picture3We all have days that are forever burned into our consciousness. Some of these are universal. Ask virtually anyone what happened on December 7, 1941 and most people will recognize that as the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Or if you ask what happened on July 20, 1969, many will recall that was the day man first walked on the moon.

But we all have days that mean something to us on a personal level. For many it’s the day you got your first car or perhaps your first kiss. Perhaps it’s your wedding day or the birth of your child.

However, if you want to make me cringe, just say June 15, 1977.

Thirty years ago today, I was finishing up seventh grade and was a Mets fan surrounded everywhere by front-running Yankees fans. The Yankees had made it to the World Series for the first time in 12 seasons the previous year and were ready to claim the first of back-to-back World Championships.

Meanwhile, my beloved Mets were going nowhere. They entered the day in last place in the NL East with a 25-35 mark, 14 games behind the division-leading Cubs. They would win that night’s game, 6-5 over the Braves, but the damage came later that night.

After months of speculation, the Mets traded Tom Seaver.

It’s no exaggeration to say that day part of my childhood died. While I didn’t suffer through the 1962-68 seasons, when the Mets were the worst team in baseball, I was well versed in the team’s history and knew that Seaver was the representation of everything good about the team. They didn’t call him The Franchise for nothing.

Seaver went 25-7 in 1969. He won 125 games the next seven seasons after that, three times topping the 20-win mark. In that same span, he led the league in strikeouts five times and finished second and third the other two seasons. Seaver also led the league in ERA three times in those seven seasons, and placed third two other times. He recorded six All-Star game berths in seven seasons.

So, in the formidable years of my baseball fandom, Tom Seaver was king.

Now, the Mets were known for some bad trades. They are the franchise that traded Nolan Ryan, after all. But they also dealt away Amos Otis and Ken Singleton, who should have been the core of their teams in the 1970s. But nothing could compare to trading away Seaver in the prime of his career.

If I had the technological know-how, I would insert an audio file of Nancy Kerrigan screaming “Why, why, why me?” right here.

The Mets traded Seaver because he had the audacity to ask for a salary increase. The ingrate actually wanted to be paid close to his actual worth. This made him a pariah to M. Donald Grant, who was the club’s chairman. Grant, with the help of reporter Dick Young, played out Seaver’s contract negotiations in public. The duo always placed Seaver in the most unflattering light possible. They claimed his demands were excessive and that if they agreed to pay him that it would be the end of baseball as we knew it.

Now, it’s pretty easy to make a convincing case when only one side gets to make an argument. And Seaver did not have the equivalent of Dick Young, easily the most influential newspaperman of the time, in his corner. And sadly, it worked. They succeeded in painting Tom Terrific as a bad guy.

I vividly remember my mother telling my brother and me that the amount of money that Seaver was asking for would be enough for dad to retire (there were eight kids in our family) and for the family to live on for the rest of our parents’ lives.

Now mom was just trying to put into perspective how much Seaver was asking to be paid per season. But she left out the part where the owners of the Mets were raking in enough cash each year that the entire extended Joura family could have retired, moved to Beverly Hills, taken annual vacations in Paris, Rio and Madrid and still have money left over to fund trusts for unborn grandkids. And nobody deserved more credit for this than Seaver.

After months of acrimonious dealings between the two sides, it looked like the parties had reached a settlement. But right before the trading deadline, a very negative piece about Seaver’s wife ran in the paper. Seaver insisted that Grant was behind the story and demanded a trade.

For the greatest pitcher in team history, the Mets received a collection of goods that might have been declined by the Salvation Army.

The Mets dealt Seaver to the Reds, the two-time defending World Series champions. And in return they got Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson and Dan Norman. Is it any wonder the team proceeded to post a below .500 record for seven consecutive seasons?

Seaver went on to win 20 games yet again in 1977, with 14 of those coming with the Reds. Seaver continued to be a dominating pitcher through the 1981 season, when he went 14-2 in the strike-shortened season.

Seaver came back to the Mets in 1983 and won nine games that season. But he played just that one season in Flushing. He was lost as a free agent compensation pick, even though the Mets didn’t sign the free agent he was allegedly replacing. Needless to say, that system was pretty unpopular and didn’t last long.

So, Tom Terrific missed the Mets renaissance in the mid-1980s. He won his 300th game as a member of the White Sox (in of all places, Yankee Stadium) and was on the Red Sox in 1986 but did not play in the World Series versus the Mets.

It didn’t have to be that way. It should not have been that way. And it happened 30 years ago today, on June 15, 1977.

Oh yeah, the Mets traded Dave Kingman, their most recognizable offensive player that day, too.

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