The Mets President; Lorinda deRoulet had fired M. Donald Grant effective January 1st, 1979. Grant was one of the most hated men in New York after being responsible for trading Tom Seaver to the Reds. He was also responsible for the past trades of Rusty Staub, Nolan Ryan, Tug McGraw, Amos Otis & Dave Kingman. In the wake of baseball's free agency, Grant refused to sign any top notch free agents, although the Mets were one of the richest teams in the mid seventies.
That winter of 1978-1979, the Mets had also traded away, Jerry Koosman; one of the last players (along with Ed Kranepool) from the 1969 World Champions. Koosman went to his homestate of Minnesota to play with the Twins. In exchange they received Jesse Orosco, who would play a major part in the organizations turnaround & the 1986 Championship.
They had also acquired veteran Richie Hebner (nicknamed the Grave Digger) who had a big debut that day.
Also gone this year was original broadcaster; Lindsey Nelson. Nelson's departure, broke up the classic announcing team of Nelson, Bob Murphy & Ralph Kiner. Nelson went on to work for the San Francisco Giants. His replacement was Steve Albert.
Trivia: The 1979 season would be the first year the Mets donned the players names on the back of their uniforms.
Thursday April 5th 1979 was a wild Opening Day for New York Mets & Chicago Cubs. 35,615 Fans came out to a windy Wrigley Field in Chicago to see Joe Torre's Mets take on Herman Franks' Cubs. Craig Swan, last years NL ERA leader, was making the first of two Mets Opening Day starts in his career, as he took on the Cubs' Rick Reuschel.
The Mets '79 Opening Day lineup:
Lee Mazzilli CF
Kelvin Chapman 2B
Richie Hebner 3B
John Stearns C
Willie Montanez 1B
Steve Henderson LF
Elliott Maddox RF
Doug Flynn SS
Craig Swan P
In the home 1st inning, base hits by Kelvin Chapman & Richie Hebner singled & John Stearns sac fly brought in the first run of the year. The Cubs answered as former Met; Dave Kingman singled home Ivan Dejesus. Kingman struck again with a double to left field scoring Ted Sizemore making it 2-1.
In the 4th, the newest Met; Richie Hebner blasted a solo HR, continuing his hot debut. In the Mets 5th; with two outs Craig Swan singled & Lee Mazzilli walked. Then, Chapman singled in Swan & Hebner doubled home Maz & Chapman making it 5-2 Mets.
Kingman homered off Swan in the 6thmaking it 5-3. The Mets exploded in the 7th, Mazzilli led off with a base hit & stole second. After a wild pitch he was on third base. With one out, Hebner doubled again, bringing in Mazzilli.
Willie Hernandez came in to pitch, walked John Stearns & a base hit to Willie Montanez. Steve Henderson's base hit brought in two runs. Eliott Maddox's base hit brought in another run. Doug Flynn added a Fielders Choice bringing in Henderson with the Mets tenth run.
Swan pitched a fine game, eight innings allowing three runs on nine hits with three strike outs & one walk. Dwight Bernard came in the 9th & had a rough outing. With two outs & a runner on second, Scott Thompson singled bringing in Jerry Martin. Ivan Dejesus singled & Ted Sizemore doubled in both runners making it 10-6.
A young Jesse Orosco made his first Mets appearance, came in & got Bill Buckner to fly out to right field, ending the game.
Although Hebner had a spectacular debut, he hated life in New York & being a Met. He would only play one season in New York batting .268 with 10 HRs & 79 RBIs. The Mets as a team finished 63-99 in sixth place.