Two Texans, a Floridian, and a Californian

In the late 1960’s, the New York Mets had one of the best 1-2 punches on the mound that the world would ever see. The second punch was not ready to be great just yet. The first punch was already at that elite level at the age of 22 when he was selected to the 1967 All-Star game, and won Rookie of the Year. Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan’s best year as teammates came in 1969, when the team won the World Series. That season was arguably one of the best of Seaver’s career as he took home his first Cy Young award, and finished second in the MVP race. As for Ryan, he went 6-3 that season, and pitched to a 3.53 ERA. His most important moment came when he saved Game Three of the World Series, not knowing he would not see the post season for another 10 seasons.

The Mets, growing frustrated with the wild nature of Ryan’s fastball, traded him to the Angels for Jim Fregosi on December 10th, 1971. In an interview with New York Times writer Joseph Durso about the trade, Gil Hodges said “You always hate to give up on an arm like Ryan’s. He could put things together overnight, but he hasn’t done it for us and the Angels wanted him. I would not hesitate making a trade for somebody who might help us right now, and Fregosi is such a guy.”

Whether he put it together overnight or in spring training, Ryan led the league in strikeouts, won 19, and had an ERA of 2.28. When Mets fans thought that one trade of a pitcher was bad enough, the ownership said “Hold my beer” in 1977 with the trade of Seaver. It was a trade that crippled the franchise for several seasons, and kept the stands of Shea Stadium barren. Seaver was an undeniable ace, and was made into trade chip by a franchise that never would be forgiven for it.

Flash forward to 2019, and the Mets currently have a similar two at the top of their rotation. The bona-fide ace is Jacob deGrom, who is only the third Met to win Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young Award with the team. He pitched to the tune of a 1.70 ERA last season, and earned a WAR of 10. There behind him in the rotation was Noah Syndergaard, who had about as quiet a 13-4, 3.03 season as humanly possible.

Both deGrom and Syndergaard have an interesting future ahead of them. They both face enormous paydays, and it will be very hard for the Mets to hang onto both of them. This is a duo that the Mets can’t mess up however. Syndergaard, a Texas native that wears the same 34 on his jersey like the other Texas native Ryan did so long ago, has the potential to be a high-volume strikeout pitcher like Ryan. deGrom, whose number is in the 40’s like Seaver’s was, is looking to build off of the elite season that he just had. The Mets would be foolish to blow these two up like they did to Seaver and Ryan. Am I saying that deGrom and Syndergaard are Seaver and Ryan? Absolutely not. Am I saying that they could become a better 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation than they were? For argument’s sake, I’d say that they already are.

26 comments for “Two Texans, a Floridian, and a Californian

  1. Mike Walczak
    January 19, 2019 at 9:51 am

    The real 1-2 punch was Seaver and Koosman. Koosman was 19-12 in 1968 with a 2.08 ERA and 17-9 in 1969 and had a 2.28 ERA. So, my nod goes to Seaver and Koosman.

  2. January 19, 2019 at 10:07 am

    Well Ryan was not a top line pitcher until he got traded by the Mets so the answer is very easy

  3. Michael
    January 19, 2019 at 10:33 am

    Not for nothing but the Mets 1-2 punch in 69 were Seaver & Koosman……….just ask the Orioles. Ryan had all the potential in the world but seemed to be injured half the time. Like you, I want to keep our starters and hope Syndi is here for the long haul.

  4. MattyMets
    January 19, 2019 at 10:58 am

    Realistically, we always knew we could never keep the big 5 together. Harvey is already gone. I hope we can lock up 3 of them but might have to settle for two and hopefully we don’t let the best one get away. I love how Cleveland locked up some of there guys early and didn’t wait for them to reach free agency. The Mets should follow that model. The focus has been on JDG, but the front office should be lokiking at the other 3 as well.

    • Chris F
      January 19, 2019 at 11:52 am

      no way. Unless you start talking about position players.

    • January 19, 2019 at 11:53 am

      Not Matz he’s been mediocrity after a good stretch in 2016 and was worth just 0.8 war in 2018 as his homer issues persisted. He also has seen his k rate go down and walk rate go up too. He’s probably a number five starter at this stage, the issue is the Mets have Vargas so Matz is the 4th starter.

  5. Pete from NJ
    January 19, 2019 at 11:52 am

    Chuck, I think Fregosi broke a finer during spring training which set him back for the rest of the season.

    As far a Ryan, he was competing for a starting role against the likes of Seaver-Koosman-Gentry and a newby in Matlock. Ryan never was given a chance because his cohorts produced right out of the box and he didn’t.

