by Peter C. Bjarkman
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1977: TWO UNFORGETTABLE TRADES
There were many areas of the club crying for repair or upgrade; Harrelson was slowing down at shortstop, and young Lee Mazzilli had not shown that he was the answer in center field. The biggest problem was that the great Mets pitching (the team ERA was the league's best in 1976) was constantly being undercut by powderpuff hitting and stone gloves in the infield and outfield. McDonald and his staff seemed to be sitting on their hands and ignoring opportunities to retool the sagging ball club. Fans were also now worried that if a deal were eventually made, the team would again squander some of its top pitching, as it had done in the Nolan Ryan deal, especially with Seaver now apparently unhappy in New York and talking about testing the free-agent waters himself.
However, when the news came that Seaver had been traded, a true pall was cast over the entire franchise. And Tom Terrific's sudden departure was itself only the tip of the iceberg. Seaver had not only been let go, inconceivable in itself, but on the surface, the deal that finally was made had not seemed to bring very much in fair exchange. There was no big-name star headed to New York, a Pete Rose or Reggie Jackson or Mike Schmidt or Dave Parker, to replace baseball's top pitcher. Instead, the Mets had picked up what appeared to be no more than a handful of unheralded prospects, the best of whom was an unrecognized minor league outfielder named Steve Henderson, who supposedly glistened with star potential.
But the Mets were not yet done dealing in the aftermath of the blockbuster Seaver trade. The same evening, New York brass traded infielder Mike Phillips to St. Louis for Joel Youngblood and sent another utility player (Roy Staiger) to the minors. And then in a third deal, one that would itself have been a major headline had it not come on the same day as the Seaver trade, another problem child was purged from the roster. Dave Kingman was shipped to San Diego for a pair of unpromising replacements named Bobby Valentine and Paul Siebert. The Mets had axed another player who had been grousing about his contract all spring. But they also eliminated the club's only other legitimate gate attraction in the process.
Never had a team so drastically overhauled its roster in a single day of scatter-shot dealing. And rarely had one created such a public relations nigsource.htmare with its faithful fans. Outbursts of protest from ticket holders and the local press were so vitriolic that for a short time, front-office boss Donald Grant had to travel the streets with a personal bodyguard. The remainder of the season, not surprisingly, proved to be a disaster in the wake of such a roster upheaval, with the Mets slumping in the box scores and in the standings. A 17-game deficit at the end of June had increased to 37 under new manager Joe Torre by the time the team settled into the division basement at the end of September.
Seaver, meanwhile, enjoyed a banner summer and fall with his new club in Cincinnati, ringing up the league's second-best victory and innings-pitched totals and the top mark for shutouts. Things, of course, only got worse in the standings and at the turnstiles the following year, when Seaver's expected replacement, Pat Zachry, proved largely a bust on the hill, and other young players acquired from Cincinnati, such as Henderson and Doug Flynn, never developed much beyond the journeyman level.
From The New York Mets Encyclopedia by Peter C. Bjarkman.
Copyright © by Peter C. Bjarkman. Excerpted with permission.