In June of 1983, the Mets were 22-35 in last place in the NL East, 9 1/2 games back. They had been floundering at the bottom of the division since the whole organization fell apart in 1977. In the early eighties new ownership took over & the Frank Cashen GM era began. Things were slowly changing for the better, even though no one realized it -yet.
That year the Mets had brought Tom Seaver back home, brought up the Rookie of the Year Darryl Strawberry & had signed acquired slugger George Foster. And there were plenty of young players blossoming in the organization.
Mean while in St. Louis, the Cardinals were looking to deal former MVP & the previous year's World Series hero; Keith Hernandez. Hernandez a ten year veteran, was a popular player in St. Louis, had won a batting title & four Gold Gloves at first base.
Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog, was not happy with Hernandez's effort. Herzog felt Hernandez was lax on the field & the base baths. He was fed up with Keith going to the club house to do cross word puzzles & smoke cigarettes instead of taking more batting practice.
Herzog also suspected drug use, which was very common amongst many players in the early eighties. Keith later admitted to using cocaine during his 1979 MVP season and afterward. Herzog felt Hernandez was a bad influence on the team. He was also in the final year of his contract. The Cardinals also were looking to boost their starting pitching.
On the June 15th trade deadline, the shocking trade was made as Keith Hernandez was dealt to the New York Mets for Neil Allen & Rick Ownbey. Allen was a quality relief pitcher (25-40 with 69 saves & a 3.54 ERA in five seasons with New York). Allen was transitioning to a starting role. Ownbey was 2-5 with the Mets in two seasons as both starter & reliever.
Hernandez learned about the trade as he was taking batting practice, twenty minutes before it was announced. He then called his agent to find out whether he could block the trade.
Quotes- Keith Hernandez: “I wasn’t shocked that I was traded, I was shocked that it was to the Mets. I could tell a trade was coming because I knew I wasn’t in Whitey’s good graces.”
Mets catcher John Stearns said it was “the biggest heist since the Thomas Crown Affair”.
Hernandez was devastated by the trade, he did not want to play in New York on the last place, hapless Mets, he even considered retiring. Eventually he talked to his brother, his agent & former team mate George Hendrick who all helped change his mind.
GM Frank Cashen also helped him believe in all the positives taking place in the organization. The Mets Rusty Staub finally convinced him about all the advantages playing in New York has.
Eventually everything worked out fine, the Mets became one of the winningest teams in the NL over the next five years, winning a Championship in 1986.
Hernandez found a new motivation & became one of the leagues best players in that time, becoming the Mets team Captain. The rest is Mets history.......
Allen remained a starter for two seasons before going back to the bull pen in 1985 but was never highly effective again. Ownbey would play in just 21 games for St. Louis before disappearing.