Sunday, November 1, 2015

Top 10 Most Mets Things Ever

Last night, I saw something on Twitter that said that the Mets' 5-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals in Game 4 of the World Series -- specifically, how they lost it -- was "the most Mets thing ever."
He was right -- if, as is now expected, the Mets do "finish the job" and lose this Series.

Top 10 Most Mets Things Ever

Dishonorable Mention. So many things that happened from 1962 to 1968, before their "Miracle" season of 1969. Like in that epically bad 1st season of 1962, when Marv Throneberry made an error in the top half of an inning, then hit a triple in the bottom half, but was called out for not having touched 2nd base. Casey Stengel ran out to argue, and was told by 1st base coach Cookie Lavagetto, "Don't bother, Casey: He didn't touch 1st, either."

Or the Yo La Tengo Incident. Richie Ashburn retired after that season, not because he couldn't play anymore -- he still could -- because was sick of incidents like it. The proud old center fielder would come in for a short fly, yell, "I got it!" and frequently lose it because shortstop Elio Chacon, who was from Venezuela and his English wasn't good, would crash into him. Ashburn was told that the Spanish equivalent of "I got it" was "Yo la tengo," so the next time he faced a short popup, he yelled, "Yo la tengo," and Chacon backed off, but left fielder Frank Thomas (not the later Chicago White Sox Hall-of-Famer) crashed into him because he didn't understand Spanish.

Or the game of May 26, 1964. The Mets were in Chicago to play the Cubs. Since Wrigley Field didn't have lights, this was a day game, even though it was a Tuesday. The Mets won, 19-1. In those days before cell phones with Internet connections could get you a score within seconds, a man called one of the New York newspapers (from what we would now call a landline, possibly at work), and asked how the Mets did. Told, "Great! They scored 19 runs," he asked, "Did they win?"

I won't give a "Dishonorable Mention" to the juvenile delinquency of 1993. Most teams, at some point in their history, have had a season or two like that. That's not a "Mets thing." But I will mention one of those '93 Mets in this piece, and another '93 Met who, while not exactly making himself known as a jerk at the time, did earn a place on this list.

10. Heroes to Zeroes. Getting Yoenis Cespedes at the trading deadline this year turned the Mets from hopeless pretenders to National League Eastern Division Champions. Daniel Murphy getting hot in the National League Division Series and hotter in the NL Championship Series made them Pennant winners. And their young starting pitchers Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz have gotten slobbering praise from the New York media.

But in the biggest games of their careers thus far, they've gotten exposed. In the 1st 4 games of the 2015 World Series, Cespedes and Murphy were both 2-for-16 going into last night's 9th inning. That's .125. Harvey blew a 6th inning lead in Game 1. deGrom got hit hard in Game 2. Syndergaard didn't pitch all that well in Game 3, even though the Mets won it (his Series ERA is 4.76).

And then, last night, in Game 4, Matz pitched well, but the bullpen, especially Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia, couldn't hold the lead, and Murphy made a key error in the 8th inning. In the 9th, trailing by 2 runs, Murphy and Cespedes both singled, bringing Lucas Duda up as the winning run with just 1 out. But Duda lined to 3rd base for the 2nd out, and Cespedes, thinking it was going to be a hit, or maybe thinking that there were already 2 out, was running with the pitch, and got caught off 1st base for the last out.

This one can't be ranked any higher, because it just happened, and hasn't stood the test of time. And, of course, the Mets could still come back from 3 games to 1 down to win the World Series. But that hasn't happened in 30 years.

But if the Mets do lose this Series, and then they end up losing Cespedes and/or Murphy due to their usual cheapness, and either of them and/or any of those supposed "aces" is never this good again, it may rise in the years to come.

9. The End of the Dynasty That Never Was. In 1984, the Mets jumped from last place to a strong 2nd. In 1985, they came close, but finished 2nd again. In 1986, they won it all, going wire-to-wire as they ran away with the NL East, and winning tough series against the Houston Astros in the NLCS and the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. At the victory party at City Hall, Mookie Wilson told the crowd, "1986, the Year of the Mets! 1987, the Year of the Mets! 1988, the Year of the Mets!" He had suggested a dynasty.

