June 15th used to be the major league trading deadline. For many Mets’ fans, June 15th is day that will live in baseball infamy, as on June 15th, 1977, the Mets did the unthinkable, trading Tom Seaverto the Cincinnati Reds. Let’s take a look at how June 15th actually has multiple connotations for the franchise, as not all activities on this day have been bad.
I said not all transactional activities on June 15th have been bad, but some certainly were. In 1977, the Mets were spiraling downward after having won a World Series in 1969 and a pennant in 1973. Tom Seaver, appropriately dubbed “The Franchise”, had approached management about re-configuring his contract, since players’ salaries were exploding with a new phenomenon called “free agency”. The Mets refused to re-structure Seaver’s deal, because a deal is a deal, right? Seaver’s unhappiness radiated through the tabloids, and the Mets chose to end the cold war with their ace by trading him. The deal was made at the very last-minute, with the Mets receiving Pat Zachry, Dan Norman, Doug Flynn, and Steve Henderson from the Reds. The fan base was shocked and angry. Seaver became emotional at his farewell press conference. But “it” was done. The Mets would have to move forward without their ace, and they sputtered. The organization fell into the abyss for several years. Also on the night of June 15th, 1977, the Mets traded slugger Dave Kingman to the Padres for Paul Siebert and Bobby Valentine. While not a legitimate star, Kingman’s ability to hit long home runs gave him a reasonable popularity with the fans. There’s little debate as to why June 15th, 1977 is considered the darkest day in the history of the New York Mets.
Six years later, on June 15th 1983, the Mets made another deal at the trading deadline. This time it worked out well. The Mets were still in the afore-mentioned abyss when a first baseman named Keith Hernandez fell out of favor with his manager, Whitey Herzog. Hernandez had helped the Cardinals win and World Series the year before, but was made available via trade. The Mets sent Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey (both pitchers) to Saint Louis for Hernandez. According to Keith, he cried upon his arrival in Montreal, where his new team was playing. Being sent to the Mets seemed like being exiled to baseball Siberia. The Mets were bad, and Hernandez knew it. Herzog knew it too. Many believe that Whitey was punishing Hernandez by sending him to Queens. However, something strange began to happen. Young players emerged from the Mets’ system (Strawberry, Gooden, Dykstra), and a key trade was made, bringing in all-star catcher, Gary Carter. Three years after becoming a Met, Hernandez was no longer crying. He was drinking champagne in the Canyon of Heroes. The Mets were atop the baseball world, and the turn toward baseball supremacy had been taken on June 15th, 1983. For those keeping score, that was 30 years ago today.
I’m trying not to say much about the 2013 Mets in this post. However, we know that today is not the trading deadline. That comes 6 weeks from now. Sandy Alderson, just today (how ironic!), talked about brining in external talent in the next 6 months. Will he do that? If he does, will he be able to bring in the “turn-the-corner” player that Hernandez proved to be? Time will tell. But the trading deadline can point the franchise in a direction for years to come. We’ve seen examples of that in Mets’ franchise history. Let’s hope that what Alderson does at this year’s deadline, or in the months following it, points the needle of the 2013 Mets to the north.