For 10 years and two months as a New York Met he had created dramatic moments that others could savor with him, but this one Tom Seaver decided to reserve for himself. The significance of his first start for the Cincinnati Reds did not elude him. "I was beginning the second part of my career," he would say a couple of hours later. "I wanted to look around and remember what I saw." And so he stood on the mound at Montreal's Olympic Stadium for an extra minute, taking it all in, all the sights and sounds that told him he was now a Red. Only then did he get ready to throw his first pitch.
And how he threw. Seaver pitched a complete game, a shutout, a three-hitter, a 6-0 victory. He struck out eight and did not walk a Montreal batter. And at the plate, he had two hits, including a bases-loaded single that drove in two Cincinnati runs.
The transaction that enabled Seaver to make the quantum jump from the Mets to the Reds was only one of many that shifted 40 players in the hours before last Wednesday's trading deadline, but as befits Seaver's stature as the premier pitcher in the National League, his trade was by far the most important and controversial. Not only were the defending world champions given a significant boost in their drive to overtake the flagging Western Division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, but the Reds also did it without surrendering a first-rank player. To get the 32-year-old Seaver from the Mets, the Reds gave up Pitcher Pat Zachry, 25, Utility Infielder Doug Flynn, 26, and minor league Outfielders Steve Henderson, 24, and Dan Norman, 22. There was not even any cash involved, no player to be named later.
Usually when the big stars of baseball change uniforms they do it in tandem: home-run champion Rocky Colavito of Cleveland for batting champion Harvey Kuenn of Detroit in 1960, for example. However, the seemingly one-sided Seaver deal was not unprecedented, and history suggests there may someday be a measure of solace for enraged Met fans. Four years ago the Cubs traded Ferguson Jenkins, a six-time 20-game winner, to Texas for two young infielders, one of whom, the then-untested Bill Madlock, won the 1975 and 1976 batting titles. The classic trade of this kind—and one that closely parallels the Seaver deal—occurred in 1916. In spring training, Centerfielder Tris Speaker, who had led Boston to the world championship the season before with his seventh consecutive .300-plus batting average, was holding out for $12,000 when he was shipped to Cleveland for cash and two unknowns. Speaker had 11 superior seasons for the Indians and was elected to the Hall of Fame. But luckily for the Red Sox one of the unknowns, a young pitcher named Sam Jones, turned out to be good enough to win more than 200 big league games.
Like Speaker 61 years ago, Seaver is in the prime years of a glorious career; also like Speaker, his hassling with management precipitated his removal at a startlingly low return in players. Seaver's dissatisfaction was more than financial, however. In light of last winter's free-agent signings, he considered himself underpaid at $225,000 a year, but he was also disturbed that the Mets had not been diligently seeking the hitting and fielding help they so obviously need. Seaver had personally recommended Gary Matthews, but the Mets, despite attempts by their management to make New York fans believe otherwise, failed to make a competitive offer for the San Francisco outfielder. Matthews went to the Atlanta Braves instead.
"The money was always secondary to my loyalty to the Mets," Seaver told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Kent Hannon last week. "The people who think I was bitter about not making more money or who think I was trying to force a trade by asking that my contract be renegotiated won't believe me. But for the record, my loyalty to the Mets and my desire to make them competitive always came first. I don't think I've shown myself to be a greedy person."
Seaver's disagreement on these points with Met Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant and General Manager Joe McDonald was so intense that it spilled like hot lava into the New York press. Seaver even charged that constant criticism directed at him by Daily News Sports Editor and Columnist Dick Young was one of the reasons he wanted to leave the team. Nevertheless, Young's support of Grant and McDonald—the Met executives perceive Young as their man in the press—was not much different in degree from the boosting of Seaver that appeared in the other two New York papers. On the day Seaver was traded, Young—whose detractors have claimed his views are colored by the fact that his son-in-law works in the Mets' front office—wrote that the pitcher was "very deceptive" and "very greedy." The next afternoon Maury Allen of the New York Post responded, "It is Young who forced the deal, who urged Grant on, who participated strongly in the unmaking of Tom Seaver as a Met."
Whoever was responsible for Seaver's departure, Met fans were furious. Even before the negotiations were completed, they flooded the Shea Stadium switchboard with complaints. The night after the trade, they welcomed the team home from a road trip with signs reading BURY GRANT—BRING BACK OUR TOM and with leaflets suggesting a boycott of home games until Seaver returned on Aug. 19 with Cincinnati. "On that occasion," the flyer read, "we urge all true Met fans to attend that game to show Tom our appreciation for the many magnificent performances he has given us."
There were so many of those during Seaver's decade with the Mets that he came to be called The Franchise. In 1967 he was Rookie of the Year; in 1969, '73 and '75 he won Cy Young Awards. His 200 or more strikeouts in nine consecutive seasons is a major league record, as is his 2.48 career earned run average among pitchers who have worked at least 2,000 innings. But the best measure of Seaver's stature was his record of 189 victories and 110 defeats. He won 63% of his games as a Met, and he led a team that had been perennial last-place finishers to two pennants and a world championship. The club's percentage when someone else was pitching during those 10-plus years was only 47%.
At the time of the trade, Seaver was 7-3 and the Mets were 26-34, a last-place team going nowhere. The players New York received from Cincinnati are not likely to improve the club much. Zachry was 3-7 on his arrival, and Flynn was batting .250. Henderson has taken over in left field for the Mets because he has exceptional promise. He may be the Sam Jones of this deal. Norman was immediately dispatched to the Mets' farm club at Tidewater.