In 1987, the Mets finished a strong 2nd. That was understandable: The '86 win certainly excused not winning it all again in '87. In 1988, they ran away with the NL East again. In Game 4 of the NLCS, leading the Los Angeles Dodgers 2 games to 1, they were up 4-2 in the top of the 9th inning, with Dwight Gooden, whom their fans believed to be the greatest pitcher who ever lived (even over Tom Seaver), on the mound.

Had 1990s Joe Torre been the manager, the Mets' closer would have replaced Gooden. But 1980s Davey Johnson was in charge, and Randy Myers remained in the bullpen. Then, Mike Scioscia hit a game-tying home run. The Mets lost the game in 12 innings, and lost the series in 7.

In the regular season, the Mets won 100 games, the Dodgers 94; the Mets had a .721 OPS, the Dodgers .657; the Mets scored 703 runs, the Dodgers 628; the Mets had a 2.91 team ERA, the Dodgers 2.96. Objectively, there's no way the Mets should have lost that series. They did.

That it was to the Dodgers, the team that had been ripped out of Brooklyn by Walter O'Malley, who had lured the New York Giants to San Francisco at the same time, just 31 years earlier -- there were still people under age 40 who had been Brooklyn Dodger and New York Giant fans -- and were still owned by Walter's son Peter O'Malley, made it sting even more. That the Dodgers went on to embarrass the Oakland Athletics in the World Series made it even worse: That should have been the Mets' 2nd title in 3 years.

Instead, they finished 2nd again in 1989 and again in 1990, and then collapsed into bad play, bad behavior, bad contracts and bad publicity. Unlike the 1921-28, 1936-43, 1947-64, 1976-81 and, later, 1996-2003 Yankees, the Mets were unable to build a dynasty. And they're still waiting for that next World Series win.

8. Jeff Kent. Jeff Kent hit 377 home runs in his major league career. That's more than Berra, more than Joe DiMaggio, more than Johnny Mize, more than Carlton Fisk, and slightly less than Jim Rice and Johnny Bench. He hit 351 of them while playing the position of 2nd base, a record. Some people think he belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But the Mets made 2 awful trades. One to get him, and one to get rid of him.

On August 27, 1992, the Mets traded David Cone to the Toronto Blue Jays for Kent and Ryan Thompson. In what amounted to 4 full seasons in Flushing, Kent batted .279, had an OPS+ of 107, and averaged 17 home runs and 67 RBIs. Not bad at all. But Thompson batted just .239 for the Mets over the next 3 years, and Cone helped the Blue Jays win the 1992 World Series, then won 4 with the Yankees. Bad trade, in spite of what Kent did for the Mets.

On July 29, 1996, the Mets traded Kent and Jose Vizcaino to the Cleveland Indians for Carlos Baerga and Alvaro Espinoza. Espinoza, a former Yankee shortstop, was a throw-in: The key was All-Star 2nd baseman Baerga. He flopped with the Mets, while Kent became a near-Hall-of-Famer. And Vizcaino? He got the hit that won Game 1 of the 2000 World Series for the Yankees. Against the Mets. Bad trade.

7. Trading Nolan Ryan. The Abbott & Costello routine "Who's On First" lists the 3rd baseman's name as "I Don't Know." It gets to the point where Lou Costello sounds like he's saying, "I don't know third base."

For much of their history, 3rd base was a joke for the Mets. No matter who or what they tried, they couldn't find a good long-term player at the position. Eventually, they got Howard Johnson, but, while he was a good hitter and a good baserunner, he was a lousy fielder. Finally, they got David Wright. But Wright does not stack up to legendary New York 3rd basemen like Freddie Lindstrom of the Giants, Billy Cox of the Dodgers, and Red Rolfe, Clete Boyer, Graig Nettles, Scott Brosius, or, yes, Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees.

(By the way, Wright is now the Mets' all-time hit leader. As of the conclusion of the 2015 regular season, he has 1,746 career hits. If you doubled that, you'd get 3,492 -- only this past August would that have surpassed Derek Jeter's career hit total.)

After the 1971 season, the Mets thought they'd solved their 3rd base problem. They traded a pitcher with great speed but serious control problems to the team then known as the California Angels for Jim Fregosi, a good-hitting, good-fielding veteran shortstop who, like A-Rod 32 years later, was willing to make the switch to 3rd base. But he'd gotten hurt in the '71 season, and in '72, his injury got worse, and he just didn't do it for the Mets.

