June 15, 1977: Tom Seaver is traded by the New York Mets to the Cincinnati Reds for Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, Dan Norman and Pat Zachry.

For the third time in six years, Reds General Manager Bob Howsam pulls off an incredibly beneficial trade for the Reds, getting possibly the best pitcher in the National League for two outfield prospects, a middle infield reserve, and a rookie of the year pitcher.

Tom Seaver, also known as “Tom Terrific,” or “The Franchise” in some circles was known to speak his mind about how the New York Mets were performing, similar to what many of us may remember Barry Larkin doing in the 1990’s. It wasn’t that he was disloyal, it was that he cared and was competitive enough to use his leadership role to speak his mind. In this case, Seaver was concerned about his salary and demanded a trade. Mets’ owner Donald Grant was happy to work out a deal trading both Seaver to the Reds and slugger Dave Kingman to the San Diego Padres on June 15 in what the New York press called the “Midnight Massacre.”

The Reds had already been looking for an impactful pitching acquisition. Through the 1970’s the Reds blew through an incredible number of young (25-under) starting pitching arms. They debuted two rookies in the 1976 rotation, Santo Alcala and Rookie of the Year Pat Zachry. Alcala started 21 games and finished the year 11-4 with a 4.70 ERA. Zachry started 28 games, going 14-7 with a 2.74 ERA. However, the Reds saw through their actual abilities. This was easily Zachry’s best season and he finished his career with a 69-67 record with a 3.52 ERA. Alcala was far worse, pitching for only one more season, finishing 3-7 that year.

The Reds had tried to get starting pitching help in the offseason by trading for 37 year old farmer Woodie Fryman of the Montreal Expos. Fryman was coming off one of his best seasons, going 13-13 with a 3.37 ERA. However, his tank was running dry, and he only went 5-5 with the Reds with a 5.38 ERA before temporarily retiring to his farm in Kentucky.

The Reds had traded one of their most popular players, Tony Perez, to get Fryman. Perez, at age 34, had fallen under 20 home runs for the first time since 1968 and they had a good hitting first baseman, Dan Driessen, waiting in the wings. Most Reds fans, and Big Red Machine players, are often quoted as saying the decline of the Big Red Machine game when Perez was traded. However, the statistical record doesn’t really bear that out, or may be that it was just coincidental.

ESPN writer Rob Neyer and former San Diego Padre executive Eddie Epstein co-wrote a book, “Baseball Dynasties,” and they discuss the likely reason for the fall of the Big Red Machine….and it wasn’t due to offense or the trading of Perez. According to their book:

“In 1976, the Reds scored 857 runs, tops in the National League. In 1977, the Reds scored 802 runs, second in the National League….Performance-wise, at least, there was virtually no difference between Perez in Montreal (a .283 batting average, 19 homers, 91 rbi, and 815 OPS in 154 games) and Driessen in Cincinnati (a .300 batting average, 17 homers, 91 ribi, and 843 OPS in 151 games.)

“The pitching (and defense, if you like) suffered far more. Reds pitchers posted a 3.51 ERA in 1976, but a 4.21 mark in 1977. So you can blame the Machine’s decline on the Perez trade if you want, but the real problems were a subpar (for them) pitching staff and an outstanding Dodgers club.”

So, it would appear that Howsam had appropriately analyzed his team…that Driessen could replace Perez, but the Reds needed pitching like nobody’s business. I’m not certain who’s responsible for running through all those arms, and trading others, but when Howsam found Tom Seaver available he didn’t wait.

The prize youthful players in the Reds organization were Zachry, Alcala, and outfielders Steve Henderson and Dan Norman. It turns out they were all overvalued by the masses, and Tom Seaver had a lot more to give. In Seaver’s first game with the Reds, he pitched a three hit shutout against Perez, Alcala, and the Expos, walking none and winning, 8-0. Seaver finished the season 14-3 with the Reds with a 2.34 ERA, 14 complete games out of 20 starts, and four shut outs. Overall, Seaver was 21-6 and finished third in the Cy Young Award voting. Seaver’s best Reds season came in the strike-shortened 1981, when he went 14-2 with a 2.54 ERA and finishing second in the Cy Young voting. He pitched his only career no-hitter as a Red, and his Reds career record was 75-46 over six years with a 3.18 ERA and 12 shut outs.

After leaving the Reds, Zachry went 52-53 over eight seasons. Norman had 380 major league plate appearances and batted .227. Flynn became the Mets’ starting second baseman and batted .234 with five homers over five years before being traded from the Reds. Flynn played 11 big league seasons, batting .238 with seven homers. Henderson was the desired prize, and he played 12 major league seasons. However, his first year turned out be his best season, as he hit .297 with 12 homers and 65 rbi. The Mets traded him four years later to the Cubs. He finished his career with a .280 batting average and 68 home runs.