    Ryan for Fregosi was a desperate move to bring in a 3rd baseman after many tries representing a missing piece which would bring a pennant to a hitting challenged lineup. (Also see trading a tandem of #1 draft choices for Rusty Staub).

    Sounds familiar? I’m not saying 2019 is 1972 but it represents a theory on building a team.

  6. RealityChuck
    January 19, 2019 at 11:59 am

    If you look at Ryan’s record at the time he was traded, he stunk, even my modern metrics. His WHIP increased every year, his K/W got worse each year, his ERA+ was 86. He was especially bad in the second half of the season (ERA 6.94 after July and more walks that strikeouts).

    Fregosi, OHOH, was putting up potential HOF numbers and was considered the best shortstop in baseball. Everyone at the time thought the Angels had been robbed.

    Of course, Ryan turned it around immediately and Fregosi, though he started out fine, he fell apart after the All-Star Break due to injuries.

    Ultimately, Ryan et. al for Fregosi was a perfectly fine trade that just didn’t work out. But no one at the time would have guessed that losing Ryan was anything more than giving up an erratic thrower with some potential but an inability to use it after four seasons in the majors.

    • January 19, 2019 at 12:59 pm

      There weren’t independent blogs around back then where people could share their honest opinion of the deal. All we have are mainstream media accounts, which rarely, if ever, ran into personal feelings on deals in 1971. The NY Times has their piece available and you can read it here – http://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/packages/html/sports/year_in_sports/12.10.html?scp=1&sq=For%2520Jim&st=cse

      Everyone wants to deify Hodges but he played a role in sending Ryan and Otis out of town. From the NYT article:

      “I would not hesitate making a trade for somebody who might help us right now,” Hodges said. A page from the BVW playbook.

      Jack Lang’s column after the trade had this quote from Hodges – “We’re getting a professional hitter… a bear down type of guy… a hustling ballpalyer. At least he was when I was over in that league.”

      https://books.google.com/books?id=C7e6ybXOyocC&pg=PA25&lpg=PA25&dq=reactions+to+fregosi-ryan+deal&source=bl&ots=PVxDYlKR8y&sig=ACfU3U1iYHuqDjG4sPDUlm-2ebnQoglQxA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjjkf2DqPrfAhVGmVkKHYFrA38Q6AEwDnoECAIQAQ#v=onepage&q=reactions%20to%20fregosi-ryan%20deal&f=false

      So, Hodges last managed in the AL in 1967. He missed the injuries that were piling up. And the alcoholism. If ever there was a player to call “an old 30,” it would have been Fregosi. Yeah, yeah – I know – he was only 29 when the deal was actually made.

      Hodges and the Mets were at the end of their rope with Ryan, thinking he should have figured it out by then. Ignoring the inability of their coaches to get through to him, the decision to deal him was defensible. But the return showed a total lack of scouting and due diligence. They get a pass on not knowing the guy they traded would throw 7 no-hitters. But they get no pass on what they acquired.

      • John Fox
        January 19, 2019 at 2:00 pm

        How often do you see a manager rip in public a trade his GM just made, either in 1969 or the present, for that matter. It probably seemed like a relatively reasonable deal to Hodges, who had not watched Fregosi play for a few years. Hodges certainly deserves some credit for the trade for Tommie Agee before the 1968 season, without Agee there would have been no Miracle Mets WS win.

        • January 19, 2019 at 3:09 pm

          I think Hodges led the charge for this trade. I don’t believe he would criticize it.

          Agee had a really good year in 1969. Could Otis have matched that if he was allowed to play CF? Maybe.

          • John Fox
            January 19, 2019 at 11:03 pm

            Brian, Otis played 48 games for the ’69 Mets, mostly outfield. He hit .151 with a .204 SA. So it would be a stretch for him to match Agee hitting .271 with a .464 SA and 26 HR and 76 RBI despite mostly batting leadoff. Agee lead the team in both homers and RBI that year

            • January 20, 2019 at 2:14 am

              You can’t say that what he did in sporadic time while also trying to play some 3B is what he would have done if he played his natural position of CF for an entire season. The very next year, playing where he should on an everyday basis, Otis made the All Star team. He put up a 115 OPS+, not quite as good but in the same ballpark as Agee’s 122 OPS+

      • AgingBull
        January 20, 2019 at 11:57 am

        Hodges deserves deification in the Mets lore. Period. That he may have been involved or even drove these two famously bad trades is not a huge knock on him. The Ryan/Fregosi trade made a lot of sense at the time. Ryan was going nowhere and had flopped in a couple of years in the rotation. They had Matlock ready, a promising Buzz Capra and still had Gentry and McAndrew as competent starters. Ryan was borderline even then. Fregosi was a perennial all-star who’d had a lousy year in 71. At the time, they gave up nothing in Ryan. As for Otis, where was he going to play? Jones and Agee were locks and they had 69 heroes Swoboda and SHamsky platooning already in RF. SHould they have gotten more for him? In hindsight (which really should not be considered here), of course. At the time, they were in desperate need of help at 3B. I can’t blame the Mets and certainly don’t hold Hodges accountable.