The pitcher with control problems? Nolan Ryan. He only won 295 games after leaving the Mets, and went to the Hall of Fame. Ironically, his only World Series ring came with the Mets, in 1969. He got to the Playoffs with the Angels in 1979 and with the Houston Astros in 1980, 1981 and 1986, but never won another Pennant -- losing to the Mets in the 1986 NLCS! That's what Casey Stengel would have called a "whommy." But getting rid of him before he could become a star? That's one of the most Mets things ever.

That this is only Number 7 on this list speaks volumes.

6. The Curse of Kevin Mitchell. On October 25, 1986, the Mets won Game 6 of the World Series in a dramatic 10th inning comeback, thanks in part to a hit by Kevin Mitchell, who was brought home with the tying run. On October 27 (pushed back a day by rain), they won Game 7 and took the Series.

On December 11, 1986, the Mets traded Mitchell to the San Diego Padres for Kevin McReynolds. Statistically, this wasn't a terrible trade. McReynolds was a good player, and it certainly wasn't his fault that the Mets didn't win another Pennant for 14 years. Yet Mitchell, traded to the San Francisco Giants in mid-1987, blossomed into a star, helping the Giants win the NL West in 1987 and the Pennant in 1989 with an MVP season.
What makes this a "most Mets moment" is not just the fact that the Mets traded what turned out to be a key cog in their title just 45 days after winning it, and that they could really have used Mitchell's bat, especially over the next 4 seasons, when they had an NLCS loss in 7 games and 3 near-misses for the Division title.

And it's not just the fact that the Mets haven't won the World Series in 29 years since. And it's not just the fact that they've had bizarre moments and shocking losses that, combined with the length of the drought, would, if it had happened to certain other teams (the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago Cubs, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cleveland Indians) would suggest that the trade "cursed" the Mets.

It's the fact that the Mets' idiot fans booed McReynolds for not matching Mitchell's production. McReynolds wasn't "failing" any more than any other Met at that time. Indeed, check out these OPS+'s from the seasons in question: From McReynolds, Hall-of-Famer Gary Carter, and possible future Hall-of-Famer Keith Hernandez, plus Mitchell for comparison: 

1987: McReynolds 117, Carter 83, Hernandez 120, Mitchell 141. 
1988: McReynolds 142, Carter 93, Hernandez 120, Mitchell 121.
1989: McReynolds 125, Carter 51, Hernandez 91, Mitchell 192.
1990: McReynolds 121, Mitchell 150, and Carter and Hernandez were no longer with the Mets so it doesn't matter.

When the 1987 season began, Carter and Hernandez were both 33, so they both should have had a few more productive seasons left.

But Carter and Hernandez were dealing with nagging injuries, and, besides, they got free passes because they won a title in New York. McReynolds, a better player in 1988 than Mitchell and a better player than Carter and Hernandez for as long as all 3 were with the Mets, wasn't there in 1986, and Met fans have never forgiven him.

Never forgiven him for what? He didn't really fail. He didn't embarrass the team, either on the field or before the media. He never got caught in a scandal. True, it's possible he was hiding something, but, given what the media found out about several '86 Mets (including Mitchell and Hernandez), it's unlikely McReynolds could have kept something awful hidden for long.

Perhaps not as profuse as the one Bill Buckner deserved from the New England Chowdaheads, but from the Flushing Heathen, Kevin McReynolds is owed an apology.

5. Bobby Bonilla. A 3rd baseman and right fielder, Bobby Bo couldn't field, and he didn't run well, but, boy, could he hit, helping the Pittsburgh Pirates to the 1990 and 1991 NL East titles, and getting to Game 7 of the NLCS in '91. (They did it again without him in '92.)

Though born and raised in The Bronx, Bonilla grew up as a Mets fan. He was about to turn 29 years old, and was one of the best players in baseball: An All-Star the last 4 seasons, top 3 in the NL MVP voting the last 2 seasons, coming off a career-high .302 batting average and an NL-leading 44 doubles, and over the last 4 seasons had averaged 38 doubles, 24 home runs, 103 RBIs, and an OPS+ of 142. And he'd shown no behavioral issues that anyone knew of.

