Unless you marry your high school sweetheart, it’s almost inevitable that after you break up you will see your first love in someone else’s arms. Maybe walking the hall, maybe outside the school, but somewhere you see the first girl of your dreams with someone else.
Those feelings are what many felt the first time they saw the card above, which was the first card produced by Topps with Tom Seaver, aka Tom Terrific, aka The Franchise wearing someone else’s uniform. To many Mets fans, this card served as both tangible proof and heartbreak reminder of the “Midnight Massacre.”
At the start of the 1977 season Tom Seaver was unhappy with his 3 year $675,000 contract, which had been signed prior to the 1976 season. Seaver wanted to renegotiate his contract to bring his salary in line with what other top pitchers were making, but Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant, refused to budge. Grant was quoted at the time saying “The contract is the fundamental cornerstone in our country and baseball as well.”
After reading (proof ballplayers should never read papers) an infamous June 14th article by senior Daily News sports columnist Dick Young that said in part, “Nolan Ryan is now getting more money than Seaver and that galls Tom because his wife Nancy and Nolan’s wife Ruth are very friendly and Tom has long treated Ryan like a little brother.” Tom Seaver informed the team’s owner, Lorinda de Roulet, that he wanted out and asked the General Manager of the Mets at the time Joe McDonald to immediately trade him, feeling he could not co-exist with Donald Grant.
In the first two trades that would come to be known as “the Midnight Massacre” (the second trade was Dave Kingman to the San Diego Padres), Seaver was traded to the Cincinnati Reds right at the trade deadline that year June 15, 1977 for pitcher Pat Zachry, infielder Doug Flynn, and minor league outfielders Steve Henderson and Dan Norman.
After June 15, Seaver went 14-3 with a 2.34 ERA for the Reds, including an emotional 5-1 win on August 21 against the Mets in his return to Shea Stadium. Seaver struck out 11 in the return, and also hit a double.
Just over a year after the trade, on June 16, 1978 Seaver, who had four one-hitters for the Mets, pitched a no-hitter for the Reds against the Cardinals. Seaver stayed with the Reds through the 1982 season before returning to the Mets for one season. Seaver was 75 – 46 with the Reds, and finished in the top 4 in Cy Young Award voting three times with that team. The Reds won the 1979 National League West and in 1981 had the best combined record in baseball.
The Mets part of the trade? Doug Flynn hit 5 home runs in 5 seasons with the Mets. Manning the keystone for the Amazins, Flynn won a gold glove in 1980, the same season he reached his highest career batting average (.255) with the Mets.
Pat Zachry, the 1976 Rookie of the Year with the Reds, pitched for the Mets for six seasons, peaking in 1978 with a 10 – 6 record and a 3.33 ERA and was an All Star. However, in 1981 Zachry led the league in losses with 14 and in home runs allowed. After another poor season in 1982, Zachry was traded to the Dodgers for journeyman Jorge Orta.
Outfielder Steve Henderson was the best player that the Mets received back in exchange for Seaver. From 1977 to 1980 Henderson totaled 9.3 bWAR, was the runner up Rookie of the Year in 1977 to Andre Dawson, and had an OPS between .732 and .852 each season.
Reversing part of the Midnight Massacre, in February 1981 Henderson was traded to the Cubs in exchange for Dave Kingman. As for Dan Norman, he played in only 192 games over parts of five seasons with the Mets, hitting a combined .227.
After the trade of Seaver, the Mets finished in last place in 1977, 1978 and 1979. After the 1979 season, Joe McDonald was fired and Nelson Doubleday, Jr. bought the team, the first move in what would become the 1986 World Champion Mets.
Many Mets fans, this one included, still get weepy seeing this card, the first of Tom Seaver wearing a uniform other than the Mets. Hopefully we’ll never see a card with DeGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard or Matz wearing another team’s colors.