Might as well start with the grim. Back in 1976, the first serious fissures opened in the relationship between Tom Seaver and the Mets, as the Franchise informed team brass that he would not report to spring training until the two sides worked out a new contract. At the heart of the dispute was a 20% pay cut that Seaver took the year prior when he was coming off a down season. Plagued with lower back pain in 1974, Seaver "slumped" to an 11-11 record and a career-high 3.20 ERA (even in "decline", he still managed to strike out 200+ batters, lead the league in K/9, and rack up 5.9 WAR). At the time, Mets chairman M. Donald Grant promised the ace that his salary would be restored if he had a comeback year in 1975. Seaver responded by winning his third Cy Young Award.
Coincidentally, one month after Seaver took home his trophy, arbitrator Peter Seitz struck down baseball's reserve clause. As the Mets' union rep, Seaver was more than aware that the ruling would lead to imminent widespread free agency. Given what a three-time Cy Young winner could get for in the open market, Seaver had leverage enough going into the 1976 season to demand that his 20% pay cut be restored and then some. Which he did, much to the chagrin of M. Donald Grant. While the two sides eventually came to an agreement prior to Opening Day, enough animosity had built up on either side that when it came time to negotiate again in 1977, Seaver and the Mets decided it was best to part ways.
As for the good news, it was one year ago today that Johan Santana faced MLB hitters for the first time since undergoing anterior capsule surgery in September 2010. Santana threw 40 pitches and two simulated innings against David Wright, Ike Davis, and Daniel Murphy. By session's end, Johan reportedly felt optimistic that he'd be ready to make the start on Opening Day if need be. Five weeks later, he was on the mound facing the Atlanta Braves in game one of the 2012 season.
- Tony Castillo turns 50. The left-hander joined the Mets in August 1991 and made ten appearances (with three starts) down the stretch. A Venezuelan by birth, Castillo hails from the city of Quibor. If you ever visit, be sure to check out the municipality's top tourist attraction, this large-scale reproduction of pre-Columbian earthenware vase.
- Ramon Castro is 37. Hippo hasn't played a game since teammate Mark Buehrle broke his hand with a pitch in June 2011. The injury-prone Castro, who got into fewer than 55 games four out of the five years he was a Met partly due to assorted maladies, must have the bones of Mr. Glass because Buehrle averaged 85 MPH on his heater that season. Ramon is healthy this year and in camp with the Dodgers, where he's competing with former Mets farmhand Jesus Flores and incumbent Tim Federowicz to be A.J. Ellis's backup.
- Back in 1984, the Mets drafted lefty Rich Rodriguez out of the University of Tennesee-Knoxville. Today, he's 50. Rodriguez couldn't crack the Mets' 40-man roster during the first four years of his professional career, so the team traded him to San Diego prior to the 1989 season. Ten years later, he returned as a free agent, though the reunion didn't work out too well. Rodriguez gave up a run on Opening Day 2000, then continued to do so in bunches until he was finally sent down to Triple-A Norfolk in mid-July. At the time of the demotion, his ERA was an ugly 7.71 and his FIP only a slightly less ghastly 6.08.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
Today is National Pig Day, though whether one is supposed to celebrate by indulging in or refraining from all the delicious meats our porcine friends provide us with is up for debate. The Mets haven't employed too many players with swine-themed names. Joe Pignatano and Toby Borland come the closest, though actor Kevin Bacon was a victim of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme just like the Wilpons, so there's an Amazin'-ly Tenuous degree of separation. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't share this photo of Rick Reed kissing a pig.