On December 2, 1991, the Mets signed Bonilla to a 5-year contract worth $29 million, and it was almost universally thought to be a great deal.

It wasn't. His production dropped, and he became a disciplinary nightmare. Bob Klapisch, then with the New York Daily News, wrote The Worst Team Money Could Buy, about the overrated, overpaid, underachieving 1992 Mets, and Bonilla looked particularly bad in it. Early in the 1993 season, recognizing Klapisch, Bonilla threatened him, and it was caught on videotape:

Bonilla: I'll show you The Bronx. Make yo' move, 'cause I'll hurt you.

Klapisch, at least acting like he wasn't scared: Are you threatening me?

Bonilla: Well, you know, it's like the homeboys say: We just chillin'. Make yo' move. (Then, seeing that this was being recorded, he slaps another reporter's microphone away) Get the fuck out of here!)

On July 28, 1995, the Mets traded Bonilla and a minor-league player named Jimmy Williams to the Baltimore Orioles for Damon Buford and Alex Ochoa. Neither Buford nor Ochoa did much for the Mets, and Williams never made the majors. But Bonilla found his stroke again, and helped the O's make the Playoffs in 1996. After that season, his contract run out, he signed a big deal with the team then known as the Florida Marlins, and they won the World Series.

It gets worse: The Marlins then had a fire sale, sending 5 players, including Bonilla and Gary Sheffield, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile. This made it possible for the Mets to get Piazza and Zeile shortly thereafter.

After the 1998 season, the Mets reacquired Bonilla for Mel Rojas. Getting rid of Rojas was a plus, but Bonilla was 36 and done. Although they made the Playoffs in 1999, Bonilla had almost nothing to do with it, making just 141 plate appearances and batting .160 with 4 homers and 18 RBIs.

How much would you pay to make someone go away? On January 3, 2000, the Mets released Bonilla. But because of the nature of the contract he'd signed with the Marlins, the Mets not only still owed him $5.9 million for the last year, but a clause kicked in that said they would have to pay him a salary even when he wasn't playing for them, even while he was still playing for someone else, for the life of the contract. That was until 2035. Bonilla played 2000 with the Atlanta Braves and 2001 with the St. Louis Cardinals, and retired -- with respectable career stats of a .279 average, a 124 OPS+, 2,010 hits, 287 home runs and 1,173 RBIs.

At the close of the 2035 season, at which point Bobby Bonilla will be 72 years old and will have been retired for 34 years, the Mets will have paid him $29.8 million to not play for them. And if he dies before 2035? It doesn't cancel the contract: His kids get the money.

And people mock the Yankees for the contracts of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury? At least A-Rod, Teix and CC won a World Series in New York, while all 3 and possibly also Beltran have had careers worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. Bonilla was a good player for a long time, on occasion a great player, but he sure wasn't worth it for the Mets.

That this is only Number 5 on the list is very telling of what kind of organization the Mets have been.

No, if the Mets win a World Series sometime between now and 2035, Bobby Bonilla does not get a World Series ring. And, yes, there's still 20 years left on that contract.

4. The 1973 Postseason. First, the Mets almost became the 1st team ever to lose a postseason game because of their fans. And, no, it wasn't because of a Steve Bartman-style incident. This was after the fans in left field threw things at Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds, after the fight he started with Bud Harrelson in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.

The umpires got a message to Loren Matthews, the public address announcer at Shea Stadium, and had him say that if the garbage didn't stop, the game would be forfeited, putting the Reds just 1 win from the Pennant. Still, they didn't stop. It took 3 New York baseball legends to talk them out of it: Manager Yogi Berra, center fielder Willie Mays, and pitcher Tom Seaver (the only one of them who became a legend with the Mets).

Then, Mays himself, 42 years old and having already announced his retirement, showed why it was time: Once the best-fielding outfielder of his generation and a great baserunner, he fell down both in center field and at the plate after hitting a ball. As was the case with Wesley Snipes, playing Willie Mays Hayes in Major League, at this point, he couldn't hit like Willie Mays, and couldn't run or field like him anymore, either.

