Baseball’s Worst Trade
By Pedro Maicazo aka Metsmagic18
The Mets have made some bad decisions over the years. They signed Jason Bay to a 66 million dollar contract, but received almost no production from him. They spent a ton of money on Oliver Perez, only to watch him flounder as a starter and a reliever before being let go early. Neither of these awful decisions, even trading franchise icon Tom Seaver, can top Dec. 10, 1971 when the New York Mets dealt pitcher Nolan Ryan and three others to the California Angels in exchange for shortstop/third baseman Jim Fregosi.
In hindsight, it was one of the worst trades ever, but no one complained at the time. That’s because the young Ryan was erratic at best. He posted a 29-38 record over five seasons with the Mets, walking 344 and striking out 493. In a sense, it was a no-brainer for the Mets to get rid of Ryan. They desperately needed someone to play third base. The Mets had been playing with a third basemen merry-go-round since their inception in 1962. Their third basemen of three years, Ed Charles, had retired after the 1969 season, and back-up Wayne Garrett was not producing like the Mets had hoped. Over the 10 years of Mets baseball, 45 men had put on a glove and trotted out to the hot corner.
The 24-year old Ryan was wild, and erratic, and while he had a lot of upsides, Mets management was happy to give him, along with three prospects, to the Angels. The man they got in return, Jim Fregosi, had been an American League all-star starter six times as a shortstop, but the Mets were insistent on having him play third. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times of that fateful day, “You always hate to give up on an arm like Ryan’s,” Hodges said today. “He could put things together overnight, but he hasn’t done it for us and the Angels wanted him. I would not hesitate making a trade for somebody who might help us right now, and Fregosi is such a guy.” Hodges could not have been more wrong. Fregosi was useless, and Ryan did put it together overnight! In order to get the 29-year-old infielder, the Mets sent California the outfielder Leroy Stanton, pitcher Don Rose and catcher Francisco Estrada in addition to Ryan. Harry Dalton, who left the Baltimore Orioles in October to become general manager of the California team, praised Fregosi for his 11 seasons with the Angels but said: “We picked up one of baseball’s best arms in Ryan. We know of his control problems, but he had the best arm in the National League and, at 24, he is just coming into his own. Stanton figures to give us some of the right-handed power we need, and Rose and Estrada both have a chance to make our club.” Mets GM Bob Scheffing was quoted as saying that Nolan Ryan was nowhere near the same category as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Gary Gentry.
The Mets new third baseman would not hit over .275 in the next 7 seasons, (2 ½ with the Mets) and he was traded to Texas in the summer of 1973, before the Mets big playoff push. This is a pretty interesting trade, for a few reasons. First of all, with the exception of one particular player, all the players involved with this trade were all busts. The other aspect that makes this trade interesting is that the player who was traded for four others was conceivably worse than all of the players he was traded for. Fregosi totaled 5 home runs and 43 RBIs in his entire tenure with the Mets. Rose and Estrada were merely throw-ins, but even outfielder Leroy Stanton performed better than Jim Fregosi. Stanton would hit 47 homers and 242 RBI over 5 seasons as an Angel.
For those of you who don’t know, the centerpiece of this deal, Nolan Ryan went on to pitch 7 no-hitters, with 295 wins after leaving the Mets. In his first three seasons with the Angels, he won 19, 21, and 22 games. He would lead the league in ERA twice, total a record, and an untouchable one at that, 5714 strikeouts, leading the league in K’s 11 times, and striking out an insane 383 batters in 1973. He was an 8 time all-star, was in the top 10 of Cy Young Award voting 8 times, and is in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.
Did he need to leave the big city of New York to succeed? Maybe. Would the Mets have won the 1973 World Series with Ryan on their roster? Maybe. It’s questions like these that keep a Met fan awake at night.
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