The Worst Sports Decisions in New York History

The SEVEN
by Mack Williams
28 October 2012

I.  New York Mets, 1990
Decision:  not to re-sign free agent Darryl Strawberry

In 1990 Strawberry, the greatest position player in Met history, had an MVP-caliber season – just as he had had in 1987 and 1988, years in which he could easily have won the award (especially 1988, where a particularly less-deserving Kirk Gibson was gifted the MVP).  After virtually carrying the team on his back down the stretch, it seemed that the Mets – a franchise that some felt had a shaky past with respect to African-American players – would have no option but to sign Darryl…but no, they went on and low-balled him, and off to L.A. he went.

At that point there would have been many that would have equated his talent with that of Barry Bonds.  Unfortunately, the balance of his career, for the most part, did not meet with the same success he had with the Mets…but his 1990 departure effectively removed the Mets from playoff contention for the better part of a decade.

II.   New York Nets, 1976
Decision:  trading Brian Taylor for Nate Archibald

Brian “The BT Express” Taylor, the super-fast point guard of the 1974 and 1976 ABA championship teams, was traded for the quintessential NBA point guard, Nate Archibald, the only man to have led the NBA in both scoring and assists in the same season.  On the surface…as great as Taylor had been with the Nets…not a bad deal.  But…

As the team prepared for its’ first NBA season after the NBA-ABA merger, the Archibald trade highlighted the fact that Julius “Dr. J” Erving, the biggest and most legendary star of the ABA and the most exciting player in the game, was underpaid – as Tiny Archibald was slated to make substantially more than Erving.  Erving’s desire for fairer compensation – on top of the fact that Nets’ owner Roy Boe had to pay an additional fee to the Knicks – led Boe to trade the Doctor to the 76ers for cash.

In retrospect, the Nets would have been fine entering the NBA with the team they won the ABA title with in May.  The Denver Nuggets, with virtually the same team they competed with against the Nets in the ABA Finals,  had the best regular season record in the league – and the Sixers went to the 1977 NBA Finals with Erving.

III.   New York Knicks, 1987
Decision:  not to re-sign free-agent Bernard King.

Upon joining the Knicks in the 1982-83 season, King quickly established himself as the greatest frontcourt player in team history, and arguably should have been the 1984 MVP.  That season King dropped 50 points on consecutive nights against the Spurs and Mavericks, and in the playoffs he averaged 42 points per game in defeating the Pistons.  He then led the severely talent-challenged Knicks team to a Game 7 in the conference final against the Hall Of Fame-bound Celtics.  King’s work throughout the playoffs that season was among the greatest ever, leading some veteran fans to reference it in the midst of LeBron James’ great play in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season.

Two thirds through the 1984-85 season, in which he led the league in scoring, King suffered a torn ACL – which forced him to miss the entire 1985-86 season and all but 6 games of the 1986-87 season.  That said, he had guaranteed he would be back, and in the final game of the 1987 season, he scored 30 points.  Enough evidence to warrant bringing him back?

Not for new head coach Rick Pitino.  Bad move…especially considering that in King’s absence, the Knicks had been horrible and were thus able to draft a dominant center, Patrick Ewing, along with point guard Mark Jackson, who finished his career among the all-time leaders in assists.  With King, the Knicks may then have won a title.  Without King, Knick fans in large part rejoiced when Bernard returned a few years later in a Washington uniform to drop 49 points against the Knicks in the Garden.

IV.   New York Mets, 1977
Decision: to trade Tom Seaver.

A few highlights from the career of Tom Seaver…Rookie of the Year, 1967; three-time Cy Young award winner; highest voting percentage in election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  But in 1977 salary disputes and a beef with the conservative and influential Daily News sportswriter Dick Young led Met management to trade Tom Terrific to the Cincinnati Reds for four young players.

While those guys did a decent job, none was a superstar along the lines of a Tom Seaver, clearly one of the best pitchers in the game and someone who would have probably been able to keep the Mets in contention for a few more years. 

V.   New York Mets, 1971
Decision:  to trade Nolan Ryan

That’s right…Nolan Ryan began his career in Queens with the Mets.  Although he showed flashes of brilliance, his control was erratic – as evidenced by the fact that he was unable to complete a game in which the Mets scored 20 runs – and as such, he was unable to get a regular spot in the Met starting rotation.  Frustrated, he asked for a trade – and the Mets accommodated his request, trading him to the Angels for Jim Fregosi, a fine player who had probably passed the peak in his career.

Ryan ended his career with 5,714 strikeouts and 7 no-hitters.

VI.   New York Mets, 2011
Decision:  not to re-sign free agent Jose Reyes

During 2011 Alex Rodriguez described Jose Reyes – one of the most exciting players ever to play for the Mets – as “the greatest player on the planet,” and his teammate Derek Jeter did not disagree.  As in the case of Darryl Strawberry, my thought was that Reyes’ season – in which he won the National League batting title – and total body of work with the Mets would make it virtually impossible for them to let him walk, even taking into consideration the team’s financial issues following the Bernie Madoff scandal.  Wrong again; as it turns out, they failed to make him any kind of offer, and he left to go to the Marlins.

Given that we’re only one year out from that decision, we don’t know the long-term effects of this move, although I must admit that Reyes’ replacement at short, Ruben Tejada, had a nice season.  Nonetheless, it states to the fan base that they are not a financial competitor in the town with the Yankees.

VII.  Plaxico Burress, 2008
Decision: to take his unlicensed gun into the club. 
(Honorable Mention- New York City citizens, 2003.  Decision: to elect Rudy Guiliani mayor.)

In November of 2008 Plaxico Burress – one of the heroes of the New York Giants’ Super Bowl victory – accidentally shot himself with his own gun that he took to a club in New York City.  And although it seems strange that he would get jail time for injuring no one but himself, he may have been lucky to escape with under two years behind bars, given the strict New York State laws with respect to gun possession.

Of course, he actually did hurt some other people…because when he shot himself in the foot, he shot his team in the behind as well.

As for Guiliani, one of the worst things – aside from his horrible tenure as mayor during which he was masterful at taking full credit for things initiated by David Dinkins – is that we were forced to see him sitting down in front for all those years at Yankee playoff games.

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