By Barry Duchan
Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.
So much has been written about the 1977 trade that sent Tom Seaver, perhaps baseball's best pitcher at the time, to the Cincinnati Reds, that even those Mets fans who are too young to remember it have almost certainly read about it. No doubt, as history has told us, a clash between Seaver and Mets' Chairman of the Board, M. Donald Grant, with assistance from sportswriter Dick Young precipitated the deal. If you really need the details repeated, you can read them in Bill Madden's excellent article here:
With talk of ace pitchers such as Johan Santana, Erik Bedard, Dan Haren and others possibly being made available in multi-player packages, it is interesting to recall the four players the Mets got in the Seaver deal, and compare them to the TYPE of players the Twins are looking for in a Santana trade. In retrospect, of course, all 4 of the players the Mets received turned out to be disappointments (I won't go into their careers here, anyone can look them up), but at the time, an optimistic fan like myself thought that all four could help the Mets rebuild. Frankly, I was more upset with the Mets' dumping of Dave Kingman that same day since he only brought back a couple of fringe major leaguers who didn't figure to get any better - and didn't. But the haul from the Seaver trade looked pretty good.
First off, the Mets got Cincinnati's best hitting prospect and one of the better ones in baseball in Steve Henderson. Steve had hit for a high average and showed gap power to all fields during his minor league career. He immediately inherited Kingman's leftfield job and had an impressive rookie season, hitting .297 and driving in 65 runs in 99 games. He looked like the best young hitter the Mets had since Cleon Jones, and it was expected that in time, he'd develop homerun power to go along with his other tools. Steve also had a shiny disposition and became a fan favorite. Think David Wright as a rookie.
Pat Zachry was just one year removed from being co-winner of the NL Rookie of The Year Award. In 1976 at age 24, Zachry posted a 14-7 record, gave up just 8 homeruns in 204 innings, and had a 2.74 ERA. It was a little too much to expect him to be another Seaver, but it wasn't much of a stretch to envision Zachry winning 13 to 17 games every year for the near future. Zachry was off to a rough start in '77, but the sophomore jinx was fairly common, and everyone expected him to rebound.
Doug Flynn was never going to beat out Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, or Davey Concepcion for a regular job in the Reds' infield, but in 1976, Flynn hit .283 in over 200 at bats in a part time role and was regarded as a superior defensive performer, especially at second base.
Dan Norman, the fourth player in the deal, was not as advanced as Henderson, but he had power and speed, and it wasn't that farfetched to picture him as the Mets' rightfielder of the future.
So, to summarize, the Mets got 4 young players: a major-league ready top-of-the-line hitting prospect, a starting pitcher with a 200-inning, 2.74 ERA Rookie of The Year season just behind him, a gold-glove caliber second baseman who'd hit decently as a backup, and another pretty good hitting prospect who was probably at least a year away. Compare this to the type of package the Twins would probably ask for in exchange for Santana. Pretty close, I think. The difference as I see it is that the 1977 Reds could easily afford to give up those players, where I can't see the Mets being able to give up Milledge, Maine, Gotay, and Fernando Martinez, who are roughly equivalent to the kind of value the Reds surrendered for Seaver.
But if anyone thinks the Mets gave away Seaver, be assured that under the circumstances, they made what looked like a pretty good deal at the time.