Last week, I described how, 50 years ago, Philadelphia Phillies fans basically ran the team’s star player, Dick Allen, out of town. Today, I’ll discuss how the great Tom Seaver, who died last week, was run out of New York.
Mets fans adored Seaver. They didn’t run him out town. A sportswriter did.
Seaver was the best pitcher of the 1970s. For my money, he’s one of the ten best starting pitchers in the history of baseball. Naturally, he wanted to be paid accordingly.
Entering the 1977 season, Seaver was on a three year contract worth $675,000. Thanks to the advent of free agency, eleven pitchers had just signed multi-year deals for $1 million or more. And Seaver’s friend Nolan Ryan, though not eligible for free agency, was making $300,000 a year thanks to the generosity of Gene Autry, who owned the Angels.
Seaver was miffed that the Mets hadn’t signed any free agents that winter. He also wanted a pay raise. His beef was with the team’s board chairman, Donald Grant.
As the 1977 season progressed, the Seaver-Grant feud became public. Most of New York’s sportswriters favored Seaver, as one might expect. But Grant had a powerful ally — Dick Young, the longtime columnist for the New York Daily News.
Young wrote that Seaver is “a pouting, griping, morale-breaking clubhouse lawyer poisoning the team.” He compared Seaver to the hated Walter O’Malley, whom New Yorkers had never forgiven for moving the Dodgers to Los Angeles. (Some of Young’s writing about Seaver is here.)
Seaver’s allies in the press noted that the Mets had recently hired Young’s son-in-law as a vice president of communications. But Young, an old-school guy and a contrarian, might well have sided with the Mets anyway.
Young was also gracious enough to tell his fellow Daily News sports columnist Jack Lang, whom Young had mentored, to feel free to take Seaver’s side. Lang did.
Lang also advised Seaver to go over Grant’s head and negotiate with ownership directly. The negotiations were successful. Just before the trading deadline, Seaver reached a deal with the team. The pitcher’s contract would be extended by three years, at $300,000 the first year and $400,000 the next two.
Knowing that the Mets were in advanced trade talks with Cincinnati, Seaver called the team’s GM and told him not to proceed. He would remain a Met.
But Young had just written another nasty column about Seaver. It included this passage:
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.
Young’s reference to the wives set Seaver off. He renewed his demand to be traded.
The Mets sent him to Cincinnati for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, and Dan Norman. There were some pretty good players in that mix, but it was still a bad deal for the Mets and a heartbreaking one for Mets fans.
Seaver finished the 1977 season by going 14-3 with the Reds, completing a 21-6 year. In the strike shortened season of 1981, in which the Reds had the best record in the National League but didn’t make the playoffs, Seaver was 14-2 with a 2.54 ERA. (In that year of Fernando mania, Seaver finished runner-up to Fernando Valenzuela for the Cy Young award by one vote.) Overall, he was 75-46 with the Reds, and that includes his disastrous 5-13 final season.
With Donald Grant gone and the Mets under new ownership, Seaver returned to the Mets for one so-so year, 1983. He found fresh life with the Chicago White Sox, winning his 300th game for them in front of a Yankee Stadium crowd (on Phil Rizzuto night, no less) that included plenty of adoring Mets fans.
Seaver finished his career with an injury-plagued season for Boston in 1986. He was not on the World Series roster and thus did not participate in the famous Mets-Red Sox series (Mookie Wilson, Bill Buckner, and all that).
Mets fans never forgave Dick Young. They booed him at the ceremony in which he was inducted into the writers’ wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Sportswriters don’t just write about sports news. Some of them make it, sometimes to the detriment of the teams they write about.
The Washington Post wrecked a successful basketball program and George Washington University by airing the grievances of anonymous players (apparently bench warmers) against the team’s coach. It set back the University of Maryland’s football program with a relentless and unfair crusade against the coach.
Now, it is targeting Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Football Team (formerly known as the Redskins). This case is different from the others because the football team might well benefit from new ownership.
However, the attacks on Snyder are part of a disturbing pattern. I’ll probably have more to say about it.