June 15- the “old” trading deadline date and the Midnight Massacre.
Perhaps one of the worst moments in Mets history occurred at the “old” trading deadline in 1977. However, first, lets examine the trading deadline history. Prior to 1986 the deadline to make NON-WAIVER trades was June 15. After the 1985 season, MLB decided to extend the date to July 31st, with the reasons being that too many teams aren’t ready to throw in the towel with over 3-and-a-half months left in the season and a month before the All-Star break.
Now, back to June 15, 1977. Tom Seaver and M. Donald Grant did not get along. Seaver was unsatisfied with the direction the Mets were going in and blamed Grant. Grant was the Mets Chairman of the board since the Mets inception in 1962. He was very close with Joan Payson, who owned the Mets from the beginning until her death on October 4, 1975. Payson and Grant were members of the New York Giants board of directors and the only ones who voted against their move to San Francisco.
Upon Payson’s death in 1975 her daughter, Lorinda de Roulet, assumed ownership of the team and delegated a great deal of authority to Grant. The mid-70s were a time of great change in baseball with free agency now being throw into the mix. Grant hated free agency and thought it would eventually be the destruction of baseball.
Flashback to the summer of 1977 in New York. You had the Bronx Zoo with Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin almost fighting each other in the dugout, you had the Son of Sam killer on the loose, and you had the bickering between Grant and Daily News columnist Dick Young on one side, and Tom Seaver on the other.
Seaver was very critical of Grant for not improving the Mets or having any plan to. Seaver’s happiest days with the Mets was when Gil Hodges was managing (who was brought to the Mets by Grant). Hodges was a sound baseball man who everyone loved and respected. No one questioned his knowledge of the game or decisions. However, Gil passed away suddenly from a heart-attack on the cusp of the 1972 season. Some say the Mets never really got over that tragedy.
Grant was not considered a sound baseball man. Whitey Herzog, who was the Mets director of player development from the late 60’s until 1972, once told Grant the “he didn’t know beans about baseball”. On June 12, 1976 a new collective bargaining agreement was brokered between the players union and the owners. Seaver, who had signed a three-year deal worth $675K ($225K per year) four months earlier to temporarily become baseball’s highest paid pitcher, was happy that the players finally got some power, although he would not get a chance to reap the rewards right away.
During that offseason which was the first one in which free agents could be signed and go to the highest bidder, 11 pitchers (including the Yankees Don Gullett) signed multi-year contracts of $1 million or more. Seaver’s former teammate and good friend Nolan Ryan, who was not eligible for free agency until 1979, was given a raise to $300K a year by notoriously generous Angels owner Gene Autry.
After the offseason concluded, Seaver was furious with the Mets front office who were not allowed to pursue any free agents. Seaver, frustrated by years of a lack of offense on the Mets, desperately wanted them to sign some players considering the Mets considerate financial advantage over many teams. When this didn’t happen and when Grant didn’t even try for players (most notably Seaver wanted Gary Matthews to play CF – whom the Braves signed for 5-years at $1.2 million), Seaver was very distraught and questioned Grants desire to see this team improve. He also realized he was now very underpaid.
As for his own contract, which had been finally settled after a lot of public acrimony with Grant (the one for $225K per year, which was now chump change to a pitcher of Seaver’s ability), Seaver said: “I was made an example of. I was pictured as the ingrate after nine years with the club. I was to be punished…I still resent the way they did it.” Now that he was grossly underpaid, Grant would not even listen to any of Seaver’s suggestions or willing to work with him. Young also vilified Seaver in the papers comparing him to perhaps the most hated man in New York NL sports history, Walter O’Malley, calling him “greedy”.
Jack Lang, who was the Mets beat writer with the Daily News, liked Seaver and desperately wanted him to stay a Met, didn’t agree with fellow columnist Young. Lang suggested to Seaver that he go above Grant and talk directly to owner de Roulet, which he did. On June 14, Seaver and de Roulet worked out a deal that instead of getting a salary increase, his deal would be extended by three years, at $300K the first year and $400K the next two years. Seaver then called Mets GM Joe McDonald, who was in trade talks with the Reds, and told him not to proceed any further. He was staying a Met.
