Friday, June 15, 2007

30 years after the infamous day

That the best way to describe how I felt 30 years ago Friday, June 15, 1977 — known in Mets circles as the Midnight Massacre.

Complete and total betrayal.

I was 13 at the time, seventh-grade turning into eighth. My little world revolved around the Mets, and specifically, Tom Seaver.

It seems silly today. We know so much more about the athletes as people that we know better than to consider them role models. Well, except for David Wright.

But back then I was all Mets, all the time. I had the Seaver posters, the puzzles, the Mets T-shirts with the heat-transfer 41 on the back. The autographed photos from when I met a bunch of players at an appearance at the Sunrise Mall hung on my wall like trophies

The autographed photo Seaver himself sent me was — who are we kidding — is a treasured heirloom, along with the baseball card I sent him, figuring he’d like to have one. He signed that and sent it back, too.

When the kids in my class grew their hair long, I wanted mine to be only as long as Seaver’s.

You know that I am loyal to an absolute fault. Once I’m on your side, I see only the good and will defend to the death.

You also know that people say I’m unabashedly optimistic. My glass isn’t just half full, it’s half full and I’m sure there’s a lot more where that came from.

I like to think that those traits serve me well, most of the time. But when I crash, I crash hard. And I crashed hard June 15, 1977.

Most of the kids in my school had turned Yankee by that point. The team had been to the World Series in 1976 and had jumped heavily into the free-agent pool with Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson. Even their stadium was like new, thanks to the Mets’ hospitality for two seasons.

I would have no part of it. You don’t change teams, and, most of all, you don’t go Yankee.

Junior high-schoolers, of course, are a sensitive lot. I took all kinds of abuse for my blind loyalty.

I can’t say I closely followed the business side of baseball at 13. I remember being aware of the grumbling between Seaver and the front office. I assumed they’d work things out because, well, they all worked for the Mets and only good people would run the Mets.

I remember the commotion over Seaver’s June 12 complete game victory over the Astros and the speculation that it might be his last game as a Met. I remember dismissing that notion entirely. Surely, they’re not going to trade Tom Seaver. He’s Tom Seaver! Who could they possibly get who is better than Tom Seaver?

And I remember lying on the floor watching the 11 p.m. Channel 7 news on June 15 with my grandmother, listening in complete and utter horror, then slamming my hands on the carpet.

When you are 13, the world is a small place. I did not see the big picture. I saw the part that pertained only to me, and I took this very personally.

How could they do this to me? I’ve defended these people, taking all kinds of abuse. And this is how I get treated? You trade my hero for one guy I’m aware of — Pat Zachry — and three others who I don’t even know exist? This hurt, and it hurt bad.

The next day I read about the other trades the Mets pulled off that night, sending Dave Kingman to the Padres for Bobby Valentine and Paul Siebert and Mike Phillips to the Cardinals for Joel Youngblood.

But I was already numb. It’s like backing over the squirrel you just ran over, as if it could inflict more damage.

As an aside, the fact that I could be this distraught over a baseball trade is proof at how good I actually had it and how little I actually had to worry about in life. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

It took a long time to recover. I tried to anoint Pat Zachry as my new favorite player, adopting No. 40 as my new number on anything I had that had a number. But as the Mets also learned, Pat Zachry was no replacement for Tom Seaver.

I even started wearing caps without any team affiliation, tired of the abuse from Yankee fans as their team went on to win back-to-back championships. I was actually ashamed of my Mets.

I later learned about the role Daily News columnist Dick Young played in getting Seaver traded. He became the designated villain, since my blind loyalty prevented me from fully blaming the team. Proving that I can’t let go of a good grudge, when Young died in 1987 I laminated his obit and hung it on the fridge — and didn’t even have the excuse of being 13.

The years have brought wisdom. I see that Seaver was better off with the Reds, who were coming off a World Series win.

And I now know that the people running the Mets after the death of Mrs. Payson — mostly Chairman M. Donald Grant — were too old-school to handle the sport’s new realities.

I started getting a clue. Even in my blind loyalty, I could see that having a real donkey as the team’s mascot and trotting him out before games was a bad, bad idea and showed me that these people had no idea what they were doing.

But it’s a tough lesson for a 13-year-old.

I kind of got over it. I healed a lot when Seaver was brought back by the new regime in 1983, and even more in 1985 when the whole family got to witness his 300th win.

My son has never embraced a team or a player like I did when I was his age. Sometimes I’m disappointed, but when I think of a day like the one 30 years ago on Friday, I realize it’s probably for the best.

I know the game has changed and players tend to move around more than they used to. But whenever a Barry Zito or Pedro Martinez signs a big-money deal with a new team, I wonder if there are 13-year-olds out there who just lost their hero.


robotii said...

Thanks for the insightful post, reminds me of when I became disillusioned with various things, at various differnt ages, but you do end up a bit more cautious I think.

Dan in Texas said...

Great piece Dave! It game me goose bumps. I never saw Seaver during his first year but grew up hearing stories of how great he was from my dad. I remember meeting him at a card show at the old Rangers stadium and getting him to sign an collectors piece my dad had hung onto from 1969.

Even though he had a small role with the team when I was alive, he has always been one of my heroes.

Fantastic work!

G-Fafif said...

Great stuff about a bad day. Thanks Dave.

Anonymous said...

I love the pic with your batting stance. Brings back memories of your house in Massapequa, we would stay outside running around forever!!
Good Times!!!