Nov 16, 2015

Remembering "The Midnight Massacre" - The Tom Seaver Trade 1977

Background: The New York Mets were at a bad time in team history at the time of the Tom Seaver Trade. The clubs beloved owner Mrs. Joan Payson had passed away in 1975. Her husband Charles Shipman had no interest in baseball, so their daughter; Lorinda deRoulet took charge of the team. Ms.de Roulet didn't know about baseball and let the teams Chairman- M. Donald Grant make all the calls.


Grant was a longtime friend of Payson. Together they served on the board of the New York Giants baseball club in the 1950's. Grant had been with the Mets since the beginning, but his baseball knowledge had already been questioned in the past.

He was a longtime stockbroker who didn't like spending money. He refused give in to the new era of baseball free agency. On top of that he was trading off his top players, instead of paying them the higher salaries of the day. He was out spoken against free agency at that winters owners meetings and was running the Mets organization into the ground.

In 1977 Tom Seaver was already a Mets legend and the most successful player in the teams brief 15 year history. He was known as "The Franchise", was one of baseballs top pitchers & already destined for the Hall of Fame.

At the end of the 1975 season, after winning his third Cy Young Award, he had negotiated a new contract worth $675,000, making him baseballs highest paid pitcher.

But by the end of 1976 free agency was making players sign deals worth a million dollars. His friend & former team mate Nolan Ryan wasn't eligible for free agency until 1979, but California Angels owner Gene Autry, gave Ryan a $300,000 a year in advance.

In New York, Tom Seaver attempted to renegotiate his contract but the meetings didn't go well. Seaver was also the Mets Union Player Rep at the time. He was outspoken in Spring Training, about the Mets not going after any top free agents. They were a big market team, they were still drawing well and certainly had the money. They needed hitting and a high caliber outfielder badly. Actually they needed big hitter for years.

Seaver stressed the Mets go after the Giants Gary Mathews who fit their needs perfectly. "How could they not even try" Seaver said in disgust. Mathews ended up getting $1.2 million from the small market Atlanta Braves.

Rumors that Mets G.M. Joe McDonald, was in trade talks about sending Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds swept the city by early June. Daily News Reporter Jack Lang, told Seaver to talk with Mets owner Mrs. deRoulet instead of Chairman M. Donald Grant. Seaver did & made progress.

On June 14th,1977 she & Seaver worked out a deal over the phone. Seaver would get his contract extended three years, earning $1.1 million. $300,000 the first year & $400,000 each of the next two years. Seaver told Mets G.M. Joe McDonald to stop the trade talks with Cincinnati.

The next day, Daily News reporter Dick Young's column outraged Seaver, it was the straw that broke the camels back. It read: "Nolan Ryan is now getting more money than Seaver and that galls Tom, because his wife Nancy and Nolan's wife Ruth are very friendly and Tom has long treated Ryan like a little brother."

Seaver was furious, he immediately called Mets PR director and said "Get me out of here, do you hear me?" The deal was off, he would not allow his wife to get dragged into the mess.

Grant was getting sole support in the press by Dick Young of the Daily News. His son in law; Thorton Geary, was recently hired by M. Donald Grant as Mets V.P. of Communications. Dick Young sided with Mets management and wrote that Seaver was being greedy & selfish with his demands. But Seaver had the support of everyone else in the media, especially his friend Jack Lang, the Mets beat writer, also of the NY Daily News. Dick Young encouraged Lang to write what he felt, knowing the rivalry would sell more papers.

G.M. Joe McDonald completed the trade with the Reds - Seaver went to Cincinnati for four young players: pitcher Pat Zachry, second baseman Doug Flynn and outfielders Steve Henderson and Dan Norman.

The deal was not announced until after the Mets' Sunday night game with the Braves in Atlanta, by which time Seaver had already flown home to New York. Seaver, spoke in a sad press conference the next day where he broke down in tears when asked if he'll miss the fans.

It was the one of the worst days in Mets history and led to the teams darkest period. To make matters worse, they traded slugger Dave Kingman, the teams only power hitter the same night.

The Mets would finish last in 1977 and would lose 95 or more games in each of the next three seasons. Attendance plummeted and Shea Stadium became known as "Grants Tomb" in honor of the Chairman.

Quotes: In 2007 Seaver said; "There are two things Grant said to me that I'll never forget, but illustrate the kind of person he was,". During the labor negotiations, he said: 'What are you, some sort of Communist?' Another time, he said : 'Who do you think you are, joining the Greenwich Country Club?'

As for M. Donald Grant - He was forced out of the organization the next year. He told reporters he "was tired of being kicked around" insisting, "I'm a good guy. The press made such a martyr of Seaver that it killed me." The miserable Grant, lived until the age of 94.

Daily News writer Dick Young, was forever hated by Met fans. The next month he was booed on his induction into the writers' wing of the Hall of Fame. Eventually his own greed, led him to switch to the rival New York Post paper in 1981. Yes, for more money. Young was very sick as the Mets won the 1986 World Series & died in 1987 at age of 69.

Reorter Jack Lang was the Mets beat writer until 1985 and helped co author a few different Mets books. He retired from the press in 1989 & was inducted into the writers wing of the Hall of Fame in 1987. Jack Lang passed away in 2007 at age 85, from liver disease in Huntington, Long Island.

Quotes: At the time of his passing Tom Seaver called him " a dear friend" .

Joe McDonald was replaced as the G.M. in 1980 by Frank Cashen. This was when Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon bought the team. McDonald later worked as G.M. for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Thornton Geary was involved in negotiating the first Cablevision deal for the Mets. He left the club in 1981 and is now retired in North Carolina.

The Big Red Machine were reigning two time World Champions at the time they got Tom Seaver. It seemed Seaver would keep them on top for the next few years or more. Instead, the Dodgers took over as the NL West Champions & won the next two pennants. Seaver would get to just one post season with Reds; losing in the NLCS to the eventual 1979 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates.

Seaver put up good numbers with the Reds but nothing like his days in New York. Upon his arrival he was still in his prime going 14-3. Overall in 1977 he was 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA & 196 strike outs. It was the first time in nine years he did not strike out 200 or more batters (an MLB record). He was a two time 16 game winner (1978-1979) & led the league in winning % (.875%) in the strike shortened 1981 season where he was 14-2.

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