The next day Seaver was sitting in an Atlanta coffee shop when he heard that Young had attacked him again in the papers. The last line of the battle page segment on Seaver read this “….Nolan Ryan is getting more now than Seaver,” wrote Young, “and that galls Tom because Nancy Seaver and Ruth Ryan are very friendly and Tom Seaver long has treated Nolan Ryan like a little brother.” Seaver was sent into a rage.
Bolting from his chair in the coffee shop, Seaver stormed back to his room and rang up Mets public relations director Arthur Richman. “Get me out of here, do you hear me?” he bellowed. “Get me out of here!” He then told Richman to call Mrs. deRoulet’s daughter, Whitney, and inform her that the contract deal was off. “And tell Joe McDonald everything I said last night is forgotten.”
McDonald again dialed up his Reds counterpart, Dick Wagner, and in short order the two completed negotiations on the deal they’d had in place – Seaver alone would go to Cincinnati and in return the Mets would get four young players: pitcher Pat Zachry, second baseman Doug Flynn and outfielders Steve Henderson and Dan Norman.
To this day, Seaver still looks upon Grant, who died in 1998, with contempt. “There are two things Grant said to me that I’ll never forget, but illustrate the kind of person he was and the total ‘plantation’ mentality he had,” Seaver says. “During the labor negotiations, he came up to me in the clubhouse once and said: ‘What are you, some sort of Communist?’ Another time, and I’ve never told anyone this, he said to me: ‘Who do you think you are, joining the Greenwich Country Club?’ It was incomprehensible to him if you didn’t understand his feelings about your station in life.”
NOTE: Many thanks to an article written by Bill Madden in the Daily News on June 17, 2007 for most of this info.
Top Ten Worst Moments in Mets History
After going through the painful ordeal of the Midnight Massacre, I now offer to the room the 10 (+2) worst moments in NY Mets history.
Before I get to my top 10, I must include an Armando Benitez two-fer, as exhibits 10a and 10b. For more of Benitez’s career as a Mets see this link. http://a.espncdn.com/mlb/s/2003/0717/1581988.html
10 B. – Benitez 9th inning of September 23, 2001 – In a post 9/11 moment the Mets had come from no where (13.5 GB on August 18) to win 22 out of 27 and move within 3.5 games of Atlanta. Up 4-1 in the 9th inning, the Mets were about to cut that lead to 2.5. However, with 2 outs and a runner on, Benitez allowed a HR to Brian Jordan to cut the lead to 4-3. Still no sweat…2 outs, no one on…However…three straight singles tied the game and finally prompted Bobby Valentine to remove Benitez. In the 11th inning, Jordan struck again, homering off of Jerrod Riggan to give the Braves the win.
10 A – Benitez walk of Paul O’Neill in Game 1 of 2000 WS – With the Mets holding a 4-3 lead and one out in the bottom of the 9th, Mets fans were on the edge of their seat crossing their fingers hoping to take a 1-0 lead in the series. Up to the plate stepped a cripple – Paul O’Neill – who was playing on mere guts and pride. After getting ahead of him 1-2, Benitez just couldn’t put O’Neill away as he fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch before finally working a walk. The Yankees went on to tie the game later that inning and win it in the 12th.
10. Willie Randolph’s HR off Don Aase – Many Mets fans don’t remember this moment, but it’s the first thing I thought off when Randolph took over as manager in 2005. I still hated him for hitting that HR. The Mets led the Dodgers 3-1 with 2 outs and nobody on base in the top of the 9th. After back-to-back singles to offensive stalwarts Lenny Harris and Alfredo Griffin, Willie Randolph then hit Aase’s first pitch over the RIGHT-CENTER FIELD fence…WHO KNEW RANDOLPH HAD THAT POWER!!!. I don’t exactly remember why Davy Johnson let Aase stay in or why he didn’t bring in closer Randy Myers, all I remember is the shock…the Dodgers then added another run off of Jeff Innis, which made the defeat all the more painful as the Mets scored on consecutive hits to lead off the bottom of the 9th. The tying run (Keith Miller running for Mackey Sasser) was on third with one out for Keith Hernandez who popped out to short. Gregg Jefferies then made the final out against Jay Howell. That win would have put the Mets 1.5 GB of the Cubs in the NL East and would have given the Mets their 16th win in 20 games. However, after this game the Mets went on to lose 16 of their next 26 games and fall out of contention.
