“This is a great opportunity for the New York Mets. As we know Tom and Nancy Seaver have been part of this family for the last 10 years and he will continue to be part of the Mets for the rest of his career”
– M. Donald Grant – June 15, 1977
Of all the moments in Mets history, the one that sticks in the craw of all Met fans of age is the Midnight Massacre on June 15, 1977. On that day, the direction of the franchise changed forever with Tom Seaver being sent to Cincinnati and Dave Kingman traded to San Diego.
It was a full move for the club to rebuilding mode, which eventually saw the franchise sold a few years later.
But what if Seaver wasn’t traded? Would it have been better for the club or worse?
To consider the situation, you have to look at the principles, where Seaver was the most popular player in the city at that time, while M. Donald Grant ran the Mets with an extremely tight fist and was also tight on the purse strings. (Remember, Grant really was a stockbroker when handed the reins of the club by original owner Mrs. Joan Payson, not a career baseball man.)
And finally there was Dick Young, the bitter New York Daily News Columnist, who wrote a disparaging article on Seaver, saying how Nancy Seaver was jealous of Nolan Ryan and his wife, because of all the money they were making with the California Angels.
“That Young column was the straw that broke the back,” Seaver told the New York Daily News back in 2007. “Bringing your family into it with no truth whatsoever to what he wrote. I could not abide by that. I had to go.”
So if that Young Column was not written, things might have been worked out. After all, he was in the middle of a three-year deal worth 675,000 dollars – highest for a pitcher at that time, which Seaver signed in 1976. Seaver may have toughed it out and stayed with the Mets and also Grant would have succumbed to pressure and given The Franchise a nice raise after the 1978 season.
And Seaver, a former Marine, would probably have stayed in New York because of loyalty.
Of course, there was a lot of acrimony between the two men, outside of the Young Column, as Seaver told the News: “During the labor negotiations, he came up to me in the clubhouse once and said: ‘What are you, some sort of Communist?’ Another time, and I’ve never told anyone this, he said to me: ‘Who do you think you are, joining the Greenwich Country Club?’ It was incomprehensible to him if you didn’t understand his feelings about your station in life.”
But until the Young Column, Seaver was loyal and probably would have remained so.
All of this means there would have been a very different Mets club in the 1980s. In fact, it could be argued, the dark ages of the 1970s would have just pushed back until the mid-1980s.
With Seaver on the club, the Mets probably would have been vying for .500 every year, instead of dwelling in the cellar. With Seaver, the dismantling of the Mets would not have taken place. Jerry Koosman would not have been traded to Minnesota after the ’78 season, meaning no Jesse Orosco, and those high number one picks such as Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden would not have been chosen, since the Mets would have been lower in the draft.
Think about that one more time, the Mets of the 1980s without Doc, Straw, and Jesse. Wow!
Also, with talent on the club and paying some bucks out, Grant and general manager Joe McDonald (no relation) could have lost patience with manager Joe Torre and fired him quickly.
And then there is the sale of the club where Charles Shipman Payson, who took over when his wife died in 1975, had little interest in owning the club, had put their daughter, Lorinda deRoulet, in charge, and was tired of just losing money, so he sold the team to Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon.
Payson may have just kept Grant running the club if it was making him money, after all his daughters were running the team and he was simply a silent investor.
On a closer look, the 1977 season would have played out much differently. Torre would still have made his rookie mistakes, but Seaver out there every five days would have meant a good chance of winning. Instead of the split of 21-6 between New York and Cincinnati, he probably would have gone 18-10 with the Mets, in 77 and the club would have gone 78-84, as Kingman would also have been kept on the club to supply offense.
If Kingman wasn’t traded, Bobby Valentine would never have had a relationship with the Mets, meaning, he would never have been a coach in the 1980s and the relationship with Wilpon would never have formed. So he may not have managed the club in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
With around a .500 club, chalked up to some inexperience by Torre, Jon Matlack would have been kept around, as there would have been no need for Willie Montanez at first base and Jon Milner would not have been part of the Pirate Fam-ill-ee
And future GM Tom Grieve would not have been part of the Mets organization, which turned out a number of GMs on the club.
The next year would have been much of the same, but with Seaver, Koosman and Matlack, the Mets would have been in the middle of the pack. And since Torre got a little experience they would have probably finished around .500.
Also, the Mets would have had interest in some free agents, on Seaver’s urging to Grant, such as Pete Rose, who eventually went to the Phillies.
The 1979 Club would have also been around. 500 but young stars like Lee Mazzilli may have been shipped off to bolster the lineup, meaning Ron Darling and Howard Johnson would not have eventually made it to the club.
Payson may have kept the franchise as he was making some money.
With a middle of the pack finish, the Mets would have had a middle of the pack draft pick. No Darryl Strawberry. Billy Beane may have been picked by the Mets in that draft, but he would have still been a bust.
Grant also may have fired Torre, and could have brought back Whitey Herzog to the club when the White Rat left the Royals to go to Cardinals.
And without the Rat in red, Keith Hernandez plays his whole career in St. Louis.
Remember, though, these Mets are veterans in the mid-30s and the farm system wasn’t the greatest in the world. The club would have collapsed in 1982 or ’83, which is where Payson may have sold.
For five years from 1983-1988, the Mets would be terrible and no World Series Championship in 1986. Congratulations, Red Sox.
So yes, the Franchise stays in Queens and maybe even wins his 300th there, but there would have been a price to pay later on as the tapestry of the 1986 club would have unraveled, putting the Mets on a dark and murky course. So don’t cry too hard the next time the anniversary of the Midnight Massacre comes around.