The baseball season, already in danger of becoming so tangled that no mind will be able to grasp all its knotted strings, lurched even closer to chaos Wednesday night.
In a year of free agents, rabbit balls and miracle teams in every division, a tidal wave of deals in the final hours before the trading deadline seemed inescapable.
However, after the trade waters ahd receded yesterday, few teams knew if they had gained of lost.
The world champion Cicinnati Reds were the central mystery. With one hand, they stole Tom Seaver from the New York Mets. BUt with the other, they simultaneously gave away dissident pitchers Rawly Eastwick and Gary Nolan to St. Louis and California respectively.
The Ohio House of Representatives opened its session yesterday with a prayer that ended: "And Lord, thank the New York Mets for us."
The Reds themselves however, were not so grateful. "We suddenly have a lot of holes to fill," said catcher Johnny Becnh.
Seaver, with a bit of help from the likes of Woody Fryman and Dale Murray (both with ERAs over 5.00), faces the task of replacing six Red hurlers who have departed since the last World Series: Pat Zachry, Nolan, Eastwik, Don Guller, Santo Alcala and Will McEnanty.
While Cicinnati was a Big Red Question Mark, the Mets were the night's indisputable losers. No matter how well the flood of youngsters they acquired for Seaver and Dave king man do in the future, theMets have lost a box office giant of the present.
Profane phone calls deluged the Shea Stadium switchboard yesterday while picketers marched outside denouncing chairman of the board McDonald Grant, the man Seaver claims "made it impossible for me to remain a Met."
There were emotional reactions all across the country.
Seaver cried in the Mets locker room as he tried to read a short, scribbled farewell to his Met fans. "If I can retain enough composure for about 60 seconds, I'll have it made," he said, voice cracking. "C'mon, George," he added, tapping his heart and calling himself by his first name.
In California, the Angels were in heaven. Forgotten were the moans of "Tanana and Ryan and then start cryin'." In one evening, the Angel rotation had added Nolan from the Reds and Ken Brett (6-4) from the Chicago White Sox.
On the other hand, San Diego, St. Louis and Philadelphia made deals that left their fans, and even their managers, a bit perplexed.
"We counldn't pass up a chance to get Kingman at that price (two minor leagurers), " said Padre manager Alvin Dark. "But I've got to admit I haven't figured out where we'll play him. I'll have to sleep on it."
Kingman, hitting 209, has glove that can only be hidden at a very few positions. And those are without exception the spots where the Padres are already strong. Who to displace? Not Dave Winfield or Gene Tenace. Most likely Mike (Poison) Ivie will be scratched.
St. Louis and Phildelpia also mysteriously made gains at the positions where they were thought to be strongest. 'I figured we had a pretty good bullpen," said Clay Carroll on learning that Eastwick would join the established late-inning firm of Al Hrabosky, Bruce Metzger and Carroll.
The Phils announced that Bake McBride, acquired from the Cards for disappointing lefty Tom Underwood, would "add speed tothe outfield and give us a leadoff man." Best guess is the Greg Luzinsk; may move from left field to first base. Otherwise, McBride, a proven clubhouse lawyer, may remain on the bench, as he was in St. Louis.
Yesterday's spotlight, however, remained firmly on the Reds and Mets, the two ships most violently tossed on the boiling trade seas.
For almost a decade, these two teams have had nationwide followings representing, as they do, diameterical opposites in style. The Reds were the bully-boy favourites who were weak in pitching while the Amazin' Mets were the underdog darlings who were strong on the hill.
Despite a week of rumors, both cities seemed shocked when Seaver, the quintessential Met, became a Red. It seemed as unlikely an alliance as cobra joining a mongoose farm.
Zachry found his new Met-hood a shock. "Next time you see me, I'll have a double dip - a moustache and a beard, "Zachry told his clean-shaven Red taemmates. Eastwick, by contrast, was not surprised to find himself in baseball's swinging door.
"They gave me away for nothing just like I figured they would," said the unsigned Eastwick, who earlier this week called the Red's front office "a bunch of backstabbers."
Eastwick, Nolan and many Reds will assume that general manager Bob Howsam used the Seaver bonanza as a smokescree behind which to deport the two unsigned pitchers who are both represented by agent Jerry Kapstein, the man Howsman calls "a menace to baseball."
Many a player left such a wake of sour words behind him. "The Mets have never been interested in developing hitters, just pitchers," said Kingman, elaborating on his previous position that his employers were "living in the dark ages."
Seaver, however, got in the hardest punches of this closing round. He finished his two-year feud with Grant as a clear-cut winner by TKO.
Underneath all their name-calling - Grant first termed Seaver an "ingrate" and Seaver called his boss "a lunatic" - was the basic Met charge that Seaver's unhappiness was based on greed, rather than philosophical differences over the team's stand-pat-and-count-the-gate-receipts approach.
When Seaver immediately agreed to join the Reds at the same $225,000 salary he received as a Met, Grant's basic contention was knocked loose. "I just want to get away from that man," fired Seaver.
For good measure, Seaver charged yesterday that he was ready to remain a Met-honoring his 1977-78 contract and signing a three-year pact on top of that - until he read a venomous Dick Young column in the New York Daily News Wednesday.
Young, in his sixth full-scale denunciation of Seaver in a month, wrote that, "Nolan Ryan is getting more (money) now than Seaver , and that galls Tom because Nancy Seaver and Ruth Nolan are very friendly and Tom Seaver has long treated Nolan Ryan (an ex-Met teammate) like a little brother."
When Seaver saw the story in Atlanta just hours before the trade deadline, he called general manager Joe McDonald and retracted his statement of the night before that he was willing to stay with the Mets without a renegotiated contract.
"That's it. I've had it," stormed Seaver. "When you drag my wife and family into it, I'm finished . . . the alliance between Young and Grant is stacked against me."
Although some of Seaver's farewell statements yesterday bordered on being self-serving and theatrical, support for the three-time Cy Young winner was widespread throughout baseball.
"Seaver's been the best pitcher in baseball for the last 10 years," said Baltimore's Jim Palmer yesterday, the man who would certainly finish second in that category, " and he's done it without the fielding and hitting support that I've had.
"With the Reds, he'll have a chance to show what he can do with a real team.
"People kidded me all winter and said, "They ought to trade you for Seaver,'" added Plamer. "I said, 'No way.' Can you imagine how awful it would be to play for that team. Every player says their clubhouse is like a morgue. Grant says it's a big happy family, but he's the only one who seems happy."
The unifying thread in all these trades was that the central players involved were angry and outspoken. Every trade shipped a dissatisfied voice out of town, even if it meant bringing someome else's problem child in as a replacement.
When the last unsigned pticher, the last outfielder mourning a lost mustache, the last play-me-or-trade-me infielder had found a new home, one question remained: was even one team better off when all its deals were added up?
Even the Reds with Seaver could not answein the affirmative for certain.