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On This Date in Sports August 21, 1977: Seaver's Return

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Two months after the stunning midnight trade sent him to the Cincinnati Reds, Tom Seaver returns to Shea Stadium to take on the New York Mets. Tom Seaver goes the distance, allowing one run on six hits, with 11 strikeouts as the Reds beat the Mets 5-1. A crowd of over 46,000, one of the largest of the season, greets Seaver with a standing ovation.

George Thomas Seaver was born in Fresno, California, on November 16, 1944. Initially drafted and signed by the Atlanta Braves, he had his contract voided by William Eckert after his USC team played in a spring training exhibition. After a legal battle, Tom Seaver’s rights were put up in a lottery, with the New York Mets beating out the Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Indians by having their name pulled out of a hat.

Upon arriving at Shea one year later, Tom Seaver gave the Mets their first superstar as he won the National League Rookie of the Year and became the centerpiece for the Mets to build upon. Tom Seaver won the Cy Young two years later as he won 25 games while leading the Miracle Mets to the 1969 World Series Championship. Nicknamed “The Franchise,” Tom Seaver became the face of the Mets, helping them appear in the 1973 World Series while winning two more Cy Young awards in 1973 and 1975.

As Free Agency began, Tom Seaver looked to get a big contract from the Mets in 1977. However, Chairman of the Board, M. Donald Grant, was dead set against the increase of player salaries and began bad-mouthing Seaver through Daily News Columnist Dick Young. Wanting to stay with New York, Tom Seaver went to Mets owner Lorinda de Roulet and worked out a deal in principle with the General Manager Joe McDonald. Grant feeling bitter, went back through Young and claimed that Tom’s wife, Nancy Seaver, drove the demand for more money over jealousy to the contract Nolan Ryan had with the California Angels. This was the last straw for Tom Seaver, who went back to McDonald and asked to be traded. The trade called the Midnight Massacre came on June 15th, the old non-waiver trade deadline, with Seaver going to the Cincinnati Reds for second baseman Doug Flynn and pitcher Pat Zachary who was co-Rookie of the Year with Butch Metzger of the San Diego Padres in 1976. The Mets also received minor league outfield prospects Steve Henderson and Dan Norman in the deal.

Even before the trade, the Mets had gotten off to a terrible start and were in last place with manager Joe Frazier was fired and replaced by Joe Torre, who was still an active player on the Mets roster. Torre retired shortly after being named manager as the Mets began a long drift into the abyss that would turn Shea Stadium into Grant’s Tomb as most nights saw fewer than 10,00 fans at Shea Stadium. That was not the case on a Sunday afternoon in August as Tom Seaver was set to oppose Jerry Koosman Seaver, who was 7-3 with the Mets bringing his career win total to 191, and a record of 6-2 since joining the Reds managed by Sparky Anderson. Koosman, who finished second in the Cy Young vote in 1976, had been having a nightmare of a season in 1977, holding a record of 8-15 as he was set to face his longtime friend.

The Reds staked Tom Seaver to a lead right away, as Pete Rose led off the game with a double and scored on a two-out single by George Foster. Seaver did not allow a base runner in the first trip to the order. In the fourth inning, one of the players he was traded for, Steve Henderson, got the Mets first hit with two outs. Ed Kranepool also got a single, but both men were stranded on bases as John Milner popped up to end the inning. In the fifth inning, Tom Seaver did some damage, with the bat recording a two-out double. He would late come into score on a hit by Rose to make it 2-0. In the sixth inning, the Mets got on the board as Buddy Harrelson and Henderson recorded back-to-back singles, with Harrelson scoring on a sacrifice fly by Kranepool. In the eighth inning, the Mets shot themselves in the foot, as Seaver and Rose reached base on errors by Harrelson and Doug Flynn. They would later score on RBI singles by Joe Morgan and Ken Griffey to chase Koosman from the game. Skip Lockwood would finish the eighth, while Bob Apodaca pitched the ninth for the Mets. Tom Seaver, meanwhile, went the distance, ending the game with a strikeout of Ron Hodges.

Tom Seaver would go 14-3 with the Reds in 1977, finishing the year with an overall record of 21-6 as he finished third in Cy Young voting. Jerry Koosman went from 20 wins in 1976 to 20 losses in 1977, recording a record of 8-20 as the Mets finished in last place in the Eastern Division for the first time since divisional play began. Tom Seaver would return to the Mets in 1983 before moving on to the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox.