Faster than Cool Papa Bell?
On August 21, 1977, a vintage performance from "The Franchise" set Shea Stadium rockin' -- the only thing that would have made it better? If he was pitching for the Mets.
In the winter of '76-'77, a new animal, the free agent, showed he could command salaries well in excess of the three-year, $675,000 deal Seaver had recently signed. Nolan Ryan, who was locked into a contract with the Angels, received a good-will pay raise from his club, but generosity came difficult to Mets Chairman M. Donald Grant. Grant and his star publicly wrangled over (the lack of) money spent improving a declining team; "How can you not even try?" Seaver asked. The last straw was laid when a Grant media ally suggested Seaver's wife was jealous of the Ryans. Seaver demanded a trade. A deal was worked out in which four young players came from Cincinnati for Seaver alone, details announced minutes before the midnight trade deadline on June 15, 1977.
About nine weeks later and 35 years ago, Seaver, in red and white, allowed one run in nine innings before 46,265 Tom Seaver fans at Shea Stadium.
- A number two overall pick in the amateur draft, John Stearns, 61, was acquired from the Phillies in 1975 in the deal that sent away Tug McGraw. The Phillies would win division titles and a World Series; the Mets would dispatch Stearns to the All-Star Game (in '77, '79, '80, and '82) to represent the cellar-dwellers proud. In 10 seasons, Stearns was a league-average hitter with speed and decent patience -- and he played catcher.
- Felix Millan, 69, was "El Gattito," the kitten. Acquired from the Braves, he worked the keystone for New York from '73-'77, before winning a batting title for the Taiyo Whales. El Gattito choked half-way up his bat; he was the first Met to appear in 162 games in a season; he once singled four times onto be erased in four Joe Torre double plays; and his Major League career ended by an injury incurred brawling over the propriety of a take-out slide.
- Bruce Berenyi, 58, has a World Series ring from '86, but must look at it wistfully. The power right hander lost a full season to injury after pitching well for a renascent club in '84, then was revived as a long man (and sometimes starter) for the eventual world champs. But he hadn't totally recovered, and slipped into the minors before a single postseason game was won. He never resurfaced.
- The late Jim Beauchamp (would turn 73) pronounced his name "BEE-chum," because French but America. The light-hitting 1B-OF closed his career as a part-time piece with the '72 and '73 Mets.
Whatever your guess for him -- plus plus runner, of the new Cool Papa Bell -- I wouldn't get between Bolt and his bed when the lights go out.