Throughout their history, the Mets have picked up over-the-hill legends. Berra, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn, Mickey Lolich, Mo Vaughn. (I won't include Ashburn: In 1962, he was healthy and could still play.) There are people who say that Mays was the best player ever. But the Mets didn't get the 1954, or the 1962, or the 1965, or even the 1969 Willie Mays. They got the Mays of 1972 and 1973, and, after hitting a home run in his 1st game for a New York team in 15 years, he was useless. The man said it himself: "It's time to say, 'Willie, say, "Goodbye" to America."'"

One more thing about the 1973 postseason: The Mets led the World Series 3 games to 2, but lost Games 6 and 7 to the Athletics in Oakland. No shame in that: The A's were defending World Champions, and would make it 3 straight the next season.

What makes this one of the "most Mets moments" is the way the fans reacted. Yogi started Seaver on 3 days' rest in Game 6, and Jon Matlack in Game 7. They were furious with Yogi for not saving Seaver for Game 7. But that was stupid: Seaver on 3 days' rest was better than 99 percent of pitchers who have ever lived. Who would they have started in Game 6? Matlack and Ray Sadecki would then have been on 2 days' rest. Jerry Koosman, 1. There was no other viable choice.

Or maybe Met fans wanted to blame Yogi because he was a Yankee Legend. Like they would do, 35 years later, with...

3. Willie Randolph. There's an old saying, and it comes from baseball, from Joe Kuhel, who said of his job managing the Washington Senators in the late 1940s, "What we're trying to do here is  make chicken salad out of chicken shit." For public consumption, this sentiment is usually written as, "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken feathers."

Fred Wilpon, sole owner after buying out Nelson Doubleday, gave operational control of the Mets to his son Jeff. Jeff gave personnel decisions to general manager Omar Minaya. And it almost worked: The Mets sort-of got into the Pennant race in 2005, their 1st season with Yankee Legend Willie Randolph as manager. They won the NL East and got to within 1 run of the Pennant in 2006. But they blew a sure NL East title and missed the Playoffs completely in 2007. With a slow start in 2008, they fired Randolph. If that's all you knew about the situation, you'd say that's understandable.

But Jeff and Omar waited until the team had flown all the way across the country to start a Pacific Coast roadtrip. And then they told Willie he was fired. With the time difference, it was about 3:00 AM in New York. There was no reason to make Willie get on that plane if you knew he shouldn't be your manager anymore.

Under new manager Charlie Manuel, the Mets got hot, and got another, albeit smaller, Division lead, but again fell apart in September, and again missed the Playoffs with a final-day loss. Then they collapsed the next season, proving that Randolph wasn't the problem: He had twice come close to a Pennant with a group of players, selected by Minaya, that just weren't good enough.

Met fans had blamed Randolph, calling him "Witless Willie" and, essentially, hating him because he was a Yankee. Ironically, he grew up in Brooklyn as a Met fan. Those idiots -- fans and management -- never gave him a fair chance. If Carlos Beltran had just swung that bat (which I could have made a "Dishonorable Mention" on this list), maybe he would have gotten a hit, and Randolph would have joined Yogi as legends for both ballclubs.

2. The All-Time Argument Settler. The reason the Mets exist at all is because, after the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers left for California in 1957, the Yankees were the only team left in the Tri-State Area, and millions of people refused to accept them as their team, and wanted a new one.

It had nothing to do with wanting "National League baseball" back in New York, because they were perfectly willing to accept the proposed Continental League, whose main advocate was the man who, along with Mrs. Payson, gets the credit for the Mets' creation, notable New York lawyer Bill Shea. A Continental League Mets would have been just fine with these people, the same ones who have spent over half a century telling us the NL is superior to the American League for whatever reason, arguable (better racial integration in the 1960s and '70s, All-Star Game domination into the 1980s) or idiotic (hating the designated hitter).

No, these people didn't care what League they were in. If MLB had chosen, at the time of expansion in 1961-62, to drop the League setup and, like the NFL, the AFL and the NBA, to organize teams geographically, and put the Mets into the same Division as the Yankees, most ex-Giant and ex-Dodger fans would have been just fine with that, especially as it would have given them many chances a season to beat the Yankees. Indeed, they probably would have preferred that over the few spring training games and the in-season Mayor's Trophy Game, which were absolutely meaningless in the standings but meant the world to Met fans.