        • January 20, 2019 at 1:53 pm

          It’s amazing (p.i.) the lengths that people will go to defend Hodges from any perceived criticism. I refer all of the people who think like that to read Eric Raffle’s post underneath this one.

          • Aging Bull
            January 20, 2019 at 3:50 pm

            I don’t think he was infallible. “Deification” is a relative term. The ’69 squad receives and deserves exalted status in the same way that the ’80 US Olympic hockey team receives and deserves it. Hodges was the right guy at the right time. For that alone, he belongs in the Pantheon. In my humblest opinion, of course! 🙂

            As for those trades, hindsight renders them terrible, but that’s not very fair, right? My point was that they were reasonable trades given what was the situation at the time. Ryan and Otis were superfluous parts of the team in the early 70s. They weren’t dumped.

            For what its worth, I tried to find some (free) original articles from LA back in 1971 showing their local reaction to this trade. That would be pretty interesting to find.

            The trades are regrettable and the Ryan trade gets a lot of play in the “worst trades of all time” list, but I think it’s harsh to lay the blame on Hodges. Surely the GM, Scheffing, was more likely the architect.

            After the Seaver trade, the one that hurts the most is giving up Dykstra and McDowell for Juan Samuel. In both of those trades, the Mets knew what they were giving up.

            My two cents worth, at least…

            • January 20, 2019 at 11:33 pm

              I like Brandon Nimmo. I think his OBP makes him a tremendous asset and he can run some and hit for power, too. He’s really good. But he strikes out way too much. It doesn’t wipe out his strengths when someone mentions it.

              Hodges led the Mets to their first World Championship and the people who played on the field have always given him a lot of credit and said that they wouldn’t have won without him. But there were many talented youngsters who either didn’t get a shot or failed to develop while he was around. It doesn’t wipe out his strengths when someone mentions it.

  7. January 19, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Hodges was a Great Manager–not an infallible one

  8. January 19, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    Koosman…Milt Pappas….Jerry Reuss… Dennis Martinez…Mickey Lollich… Charlie Hough….Claude Osteen….Kevin Brown…David Wells… there are more…

    There’s an amazing list of Modern Day Pitchers with 2500-4000 or more innings. It’s a reminder of how Good these guys were…some of them have HOF arguments. It’s also a reminder of how much the game has changed.

    With modern stats and a different look at players accomplishments, how would some of these guys be measured if they pitched today—and would they pitch differently, knowing that a 6-7 inning stint might allow them to be even more effective—and would they have been more effective?

    The Kooz is a prompt to those thoughts.

    It’s also a reminder that the the game has made a very hard break with it’s past…it truly is a new millenium!

    I believe the truly “Modern Era” began with Babe Ruth…The New Millenial Era Began with Tony Larussa’s Prompting….and the Beautiful Baseball Math of Bill James

  9. steevy
    January 19, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    Gil Hodges seemed to not care for young players.Otis,Ryan,Singleton all dealt for veterans.

    • John Fox
      January 20, 2019 at 11:51 am

      You do know that Hodges was the manager, not the GM. Johnny Murphy, then Bob Scheffing were the GMs that dealt those players away. Hodges may or may not have been asked opinions about some of the players but it was the GM’s call and responsibility

  10. Chris F
    January 19, 2019 at 5:55 pm

    Probably best not to mix eras and philosophies. He also liked pitchers going complete games.

    …oh yeah…

    and they won a WS under watch. Seaver said it never happens without the professionalism of Hodges.

    Gil Hodges, A Quiet Hero. Deserving Hall of Famer.

  11. Mike Walczak
    January 19, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    Look at Josh Staumont of the Royals. He is an erratic flame thrower. Trade him for an aging Buster Posey. Who wins?

  12. January 20, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    Guys…sorry for posting under my Non Alias..

    Eric Raffle=Eraff

    How would Batman handle such an Unmasking?

    • TexasGusCC
      January 20, 2019 at 6:52 pm

      He would spray a forgetting spray on us so we faint and can’t recall, just like he did to Batgirl in the Batcave. (Oh, if I was Batman and had Batgirl in the Batcave. I wouldn’t spray her, I would… never mind)

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