Jun. 15 – When you ask a Met fan about that date they usually have a frown on their face as they think back to Jun. 15, 1977—the day they traded Tom Seaver to the Reds after a fierce battle with ownership. But if the truth be told, that day is also a great day in Met history as they acquired two players on that date that played key roles in bringing a world championship to Queens—Donn Clendenon and Keith Hernandez. Each of these deals has a backstory that would dominate the social media pages if they occurred today.
In those days the trading deadline was six weeks earlier than the current Jul. 31st deadline as with two divisions as opposed to three as well as no wild card playoff entry, teams could make decisions much earlier in the year whether they were buyers or sellers.
In the case of Tom Seaver, the issue had been brewing for months as M.Donald Grant refused to renegotiate his contract and he used his friendship with columnist Dick Young to further his point of view at Seaver’s expense. Right before the deadline, Tom Terrific decided he had enough with Grant and went over his head to settle things with Lorinda De Roulet, President of the Mets. She had a great relationship with Seaver and they agreed on a deal. The following day, Young wrote a column criticizing him and taking potshots at his family and at that point, Seaver had enough of it. So, he demanded a trade.
It was a harsh day for Met fans who lost the man who built the franchise into a winner. They received a package of 4 players from the Reds—Doug Flynn who would win a Gold Glove as a Met at second base, pitcher Pat Zachry, and outfielders Steve Hendersen and Dan Norman. Hendersen had some good years with the Mets and finished second in 1977 Rookie of The Year balloting. Dave Kingman was also traded that night for Paul Siebert and Bobby Valentine. Ironically, Joe Torre who was player-manager of the team took the player portion off that title to make room for Bobby V on the roster and years later they would manage against each other in The 2000 World Series. You want more irony—Hendersen would later get traded by the Mets in exchange for Dave Kingman who would have a second tour of duty with the Mets.
That second tour of duty would end in 1983 when that Jun. 15 date put the Mets in the news again—as Keith Hernandez came to the team signaling the beginning of great things for the Frank Cashen-led Mets. Looking back at the day, many people wonder why the Cards dealt him and many have conspiracy thoughts in their mind. But from a baseball perspective, it was simple—the Cardinals needed help in their bullpen and at the time, Neil Allen was recognized as one of the top relievers in the game. The Met brass felt like Jesse Orosco was the relief pitcher with a higher upside and so Cashen offered Allen. Two years earlier, Cashen had traded another hot bullpen prospect—Jeff Reardon for Ellis Valentine who at the time was recognized as a top hitter in the game and that deal blew up in the Met faces but they did not hesitate in getting Hernandez. It proved to be one of the best trades in team history. I have always felt he is the greatest defensive first basemen in the history of the game and his ability to hit in the clutch is unparalleled in team history. Twice in World Series Game 7s—once in St, Louis in 1982 and again at Shea in 1986—he drove in the runs that turned that deciding game around.
Speaking of great World Series moments, the team’s first World Series MVP was traded for on that date as well. That year, the Mets were trying to get another big bat in the middle of their lineup and nearly acquired Joe Torre in spring training of that year before the Braves traded him to the Cards for Orlando Cepeda. The Braves were asking for too much at the time—most notably Amos Otis, a hot prospect who would later get traded to the Royals after the Mets tried to convert him into a third basemen. In one of the worst deals in team history, Otis would become a fixture for the Royals in center field while Joe Foy, whom they acquired in that deal became a total bust.
Donn Clendenon had an interesting journey to the Mets. He was originally taken by the Montreal Expos off the Pittsburgh Pirates roster in the expansion draft but then was traded along with Jesus Alou to the Astros for another name that Mets fans might know—Rusty Staub. But Donn refused to report to the Astros as their newly hired manager Harry Walker had personality clashes with him while he was in Pittsburgh. So, they worked out a new deal with Expos returning him to Montreal. The Mets got him on a deadline trade dealing four prospects north of the border.
Clendenon played first base and platooned for the most part with Ed Kranepool. In the 1969 NLCS he did not play at all as the Braves, whom the Mets swept, had all right handed pitching leaving him on the bench. The Orioles, on the other hand, had southpaws Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar in their rotation, and Clendenon nailed three homers in the four games he played taking home the Series MVP. In the only game he did not start, Ed Kranepool hit a homer off Jim Palmer. Following that season, he had a great year in 1970 hitting 22 home runs and took the full time first base job as Kranepool was demoted to the minors. They reversed roles the following year as Clendenon slumped while Kranepool had a career year. He was released after that 1971 season as John Milner was waiting in the wings to take over the first base position.
Three players that shaped Met history—Tom Seaver, Keith Hernandez and Donn Clendenon and each of them has the date of Jun. 15 front and center when describing their Met careers.