Sports Extra with Dave Ross: When baseball’s best pitcher joined the Reds

Sports Extra - With Dave Ross

Like many of you, I’ve been watching lots of TV and giving my DVR a good workout. I recently watched a documentary on the Hall of Fame career of pitcher Tom Seaver and my thoughts returned to the night of June 15, 1977.

I was working at the University of Dayton and often chose Wednesdays to make the hour’s drive to Riverfront Stadium to see the two time defending World Series champion Cincinnati Reds. This was particularly appealing with the Philadelphia Phillies providing the opposition. These were two of baseball’s top teams.

There was also a significant rumor that the Reds were trying to acquire perennial all-star Tom Seaver from the Mets as the ace pitcher and Mets ownership weren’t getting along. In those days, June 15 was the non-waiver trading deadline. 6/15/77 might be a really big evening.

A co-worker of mine at UD was from the New York City area and loved baseball including his New York Mets. He accepted my invitation to ride along and the two Daves were on their way. We listened to WLW on the AM-only radio in my 1971 Ford pickup truck as the Seaver rumors intensified. We parked near Fountain Square and walked south to the ballpark well before the 8:05 first pitch.

Just over 31,000 attended on that gorgeous evening. I bought two seats in the very top of the stadium for $3.50 each but had no intention of sitting there. Once inside I went into the restroom to employ my “S” rubber stamp that would make any ticket look like a season ticket which meant access to the blue field level behind home plate where I liked to stand during games.

The contest didn’t start well for the Reds as Gary Nolan retired only one batter in his final appearance for the club. After an inning it was 4-0. Tom Hume gave up three more but did hit a homer and it was 7-2 before Dale Murray and Mike Caldwell entered to toss four-plus scoreless frames. The Big Red Machine then tallied four in the bottom of the seventh to get within a run.

There was excitement not only in the game but also with the Seaver rumor. I knew the usher at section 159 and he said the trade would be announced after the game. I asked how he knew this for certain and he pointed to a guy nearby who had confirmed it. “That guy” was the father of Reds infielder Doug Flynn who was included in the trade. I thought, “We’re getting Tom Seaver, now let’s win this game.”

The Reds tied it in the bottom of the ninth to force a tenth inning. The Phillies didn’t score and the home team came calling. With two out pinch-hitter Bob Bailey singled, then caught everyone unaware by stealing his first base of the year. Champ Summers ran for him before Pete Rose delivered the game winning single, his third hit of the night. Reds win 8-7. Then it’s finally announced that the team is holding a postgame press conference and there’s no doubt as to its purpose.

We hurried back toward Fountain Square and the press conference on WLW with General Manager Bob Howsam who announces the deal for “Tom Terrific.” The Reds parted with 1976 Rookie of the Year pitcher Pat Zachry, Flynn, and two highly regarded minor league outfielders in Steve Henderson and Dan Norman. Seaver would start on Saturday in Montreal where he tossed a three hit complete game shutout while contributing two hits and two RBI in a preview of things to come.

After the trade, the righty legend posted a 14-3 mark in 20 starts with 14 complete games, four shutouts, and a 2.34 ERA while hitting three homers. The offense had another big year as George Foster launched 52 long balls and drove in 149 runs while winning the MVP award. However, the Dodgers won the Western Division in 1977 and the second place Reds went home.

Seaver pitched great baseball through 1981 when he went 14-2 in a shortened season, but only got to the playoffs once and never to the World Series while in the Queen City. The California native had two legitimate shots at the National League Cy Young Award but got edged out both times. He was traded back to the Mets after the 1982 campaign. Seaver also pitched for the White Sox and Red Sox before retiring in 1986 with 311 regular season wins. The Hall of Fame called in 1992.

I was pumped as we drove back to UD some 43 years ago. While my co-worker had thoroughly enjoyed the game, his favorite team had done the unthinkable and traded Tom Seaver. Meanwhile, I thought my Reds would win another World Series and maybe more beyond that.

Sports Extra

With Dave Ross

Sports Extra appears each Friday. Dave Ross is a lifetime Cincinnati Reds fan.

Sports Extra appears each Friday. Dave Ross is a lifetime Cincinnati Reds fan.