The Day the Music Died

Tom Seaver in his early days as a New York MetYoung fans who think the 1986 World Series was “the old days” may not understand the signficance of today.

It was 30 years ago today that Sgt. Pepper left the band to play elsewhere, and the music died in Flushing.

OK, enough of the metaphors that no one under 30 “gets”. On June 15th, 1977, the Mets traded away both Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman in separate deals, thereby nullifying the remainder of that season and any hope of climbing out of the NL East basement for several years to come. At the time, Seaver and Kingman were the only players worth watching, and having them both in the game at the same time was the Mets’ best chance to win.

Back then, the Mets’ offense was similar to the offense you’ve witnessed over the last week or so — the only difference being that in 1977, no one was slumping (in fact, some were playing over their heads). The Mets were 64-98 that year, bad enough to keep the Expos out of last place and 37 games behind the AL East Champion Phillies. Their offense was beyond abysmal: they averaged 3.62 runs per game, worst in all of MLB. The team batting average was .244, and they socked only 88 balls over the fence. Other than Seaver, the pitching was mediocre at best — even Jerry Koosman lost 20 games that year. Thus, the only chance they had to win was to get a shutout from Tom Seaver and a solo homer from Dave Kingman (interestingly, both players were considered “strikeout kings). So we Met fans may have been miserable most of the time, but there was that one shining ray of hope every fifth day.

However, that hope was shattered on June 15th, in what would ultimately be the worst trade in Mets history. Never mind Scott Kazmir, the Roberto Alomar deal, Dykstra-for-Samuel, Kent-for-Baerga, nor even Ryan-Fregosi. Sending Tom Seaver away was more than just a trade: it was a defining moment in the blackest part of Mets history.

Seaver was tabbed “The Franchise” because that’s what he was — he was, in every way, shape, and form, THE New York Mets. No matter how poorly the Mets played, regardless of how bad a supporting cast around him, as long as the Mets had Seaver, they MATTERED. They were legitimate. They could put eight shoeless sandlot kids on the field, and as long as Seaver was on the hill, there was a chance for the Mets to win (and fill the stands with happy fans). The signing of Pedro Martinez was pointed to by many as a means of legitimizing the Mets, and as a message to MLB that Omar Minaya was serious about building a winner. Take that Power of Pedro and times it by ten, and you get an idea of the Power of Seaver. And you can understand how trading him away did the exact opposite of Pedro’s arrival — it ILLEGITIMIZED the Mets.

With Seaver gone, the Mets had nothing. Within a year, Jon Matlack would be gone, and Koosman would go soon after that, as the bungling morons known as the front office would decimate the 1973 NL Champions piece by piece. By 1979 they were barely competitive enough to play in AAA, much less the big leagues, and their best player was Richie Hebner — who couldn’t field, couldn’t hit, and couldn’t stand being in New York (and let everyone know it).

What the Mets had to show in return for Seaver were four forgettable, fringe prospects that were forced to be Major Leaguers: Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, Pat Zachry, and Dan Norman — none of which did anything of consequence in their careers. For Kingman, they received Bobby Valentine and Paul Siebert. Bobby V was a fine manager for the Mets but not much of a player, and Siebert a mopup guy who lasted 56 more games in the Majors.

At the time, the Mets traded Seaver for myriad reasons — but mostly it boiled down to money. The ownership at the time — relatives of the deceased, original partner Joan Payson — was in turmoil, financial trouble, and unhappy with Seaver’s opinion of their managment skills. The last part was the excuse for dealing him away, but the fact was, it was the beginning of a salary dump strategy to put the team back in the black. By January 1980, they had stripped the club of everything that resembled talent, and sold out to Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon for $21 million (a record purchase price at the time).

So while right now it may feel awful to be a Mets fan, and it may seem like the losses will never end, remember that it could be worse — a lot worse. On this day 30 years ago, the Mets dismantled the organization into a state of disrepair, despair, and disparagement that took nearly eight years to fix.

By the way, check out Mets Guy in Michigan for his tribute to this fateful day and another good one at Faith and Fear in Flushing. Both are excellent reads, and can give youngsters a good perspective of how it affected us “old school” Mets fans.

Do you remember June 15th, 1977 ? If so please share your pain by posting your comments. It could be good for the Mets’ current karma.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.