For many Mets fans, this week was very depressing. You saw a Mets superstar leave to join a rival team in the same division. Certainly for some, especially the younger fans, this was devastating (let’s keep it in perspective though, its all in the contents of sports, this isn’t famine, genocide, or nuclear war).
I am here to tell you that the loss of Jose Reyes, although sad and depressing, cannot compare to what happened on June 15, 1977. That was the day the Mets traded Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Steve Henderson, second baseman Doug Flynn, pitcher Pat Zachery, and outfielder Dan Norman. The only accomplishments of note these players ever made as Mets was that they were part of this historic and dubious trade.
A writer for a local New York daily this week actually wrote that letting Reyes go was on a par with the Seaver trade. Without a doubt, that is the most absurd thing I have ever read.
Tom Seaver’s is referred to as “The Franchise”. That is because he was the Mets biggest star at a time when the Mets were young and had never achieved anything. He is the only Met player to ever be voted into the Hall of Fame. He made it on his first ballot in 1992.
Seaver was named 1967 National League Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America, an award Jose Reyes never won. Made the All Star team 6 times while on the Mets and during the season of ’77 when he was traded. He won the Cy Young award in his third season with the Mets in 1969, winning 25 games and pitching the Mets to their first world championship. Seaver won the award again in 1973 and 1975. He also helped achieved a National League pennant in 1973 as the Mets went the distance against the Oakland Athletics in the World Series. He struck out 19 San Diego Padres one afternoon in 1970 including the last ten batters in a row. In his career Seaver fanned 3,640 hitters and became a 300 game winner. His last season was 1986 as a member of the Boston Red Sox. He was ineligible to play due to injury as he ironically sat in the Red Sox dugout during the 1986 World Series.
Seaver personified the Mets in the late 1960s through the mid 1970s. If there are baseball gods who sit in judgement and determine who shall win and who shall lose then perhaps the Mets are being punished over these many years for trading away the greatest player to ever where the orange and blue.
The trade was controversial. Seaver under contract wanted to renegotiate a more reasonable contract considering what certain free agents of lesser ability were getting at the time.
M. Donald Grant, chairman of the board of the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, would have nothing of it, saying that Seaver should live up to his current contract. The feud played out on the back pages of the New York papers, specifically the Daily News where writer Dick Young never missed an opportunity to blast Seaver, siding with the owner. (Of course it was perfectly okay a few years later when Young jumped to the New York Post for a better deal.)
Seaver’s complaints were not just in regard to his own contract. He was also critical of how the Mets, led by Grant, were playing it cheap and not seriously considering free agent options for the club. Seaver was quoted as saying that Grant had a “plantation mentality” in regards to the players.
Grant hated free agency. He was an old school baseball official who loved the reserve clause. Remember, this was playing out at a time when George Steinbrenner was bringing in players through free agency turning the Yankees into a powerhouse as they took control of the city. There was no doubt as to who Mets fans sided with in the Seaver-Grant argument.
When things looked like they might be working out, that Seaver might remain a Met, Young wrote an article about how Tom’s wife Nancy was jealous of former Met Nolan Ryan’s wife. That was the last straw for Seaver who demanded that he be traded. A couple days later Seaver tearfully talked to reporters as he cleaned out his Shea Stadium locker.
That was the beginning of a very long dark age for the Mets. Under Grant, the Mets continued to flounder, finishing last in a six team division through the rest of the decade eventually forcing Grant and company to sell the team. Shea Stadium was empty. The most diehard Mets fans went underground, most too embarrassed to admit they were fans of the team.
To compare the Seaver fiasco with Jose Reyes signing a free agent contract elsewhere is ludicrous. The differences are obvious. The Met hierarchy today, made up of GM Sandy Alderson, John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi, and Paul DePodesta, are working with little funds not because of a cheap owner but because of one who is in deep financial trouble. The Mets were willing to pay 80 to 85 million to retain Reyes (Seaver could have only imagined such an amount back in his day). It’s not as if Alderson did not want to keep Reyes. Unfortunately, the money the Mets had to offer was simply not enough.
There were also baseball considerations in regards to Reyes. Could he stay healthy (he has not for three consecutive seasons) through such a contract? Was it better to use that money on more obvious holes on the team than on one player? All these issues are what went into Reyes leaving the team. Then of course there was Reyes himself who simply wanted to go where the most money was being offered.
The Seaver trade was followed with several hopeless seasons with no obvious plan in place to improve the club. Did M. Donald Grant think that free agency was just going to go away? The farm system was left in complete disarray. Whitey Herzog, director of player development at the time, left indicating Grant hadn’t a clue about baseball.
Today the Mets are headed in the right direction. Their farm system under the new regime is being rebuilt and already they have begun to stock pile young talent. The team is not as bad as everyone thinks and if they can stay healthy, I think they can compete, at least be in the wild card race.
For fans of Reyes, including myself, this is a depressing turn of events. But it simply cannot compare to when the Mets let one of the greatest pitchers of all time, certainly of the franchise, get away.
For me, Tom Seaver should be a lesson for this franchise, especially in regards to David Wright. Unlike Reyes, Wright has openly stated he wants to remain here. He wants to be part of the solution. He would like to retire a Met. Yes he has had a couple of off years. But with the new field dimensions, we need to see if he can again become the productive hitter he was from 2005 through 2008. Not for the sole purpose of trading him at the deadline but to see if he can become the star player for the Mets that he was on track to be.
I hope Sandy does not give up on Wright, even with his numbers of late, he still is one of the better third baseman in baseball and will not likely be easily replaced. And he is different than Reyes in that he really wants to stay. After watching the developments of this week, I cannot honestly say that was true of Jose.
I was a fan of Reyes but I am no longer since he is now a Marlin. That was not true of Seaver. I continued to root for Tom even when he pitched against the Mets. Seaver was the “Franchise”. Reyes was not.