1977 TOPPS DAVE KINGMAN
It was hard to take this year’s deadline-day selloff. But much like with your initial boyfriend/girlfriend, the first cut is the deepest. Nothing could ever have the same emotional impact as June 15, 1977 – the date the Mets traded stars Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman. The trades were horrific just with the idea of the team’s top stars being sent out of town. But the meager return made it all the more difficult to swallow. Let’s hope it’s not foreshadowing. Regardless, this trade of Kingman set the wheels in motion for a feat never seen before and almost guaranteed to never happen again. Kingman wound up playing for teams in all four divisions in the same season.
When people ask me about my favorite card, it’s an almost impossible question to answer because there are so many of them. But this 1977 Kingman – the only real card, as Topps did not have an update/traded set this year – would make the not-so-short list. No doubt it’s helped by being at the height of my collecting years. I’m pretty sure I’m the only kid on my block that year to have two complete sets. But even aside from that, we have a classic design, with Topps giving the Mets a color close to their real blue, instead of the green (’65), pink (’67), purple (’68 & ’69) and red (’72) like they had done previously. Then there’s a majestic action shot, unlike the ’72 in-action shot for Seaver. Also, let’s not forget the All-Star banner. And to top it all off, Topps made this card #500, with the numbers ending in 00 and 50 reserved for the game’s biggest stars.
The Mets were engaged in a contract dispute with Seaver, with the elitist M. Donald Grant doing everything in his power to make Seaver look like the bad guy, most notably leaking details both real and imagined to various sources in the mainstream media. And then he dealt Seaver. It seemed like Grant asked himself what else he could do to annoy the fanbase. And the answer was to trade Kingman for junk, too. The Mets shipped Kingman to the Padres for Bobby Valentine and Paul Siebert. Valentine was a one-time top prospect who had his career derailed by injuries, including a gruesome leg injury that had multiple compound fractures above his ankle. Siebert was a non-descript middle reliever who posted an 81 ERA+ in 56 IP with the Mets.
Kingman was having a great year in 1976 before suffering a thumb injury. But his ’77 season was not off to as good of a start. But he turned things around with the Padres, bashing 11 HR in just 168 ABs. And they rewarded Kingman by … releasing him. Rumor has it that they weren’t planning on re-signing him. You’d think he would have had some trade value. Maybe they tried and no one bit. Anyway, Kingman was scooped up by the Angels, who did with Kingman what the Padres were unable to, as they traded him in mid-September to the Yankees, who were involved in a pennant race.
The Yankees moved into first place on August 23 but were involved in a tight race with the Orioles and Red Sox. A big kick, where the Yankees finished 10-5 in their last 15 games, gave them the division title. Kingman played eight games for the other New York teams. He struck out an ungodly 13 times in 27 trips to the plate with the Yankees. But Kingman hit 4 HR and had a 0.42 WPA – an outstanding total in a brief sample. In 187 PA with the Padres, the one where he turned his season around, Kingman had just a 0.14 WPA.
In 1999, Pacific honored Mike Piazza with a card that showed him on the three teams he played for the previous season – the Dodgers, Marlins and Mets. But Topps had a virtual monopoly back in 1977-78 and neither they nor Kellogg’s nor Hostess saw fit to honor Kingman with a card of this type. The card images for the non-Mets teams are fan-created cards, much like our old pal Warren Zvon would make.
I miss Warren.