For whatever reason, I always liked Lloyd McClendon. It wasn’t rational, he wasn’t one of my favorites, but I liked him as a player (and loved his steal of first base as a manager – couldn’t find the video). Part of it had to do with the fact that he was once a prospect in the Mets system. He never went beyond the backup/platoon catcher role, but the “what could’ve been” factor was always there for me. We all have players that we like despite their actual performance: Lloyd McClendon was one of mine.
Which brings me to today, December 16, 2009: the 27th anniversary of the second Tom Seaver trade. The original Seaver trade was an inexcusable mistake, a black mark that stained the organization forever. Seaver’s departure was the official end of the Miracle Mets’ run and was a smack in the face to an entire generation of fans: one of the greatest pitchers ever and the indisputible face of the franchise was shipped out of town in a disgraceful Midnight Massacre.
But Seaver would return on this date in 1982, reaquired from the Reds for Charlie Puleo and two minor leaguers. The homecoming brought a measure of closure but was not lasting; the White Sox claimed him in a free agent compensation draft after the 1983 season. Seaver almost returned to the Mets again via trade but it didn’t work out: he threw his final major league pitch for the Red Sox in 1986.
The anniversary of Seaver’s return often passes unremembered and that’s understandable, if unfortunate. His return should have been monumental; in a perfect world it would have served as a catalyst for the championship-caliber teams that were to come, a bridge between the ’69 and ’86 Mets. But it wasn’t. Age slowed Seaver, and though the franchise had begun to emerge it hadn’t traveled far enough down the road to contention. Seaver’s second term with the team became barely more than a footnote in club history.
I was much too young to remember it clearly, but looking back I feel robbed. The Franchise, the only player in team history elected to the Hall of Fame, came and went before the Mets could win again. It’s debatable that he would’ve made the rotation in 1985, nevermind ’86, but the fact that he never got the chance was just sad. December 16, 1982 should be a much brighter day in Mets history, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
By now you’ve probably guessed that one of the prospects traded for Seaver was Lloyd McClendon. I’ll never ask “what could’ve been” about him again: his potential was well worth sacrificing in return for The Franchise, no matter how unfortunate his second stay was.