By Ernie Palladino
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It mattered little that the Mets bounced Scott Kazmir around for seven runs in three innings Tuesday night. All anyone wanted to talk about that day was the move then-general manager Jim Duquette made almost 10 years ago which sent his first-round draft pick to Tampa for eventual bust Victor Zambrano.
For all the hoopla over the current A’s left-hander’s history, one might be convinced its aftermath for both the Mets and Kazmir were unique to this franchise. One might want to tar and feather Duquette, in fact, as they gaze at the still-impressive 9-3 mark — and 2.66 ERA — Kazmir took out of his first return to Flushing, a three-homer cannonading. The stats still draw the eye, and even Duquette can’t get around the fact that his backfire changed at least part of the future of his franchise.
But to ever think that this one move was the single piece of seaweed in a clear blue ocean of pitching trades would not only be wrongheaded, but incorrect. Throughout their history, the Mets have sent off young and veteran arms alike to wonderful futures with other clubs.
One might say they have turned the whole fiasco thing into an art form. And by the way, Duquette was not in the GM seat for any of those other moves.
Mets executives have been spreading their beneficence to other rosters since December, 1971, when they shipped a hard-throwing but wild reliever and sometime starter named Nolan Ryan to the Angels for a good but aging shortstop. Jim Fregosi, a smart baseball man who would eventually manage Ryan, lasted just two years with the Mets while compiling a .233 average, his lowest among his three teams in an 18-year career.
Ryan had a somewhat better runt, both in quality and longevity. He finished up at age 46 with seven no-hitters. The rest of the stuff is on his Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown.
Mets chairman of the board M. Donald Grant engineered that bit of genius. But Ryan was only turning the corner toward greatness when Grant came up with his best work on June 15, 1977. A future Napa Valley vintner named George Thomas Seaver had fashioned himself a pretty fair career with the Mets until a bitter contract negotiation with Grant triggered what Mets fans now regard as “The Midnight Massacre.” Out went Seaver, who had only served as the ace of two World Championship pitching staffs and won three Cy Young Awards. In from the Cincinnati Reds came Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Dan Norman, and Steve Henderson.
No contest. Plus, a year and a day later, Seaver threw his only career no-hitter for the Reds, against the Cardinals, after throwing five one-hitters for the Mets.
The franchise accomplished little with the four players it received. A plaque with Seaver’s image hangs near Ryan’s in Cooperstown.
Also remember the dynamic trio of Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher, and Jason Isringhausen of the mid-1990s. They were going to be the next, great, Big Three after Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, and Sid Fernandez. “Generation K” the media called them with breathless anticipation.
Gone, gone, gone.
Steve Phillips doesn’t get all the blame for those three, as injuries turned the once invaluable properties expendable. But moves are moves. Wilson, once regarded the best of the bunch, wound up on the DL, was released, and went on to fashion three above-average years with the Reds from 2003-06.
Pulsipher’s career was beset by elbow problems, and he never caught on long-term in the majors. He was done after the 2005 season as the second man in the Cardinals’ bullpen.
Isringhausen was the only one of the three to enjoy any longevity. Phillips traded him to the A’s in 1999 after reconstructive elbow surgery for 37-year-old reliever Billy Taylor. Izzy became a quality closer in Oakland and St. Louis, leading the NL in saves in 2004.
Isringhausen lasted in the majors until 2012. Taylor’s 18 appearances in New York in 1999 netted him an 0-1, 8.10 mark. He was gone the next year.
Regardless of Tuesday’s result, the Kazmir move most definitely backfired on Duquette. But it was hardly a unique occurrence in the annals of Mets history.
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