"The Mets finally gave up on Nolan Ryan's wandering fastball today." So opens the New York Times article from December 10, 1971 outlining Ryan's trade to the then-California Angels 43 years ago Wednesday.
In return for Ryan and three prospects, the Mets received shortstop Jim Fregosi from the Angels, and at the time, it seemed like a good deal for all parties involved.
"[Ryan] 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," Mets manager Gil Hodges told the Times after the trade.
The Angels were equally optimistic: "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," said Angels GM Harry Dalton.
OK, so in hindsight, this maybe wasn't the best trade for New York. But it's easy to see what the Mets were thinking at the time. In five seasons with New York, Ryan posted a 3.58 ERA and averaged 8.7 strikeouts per 9 innings -- solid enough numbers. But he also had control problems, and the Mets were growing impatient.
As Mets GM Bob Scheffing said: "But we've had him three full years and, although he's a hell of a prospect, he hasn't done it for us. How long can you wait?"
Meanwhile, Fregosi had put in six All-Star seasons in his 11 years with the Angels. How could the Mets have known that Fregosi would only spend two seasons in New York, batting .233/.319/.328, before shipping off to Texas?
And how could the Mets have known that a 24-year-old Ryan would immediately turn into an All-Star pitcher, leading the American League in Strikeouts (season total and K/9), walks, hits per 9 innings and shutouts in his first season with the Angels, beginning his ascent to one of the best pitchers in MLB history?
In 1971, the Mets were simply trading a good-but-not-great pitcher for a former All-Star shortstop. Both teams were happy. It's only what happened after that which makes the whole thing seem a bit one-sided.
Still, one last quote from Scheffing on Ryan, via that Times article: "I can't rate him in the same category with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman or Gary Gentry."
Well, you live and you learn.