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Tom-Foolery Lets Chisox Nab Seaver
January 21, 1984
The incredible, unthin-kable, impossible notion that Tom Seaver would again have to leave New York became a shocking reality yesterday when the Chicago White Sox stunned the Mets by selecting their 1984 Opening Day pitcher and most popular player ever from the free agent compensation pool.
And shocked was the only way to describe the reaction of both Seaver and the Mets' braintrust at a hastily called news conference, which could have easily been mistaken for a wake. The 39-year-old Seaver, who was in Chicago Thursday night meeting with White Sox co-owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn, said he was still not certain he would report to his new team. At the same time, he expressed his hurt and anger at the Mets' braintrust for subjecting him to this predicament. (The White Sox got to take a player from the compensation pool for having lost "Type A" free agent Dennis Lamp to the Toronto Blue Jays.)
"It's an unfortunate situation that has sprung up," Seaver said. "I've gotten a little more upset as things have gone along. I'm not here to blast anybody, though. They [the Mets] had their meetings and they have to do what they think is best. I don't agree with what they did. They made a mistake, that's for sure. I just don't understand their thinking behind it."
Seaver, whose reluctance to leave New York again is based on wanting to be near his wife and two young daughters, admitted his only alternative appears to be retirement. The White Sox owners spent an hour Thursday night selling him on the advantages of pitching for a pennant contender (he needs just 27 wins for 300). In addition, it has been learned they will show Seaver further good faith by re-negotiating his contract with a no-trade provision and a raise from his present $750,000 salary.
Mets general manager Frank Cashen, on whom the burden of this worst blunder in the Amazins' 23-year history must fall, could not disagree with Seaver that a terrible mistake had been made. Looking somber and stunned by the disastrous turn of events, Cashen admitted that "black ties and black armbands" should have been the proper attire on such a dark day.
Cashen again took pains to explain that his prime reason for leaving Seaver unprotected to the White Sox was because of Chicago's obvious strength in starting pitching.
"If we felt there was even a slight chance he [Seaver] would have been taken, I would have never brought this embarrassment to the owners of this ballclub," Cashen said. "We made a mistake and we are not here to tell you we didn't. We looked at their [Chicago's] club and the fact that they won their division by 20 games and we figured they might be more apt to go for a prospect-which is why we protected as many of ours as we could."
But to hear White Sox general manager Roland Hemond explain it, the Mets really shouldn't have been surprised to lose Seaver.
"When I saw Tom Seaver's name on that list, I jumped right out of my chair," Hemond told the Daily News by phone. "In our opinion he was clearly the best player available. We took him, not only because our scouts assured us he is still a first-rate pitcher, but because he is the sort of class person we want on our ballclub."
And according to Hemond, where the Mets' gamble miscalculated was not so much with the White Sox, but, rather with the Oakland A's, who will also get a compensation pick from the pool once their Type A free agent pitcher Tom Underwood signs with another team.
"I can understand how people in New York might think we wronged the Mets," Hemond said, "But this was a business decision. It was our thinking that if we didn't take Seaver, the A's certainly would and they're in our division."
Of course, Seaver feels the Mets have wronged him...again. As he said, when the baseball strike of 1981 was finally settled with the creation of free agent compensation, it was inevitable that someone would get hurt by it. "I felt at the time it was a farce and a joke and that people were gonna get hurt," Seaver said. "I just never thought it would be me."
Then again, the Mets were hurt even more. They lose their greatest and most popular player ever-and get nothing in return.