donald Grant. Grant's ego trip came at the worst possible time for the Mets, as Seaver was just about to sign a three year extension on the night of the trade deadline. When Seaver came back demanding an immediate trade following Young's column, the Mets were right up against the trade deadline and did not have an opportunity to fairly play the market for Seaver's services. The trade that followed was a panic trade that saw the Mets give up the best pitcher in franchise history for what amounted to a bag of baseballs. 

Check back tomorrow as we take a look at the second biggest blockbuster move in Mets history as part of Mets 101's Seven in Seven series!

 

Tags: Baseball, Cincinnati Reds, Dan Norman, Dick Young, Doug Flynn, Joe McDonald, M. Donald Grant, Midnight Massacre, MLB, New York, New York Mets, Pat Zachry, Seven in Seven, Steve Henderson, Tom Seaver

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