Recently Rob left a comment on the site repeating a thing that’s been said by many people over the years – that the Mets traded Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack and Jerry Koosman and the only player of note that they received in return was Jesse Orosco. For a brief time it looked like Steve Henderson was going to be worthwhile but it turned out that his early success came in years with fewer than 400 PA and with a BABIP in the .350s.
Which leaves us with Pat Zachry.
The advanced numbers are not kind to Zachry, never having him with more than a 1.4 fWAR in his time in Queens. That was due to an incredibly poor strikeout-walk ratio, even once you factor in the lower strikeout totals of the late 70s and early 80s. In 1978, the year Zachry put up that 1.4 fWAR, he had a 1.30 K/BB ratio. Seaver had a 2.54 mark in the category while Matlack had a 3.08 ratio, good for third in the majors among qualified hurlers.
Of course, 1978 also illustrates another thing that plagued Zachry in his time with the Mets – injuries. He was the team’s representative in the All-Star game and he amassed 10 Wins by the time the Mets had played 81 games, so he was on pace for a 20-win season. But he struggled in a game against the Reds, the team that drafted him and brought him to the majors, and in disgust he went to kick a batting helmet. In typical late 70s Mets fashion, he missed the helmet, got his spikes caught in the steps and ended up with a hairline fracture in his foot which caused him to miss the remainder of the season.
The following season started off great for Zachry. He won his first two games but soon found himself sidelined with an elbow injury. While rehabbing in the minors, he suffered an Achilles injury which kept him out even longer. Zachry made four more starts that season – winning three of them – before finally shutting things down and having surgery on his elbow.
His 1980 season was delayed in starting but he pitched fine once he returned, even if his W-L record didn’t reflect it. Neither of the following two seasons were very good, with 1982 being particularly bad, as he ended up making more relief appearances than starts. It wasn’t what either party expected when Zachry was given a lucrative five-year contract prior to the 1981 season.
The Mets traded him to the Dodgers for Jorge Orta, who himself was dealt before Spring Training. That deal kept Zachry from being on the 1983 team which was the season that Seaver returned to the Mets. Zachry had a solid year in ’83, albeit almost exclusively as a reliever. But he was unable to duplicate his success the following year and his MLB career was over after 10 games with the Phillies in 1985.
Those late 70s-early 80s Mets didn’t have much so that anyone who showed any promise at all in any way was looked at fondly. There was Craig Swan and the ERA title. There was Lee Mazzilli with his matinee looks, tight pants and basket catches. There was Joel Youngblood and his ability to play every position. There was Frank Taveras and his push bunts. Shoot, there was even Doug Flynn and his Gold Glove Award.
And there was Zachry, too, those times he was healthy enough to be on the field. From when the Mets first acquired him in 1977 through his first 18 games of 1980, Zachry was 34-28 with a 3.14 ERA. Those numbers may not sound like much, but the Mets were 217-311 in that time frame. Zachry had a .548 winning percentage for a team that had a .411 winning percentage. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Seaver going 16-13 (.552) in 1967 for a team that lost 101 games and had a .377 winning percentage. Without Zachry, the Mets in that span had a .393 winning percentage. Over a 162-game season, that’s a 64-98 team.
Fate was not kind to Zachry, as he went from The Big Red Machine to arguably the worst team in baseball at the time. And much like with Ryan before him, Zachry was a Texan who never felt completely at home in New York. My first introduction to Waco was from the back of Zachry’s Topps cards, as that was listed as his hometown. And speaking of Topps, check out the cards for Zachry in 1978 and 1979. The former has him clean shaven, looking like the guy who would get picked to go undercover in a high school sting because he looked like he could almost pass for a teenager. And the next year he has a full beard, looking like a guy who the clerk in the liquor store always monitors once he walks in the place, unsure if he’s going to try to lift a bottle or rob the joint.
And if his baseball career wasn’t tragic enough, in late 2016 Zachry was driving and got into a car accident. His wife, a passenger in the car, was killed in the single-vehicle crash.
The MLB universe is littered with stories of guys who got injured and were never the same afterwards. The Mets are no different. For everyone like Koosman, who was able to bounce back from his injury problems to have a long and productive career, there are multiple guys who never reached their promise. And Zachry was certainly one of those. A healthy Zachry wouldn’t have been worth trading Seaver for but also would have ended up being more than a mere footnote in team history.