Remembering the 1977 Jon Matlack 4-Way Deal

If you ask most fans to name a four-team deal, the one that jumps to mind is the 2004 deal among the Red Sox, Twins, Cubs and Expos that sent Nomar Garciaparra out of Boston and brought Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz and a World Series title to the Red Sox.

But the one that jumps to my mind is the one where the Mets traded Jon Matlack. At the Winter Meetings in Hawaii in December of 1977, the Braves, Mets, Pirates and Rangers completed an 11-player swap that caught just about everyone off guard.

According to Randy Galloway of The Sporting News, the blockbuster deal occurred thanks to a chance meeting between Mets manager Joe Torre and Rangers owner Brad Corbett. Torre asked Corbett if he had any interest in first baseman John Milner. Corbett said he did, but they could not agree on a fair price. The Rangers owner invited Torre to bring the rest of the Mets’ brass in on the discussion.

While the Mets and Rangers were meeting, Ted Turner of the Braves walked by and got in on the talks. Finally, the Pirates joined in the discussions. Galloway reported that negotiations took eight hours to complete the trade. Here’s how it broke down for each of the clubs:

Atlanta Braves

Traded: Willie Montanez

Received: Adrian Devine, Tommy Boggs and Eddie Miller

Expectations: Salary dump. Montanez made a whopping $350,000 dollars. The Braves also sold Andy Messersmith to the Yankees during the ’77 Winter Meetings.

Production: Boggs went 12-9 in 1980 but it was the only season in his nine-year career that he finished with a winning record. Devine, who was a second-round pick of the Braves prior to being shipped to the Rangers following the 1976 season for Jeff Burroughs, had a nice year for Texas in 1977 but was mediocre in two seasons with Atlanta. Ironically, he was traded back to the Rangers following the 1979 season in the trade that netted the Braves Doyle Alexander. Miller was a speedster who never hit in the majors.

Net Result: Positive. The Braves lost 101 games with Montanez in 1977 putting up a 99 OPS+ so getting rid of his salary, however puny it looks in hindsight, was a good idea. The Braves won eight more games in 1978 and broke in a 22-year-old Dale Murphy at first base. Murphy ended up hitting 23 home runs that season.

New York Mets

Traded: Jon Matlack and John Milner

Received: Tom Grieve, Ken Henderson, Willie Montanez

Expectations: Power. The Mets finished last in the majors in home runs in 1977 with just 88 home runs.

Production: Montanez was an entertaining player but hit just 17 homers and had a .392 slugging percentage in his only full season with the club. Grieve batted .208 with a .297 slugging mark in his only season with the club. Henderson battled injury problems then put up a .455 slugging mark but was traded after seven games for reliever Dale Murray.

Net Results: Negative. In return for Matlack, a pitcher who averaged 15 wins over a five-year stretch, the Mets got a decrease in production from first base in Montanez than they received from Milner the year before. And they didn’t get much else.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Traded: Nelson Norman and Al Oliver

Received: Bert Blyleven and John Milner

Expectations: Staff ace to pitch deep in games. The Pirates were 10th in the league in complete games in 1977 and lost relief ace Rich Gossage to free agency. The concern was that a thin bullpen would need its starters to pitch deep into games to challenge Philadelphia for the NL East championship.

Production: Blyleven had two good seasons for the Pirates before landing in manager Chuck Tanner’s dog house and was a key member of their 1979 World Series team. Milner did a reasonable job as a backup first baseman/outfielder, helping to fill the void caused with the loss of Oliver.

Net Results: Positive. Oliver had become unhappy in Pittsburgh and needed to go. Plus the Pirates got a pitcher who helped them win the World Series.

Texas Rangers

Traded: Bert Blyleven, Tommy Boggs, Adrian Devine, Tom Grieve, Ken Henderson and Eddie Miller.

Received: Jon Matlack, Nelson Norman and Al Oliver

Expectations: Offense. Texas expected that Matlack would replace Blyleven and that the trade boiled down to Devine for Oliver. Along with free agent acquisition Richie Zisk, the Rangers hoped to boost an offense that was middle of the pack in 1977.

Production: Oliver performed up to expectations as he drew MVP votes in three of his four seasons in Texas. Matlack won 15 games in 1978 but was slowed by elbow problems the following season and was never the same pitcher. Norman was a hyped rookie that never panned out.

Net Results: Meh. The offense remained middle of the pack despite Oliver’s production. The pitching remained stronger in ’78 when Matlack was healthy but fell off the following two seasons. The production received by the Rangers in the deal was acceptable but the end result is that they won 94 games the year before the deal and would not reach 90 wins again until 1996.


In 1976, the Mets had Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack combine for 52 wins. By 1979 all three were gone and the team had virtually nothing to show for it. New York received a collection of stiffs for both Seaver and Matlack. Only Koosman brought a decent return, but Jesse Orosco would not make an impact until 1982. It’s no wonder those late 70s-early 80s Mets were so bad.

6 comments for “Remembering the 1977 Jon Matlack 4-Way Deal

  1. Jon
    December 15, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Nice. What a pointless escapade that was.

    Seemed to me the Mets’ objective was to jettison Matlack who like Seaver had become in the front office’s estimation too vocal about the Mets’ inactivity on the free agency front (and if it happened to improve the offense, then, hey, great) and determined to become a free agent himself. Henderson if I recall crashed into a fence during the first week of the season and never played again. Greive was a local guy (White Plains, I think) and the Mets always seemed to give locals a chance whether they were any good or not.

    The Mets probably would have been better off trading Milner and Matlack to Pittsburgh for Oliver +, and be done with it.

  2. Brian Joura
    December 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Thanks for reading and commenting Jon!

    Indeed, Henderson crashed into a fence (ironically, chasing a ball hit by Dave Kingman) and hurt his toe.

    B-R shows Grive being born and playing HS ball in Pittsfield, MA.

    I would have loved to have had Oliver on the Mets, even if he wasn’t as entertaining as Montanez was for that one season.

  3. December 15, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Guys- slight correction here. It was TOM Grieve, not Ben- Ben is his son, a one-time top draft pick who never lived up to his hype. Tom ended up as the GM of the Rangers for a number of years.

    • Brian Joura
      December 15, 2010 at 3:58 pm

      Thanks David – I went ahead and made the correction. Usually I make this mistake the other way — call the son by the dad’s name. It was a few years before I stopped referring to Barry Bonds as Bobby.

      • Stu Baron
        January 4, 2011 at 9:22 pm

        I don’t think you corrected anything. It still says the Rangers traded Ben Grieve.

  4. Mike C.
    December 19, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    I love the Mets!

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