Fans generally have longer, frustrated and angrier memories about the bad trades their teams have made than happy memories about the good ones. That’s human nature. You could fill pages listing all of those trades, either for getting rid of someone good with nothing in return, or trading for someone who turned out to be a big bust. Orlando Cepeda for Ray Sadecki. Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields. A bad trade can be recognized as a bad trade at the time, or one that, in retrospect, is one that should never have been made. It can be because of the how good the players involved were, or how important they were to the team.
This article is specifically about trades involving the New York Mets, particularly the worst in their franchise history. Now, before I give my opinion, let me say that, like for most franchises, there have been a few doozies. I am not sure that my opinion will be totally aligned with how other people feel. So, before you read any further, take a moment, particularly if you are a Mets fan, and think about it. Before you get to my conclusion, please feel free to comment about your opinion on the post or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would like to tally up your thoughts. Let the bloodletting begin.
Tug McGraw and a couple other players for three Phillies, including Del Unser and John Stearns. My heart was broken with this trade. If Tom Seaver was the heart of the Mets, than Tug was the soul. Or maybe the other way around, I am not really sure which of these represents what, but the point is, how could they trade Tug “Ya Gotta Believe” McGraw? It doesn’t matter that the Mets thought he was damaged goods, it was still a soul-crushing trade for the fans. He went on to help the Phillies win the World Series in 1980. Bad trade.
Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano. I don’t follow college players and the draft, but I do remember that the Mets used their 15th overall selection and chose Kazmir, who was going to be a stud. He has had an up and down career, never quite becoming what was expected of him, although he has had a recent resurgence. They traded him for Victor Zambrano. Not Carlos, but Victor, who went on to accomplish very little for the Mets.
George Foster was a monster with the Reds, an integral part of the Big Red Machine. The Mets traded for him in the early ‘80s, hoping he would continue his Hall of Fame trajectory career. He didn’t. They didn’t give up any name players: Greg Harris, Jim Kern, and Alex Trevino, and inspection of the trade shows he had a few pretty productive years, but in the first year of the trade he only hit 13 home runs. This was a disappointment, less for how he contributed than for the fact that, real or imagined, he just did not produce the superstar stats that were expected.
Moving on, we could go on all day about frustrating and disappointing trades. So let me get to my two finalists. Make your vote now if you haven’t already. I will announce my runner-up first, the trade that I DON”T think is the worst in their history, although if the emails have been pouring in, I am betting most will think this is the worst.
Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi. We all know how this turned out. In fact, even if you don’t follow baseball, you know who Ryan is, and the thought that he was traded seems ludicrous. The Ryan Express. Six no-hitters. The all-time strikeout leader with 5,614, more than 800 ahead of #2 Randy Johnson. But let’s put this into perspective.
Ryan was a power pitcher, who after four years still had not broken into the Mets’ rotation on a full-time basis. He was wild, not an uncommon thing for young pitchers and many overcome that. Think of Sandy Koufax, who was wild and barely mediocre in his first six years. But in Ryan’s fourth and final season with the Mets, his ERA was 3.97 (pretty high for the time) and he walked 116 batters compared to 137 strikeouts, ridiculously high in ANY era.
Ryan was a Met from ’68-’71 when they finally pulled the plug and traded him to the California Angels for third baseman Jim Fregosi who had been a prized shortstop. The Mets had never had consistency at the hot corner, despite having a couple of good ones, such as Ed “The Glider” Charles and Wayne Garrett during their World Series championship season. However they wanted a long-term solution, as they have had recently with David Wright, and it was a carousel of short-time players filling that position. So, when they in essence gave up on Ryan, it did not seem like such a crisis. Who knew that Fregosi would become at best a serviceable player for them, lasting 1½ years in New York and that Ryan would become, well, Ryan.
But for me, the winner is: Tom Seaver for …Are you kidding me? You don’t trade Koufax; you don’t trade Mantle; you don’t trade Banks; and you don’t trade Tom Seaver, THE FRANCHISE. He was the man who took a pitiful but lovable team and led them to an amazin’ World Series victory in 1969, giving sudden, unexpected and unlikely credibility to what had been the worst team in baseball history just seven years before. I know I don’t know all the facts behind this trade, it had something to do with NY Daily News’ writer Dick Young‘s column about Nancy, and Tom’s outrage, and …They received some good players in return, including Pat Zachry and Steve Henderson, but still…
So, which was your pick for the worst trade of all-time? One could say my choice of Seaver was so obvious, why even pose the question? If you judge trades at the time, for how you knew it was going to be RIGHT THEN, well, you knew at the moment of the trade this was a killer. After all, he was already a great pitcher and the heart (or soul) of the team. However, he was also older and the Mets received some good players in return. If you judge in retrospect, for how it turned out, as many will, perhaps it was Ryan. But I don’t remember feeling devastated at the time, because he really had not accomplished much, and there really was no indication that he would become that much better.
For me it is Seaver. You don’t rip the emotional guts of a team away from the locker room and the fan base like that without leaving a deep emotional scar.