9. The 1988 offseason and 1989 season – After being shocked by the Dodgers in the NLCS, the Mets then made a bunch of stupid decisions that lost them key players. Gone via free-agency was Wally Backman – a gritty gamer who LOVED being a Met. Gone during the season were Lenny Dykstra, Roger McDowell, Rick Aguilera, Terry Leach, Mookie Wilson, Lee Mazzilli, Kevin Tapani and most of the Mets depth.
8. Not drafting Reggie Jackson – The Mets had the number one draft pick in the 1966 amateur draft and used it on high school catcher Steve Chilcott. Chilcott bounced around the minors posting a .248 career BA. The 2nd pick went to the A’s who selected Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.
7. – The hype and downfall of Generation K - For more info on this see Hopeisthebestofthings blog on June 10…final article.
6. – Terry Pendleton’s HR off of Roger McDowell – I remember the moment as clear as day. I was getting ready to celebrate the Mets moving to a half-game of the first place Cardinals. Ron Darling had pitched 5.1 innings of no-hit ball, but his first hit cost him the rest of the season as he tore ligaments in his thumb trying to scoop and throw a Vince Coleman bunt with 1 out in the 6th. Ronnie finished the inning, but was taken out after one batter in the 7th. Roger McDowell was handed the ball with a 4-1 Mets lead to get them the win. After a leadoff walk to Ozzie Smith in the 9th, McDowell then retired Tom Herr and Dan Driessen. With the Shea crowd pumping, McGee singled to center to cut the lead to 4-2. Up came Pendleton who the crushed a HR over the 410 sign in CF to tie the game. The Mets had their chances in the bottom of the inning as Wilson, Teufel and Hernandez each batted with the winning run on 2nd, but couldn’t get him in. Jesse Orosco then came in for the 10th inning and allowed 2 runs giving the Cardinals a 6-4 win. The Mets never got that close to first again.
5. The Trade of Nolan Ryan – Who knew that Ryan would become the greatest strikeout pitcher in the history of baseball and throw 7 no-hitters? He was a Met from 1966-71, but was 11 games under .500 in his 105 games with them. Nonetheless, the no-hit curse followed, as he threw 7 and the Mets still have not thrown one.
4. The Downfall of Doc and Darryl – Perhaps the two most promising prospects to enter the Mets system since Tom Seaver, were hurt by drugs and bad decisions. This led to the Mets bad feelings with Darryl and his departure via free-agency after 1990, and in the countless chances they gave Doc before he ran out of them for the Mets. I still love these two athletes dearly, and beyond their careers I pray for them and that they are granted strength to walk away and deal with the demons that ruined their baseball careers.
3. Mike Scioscia’s HR - Up 2-1 in the best-of-seven NLCS against the Dodgers, the Mets took a 4-2 lead into the 9th inning of Game 4. After walking John Shelby to lead off the inning (Doc had him 0-2), Gooden then allowed a first pitch HR to Mike Scioscia that tied the game at 4. The Dodgers eventually won the game in 12 innings thanks to a Kirk Gibson HR and Orel Hershiser getting Kevin McReynolds to pop out to CF with the bases loaded to end the game. The Dodgers won the NLCS in 7 games and the Mets didn’t recover until the late ’90s.
2. Midnight Massacre – the trades of “the franchise” Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman on the same night, June 15, 1977.
1. Death of Gil Hodges – Hodges passed away suddenly on April 2, 1972. Not only did they lose Hodges, but because of bad decisions by management they lost director of player development Whitey Herzog. Although they made the World Series in 1973 and should have won it, this set the team back at least 5-7 years.
Help Fund for Cancer Survivors
I might as well use this blog to educate people that cancer survivors out there need your help. Many of us (myself included) have suffered awful side effects from the chemotherapy and radiation. As a result of my treatment, I now suffer from Hemochromotosis, Crohn’s Disease and Lymphedema. I had to retire in April 2008 after being diagnosed with Hemochromotosis. Disability payments are not NEARLY enough to live on and many of us in situations like mine need help. PLEASE help me by donating to a fund to start a foundation for cancer survivors. If you want more information or are looking for something like this and want to become involved, check out our facebook page or email me.