For 39 seasons, they dreamed of a Subway Series -- not the Interleague regular-season series they got starting in 1997 (and remember, regular-season Giants-Dodgers games weren't called "Subway Series," not even during the 1951 Playoff series), but an actual World Series between the Mets and the Yankees. Just one chance, that's all they wanted, and they would show Yankee Fans that New York was a Mets town.

As Star Trek's Mr. Spock could have told them, "You may find that having is not so fine a thing as wanting." The Mets blew a 9th inning lead in Game 1, had a comeback from a blowout fall just short in Game 2, won Game 3, blew a good chance to win Game 4, and blew a 6th inning lead in Game 5, and lost the World Series on their home field.

All the games were close, 2 within 2 runs and 3 within 1, but the Series was not: The Yankees won, 4 games to 1. Despite winning 7 fewer games in the regular season (94 to 87, although the Yankees did win their Division, while the Mets didn't win theirs and got into the Playoffs via the Wild Card), the Yankees definitively proved that they were the better team.

Losing the World Series, at Shea Stadium, to the team you hate the most, with ex-Met player and manager Joe Torre as their manager, with a coaching staff that included ex-Met players Don Zimmer and Lee Mazzilli, and ex-Met coach Mel Stottlemyre (and, less gallingly because he was a Met coach for just 1 season, Chris Chambliss), and a playing roster that included ex-Mets David Cone, Dwight Gooden and Jose Vizcaino (winning hit in Game 1), and until the year before had included Darryl Strawberry?

If this loss does not gall you more than any other in the team's 54-season history, you are not a true Met fan, for you root for a team that would not exist if the Dodgers and Giants had stayed. Your team had one chance, and they blew it.

You could, of course, argue that they didn't blow it, and that the Yankees were simply the better team. But what Met fan would ever admit that the Yankees were better, or that the Yankees deserved to win, on merit?

Until the Mets beat the Yankees in a World Series (don't count on it ever happening), the 2000 World Series is the all-time argument settler: New York is a Yankee town. 

1. Forcing Out Your Greatest Player. Tom Seaver was the greatest player in Mets history in 1969. Not that it was much of a contest at the time. He was still the greatest in 1977. He's still the greatest now. The only other player in the Hall of Fame based even partly on what he did as a Met is Gary Carter, and he had, statistically speaking, his 4 best seasons and 8 of his best 10 with the Montreal Expos (though 2 of his 3 postseasons were with the Mets). (UPDATE: Mike Piazza was elected in 2016, but 2 of his 4 postseasons were with the Dodgers.)

In 1977, Seaver thought he should be making more money. At the least, he thought he should be making as much money as his friend and former Met teammate, Nolan Ryan. Seaver's wife Nancy and Ryan's wife Ruth had discussed it with each other.

Seaver also complained that Mets chairman M. Donald Grant, running the team for owner Lorinda de Roulet, daughter of founding owner Joan Payson, had broken up the team that won the 1969 World Series and the 1973 Pennant, and in the 1976-77 off-season, hadn't taken advantage of the 1st-ever free agent draft to improve the team, because Grant was cheap. Hardly unusual for a man running a baseball team, but he didn't have to be cheap. This wasn't like the post-Bernie Madoff era: The Mets organization had the money.

Grant asked Dick Young, the streetwise, acerbic columnist for the Daily News, who'd made his name writing about the Brooklyn Dodgers, to write something denigrating the Seavers. Both of them, husband and wife. This crossed a line that should never be crossed: You got a problem with a guy, fine, but don't bring his family into it.

Young, being as much of an asshole as Grant, didn't need any convincing to do Grant's dirty work for him:

In a way, Tom Seaver is like Walter O'Malley. Both are very good at what they do. Both are very deceptive in what they say. Both are very greedy...

Nolan Ryan is getting more now than Seaver, and that galls Tom because Nancy Seaver and Ruth Ryan are very friendly and Tom Seaver long has treated Nolan Ryan like a little brother.

After that, Seaver knew he could no longer play for M. Donald Grant. He demanded to be traded, and he was. Dave Kingman, a horrible fielder but a powerful slugger, was traded at the same time, just before midnight on the trading deadline at the time, June 15, 1977. It became known as the Midnight Massacre.

In hindsight, it had to be done. Either Seaver or Grant had to go, and Grant had the power, so he wasn't going anywhere. And the Mets did get talent from the Reds for Seaver: A good-hitting left fielder in Steve Henderson, a good-fielding 2nd baseman in Doug Flynn, and a decent starting pitcher in Pat Zachry. (Outfielder Dan Norman also came, but was essentially a throw-in.)

And, let's be honest about this: Having Seaver, even if the Mets had those other 4 players as well, would have made no difference: The Mets were nowhere near Playoff contention from 1977 to 1982, when he was in Cincinnati, and his pitching wouldn't have won enough games to get them into contention.

But from a public relations standpoint, it was a nightmare. It made the Mets organization look petty, bush-league, like profits were more important than Playoffs, and obedience more important than performance. It made them look, as Wayne Gretzky would say of the New Jersey Devils in 1983, like "a Mickey Mouse organization."

The world of baseball had changed, to the point where players now had the freedom to get paid based on performance and to play where they wanted, and Grant was saying, essentially, "No, the world has not changed, not on my watch!"

Throw in the fact that the Yankees were titleholders in the American League, had a renovated Yankee Stadium that was better than Shea, had the defending AL Most Valuable Player in Thurman Munson, had the game's best relief pitcher in Sparky Lyle, and had recently acquired the game's most charismatic slugger in Reggie Jackson, and any pretensions the Mets had to being the most popular, and the most respected, baseball team in New York were gone. Until 1984, anyway.

Seaver did return to the Mets -- in 1983, after Mrs. de Roulet finally had enough of Grant and fired him, and then had enough of baseball and sold the Mets to Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon. And even then, willing to accept the overtures of new management, he pitched only 1 more season for them, and they let him go again. At least Nelson and Fred didn't publicly humiliate him, the way Grant did, over a few bucks that they could easily afford. Throughout the Doubleday & Wilpon years, and even now in the Fred & Jeff Wilpon era, Seaver has always accepted invitations to return. The House of Seaver has had no problems with the House of Wilpon.

Did the Yankees ever do this? Piss off their best player to the point where he could never play for them again? No. Babe Ruth was not released before the 1935 season because he was too old and fat and couldn't control himself. He'd been offered a playing and management position (which turned out to be bogus) from the Boston Braves, and he asked the Yankees to release him so he could accept it.

Lou Gehrig retired in 1939 because he was dying. Joe DiMaggio in 1951, Whitey Ford in 1967, Mickey Mantle in 1969, Mariano Rivera in 2013 and Derek Jeter in 2014 retired as Yankees when they decided they could no longer play up to their standards. Yogi Berra retired in 1963 because he was offered the manager's job, although he might have retired soon anyway, because he was 38. (And, yes, I'm not just implying, I'm outright saying: All of those players occupy a place as high as, or higher than, Tom Seaver in the history of New York baseball.)

Casey Stengel's firing as manager after the 1960 World Series, Yogi's firing as manager after the 1964 World Series, and Yogi's firing as manager in 1985 were all handled badly, and then there were the 5 times Billy Martin had to leave the post. But firing your manager, however popular, is one thing; publicly humiliating a club legend and his wife to the point where he has to leave is another, especially when he is, at that point, the only true legend your club has ever had.

True, after the 1981 season, George Steinbrenner refused to exercise his option on a 6th year for Reggie, who took the hint and signed with another team. But if you're a Met fan citing that as equivalent to what happened between Grant and Seaver, then, A, you're a fool, because George didn't use Dick Young (who was still alive and active), or a sportswriter friendly to him but not Reggie (I'm not sure there were any), to badmouth Reggie in the press, or use Reggie's wife against him (which he couldn't do anyway, since Reggie was divorced and managed to keep his girlfriends' names out of the public view); and, B, you're admitting that Reggie Jackson was at least as important a baseball player as Tom Seaver was, and no true Met fan would ever accept that.

Like most baseball teams, the Mets have been at their best when they've had good defense, good speed, timely hitting, and, most of all, solid starting pitching. Like most baseball teams, they've been at their worst when their organization has made themselves look like idiots and cheapskates.

Forcing Tom Seaver, the best player the Mets are ever likely to have, out in a publicly humiliating way, at a time when the team needed all the good publicity it could get, is The Most Mets Thing Ever.

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