Before I address the title of this article, please allow me a bit of preamble.
You might have seen the OBJ trade coming, but I did not. Yes, there were trade rumors about Beckham at various times over the past two years, but, during this offseason, there was no considerable buzz about such a trade being a legitimate possibility. Therefore, my brain is still processing the trade. Do I like this trade or not? I honestly do not know.
When I first heard about the Beckham trade, I was upset. Odell Beckham Jr. is the most exciting player I have watched during my days as a Giants fan. (I watched the tail end of LT’s career, so I did not truly get to experience his excitement.) OBJ is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and one of the few players who can regularly turn his team’s down offensive day into a great offensive day with one or two plays. Additionally, few players in the league make his teammates better than Beckham does. The likes of Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard have been much more effective when defenses have to worry about covering the dynamic Beckham than when they do not. For proof, watch footage from Weeks 1 and 2 of the 2017 seasons. In Week 1, the Giants’ offense looked abysmal in Dallas, as Beckham sat on the sideline. In Week 2, Beckham played a few plays, and the offense was much more electric on those plays than on the plays when Beckham did not play. Simply put, one cannot easily replace Beckham’s on-field production.
However, we know that Beckham has caused chemistry issues with the Giants. While T.O. and Antonio Brown waited several years in their NFL careers before causing off-field problems, Beckham started in Year 2. We experienced his freak-out against Josh Norman in Year 2; the boat trip, kicking net, and comment that he does not care about his personal fouls in Year 3; his trip to France in Year 4; and his “Li’l Wayne” interview in Year 5. I have lived on this planet long enough to know that trends are much more likely to continue than to stop. Plus, if we know about all of the problems I have mentioned, what else is happening behind the scenes? Nevertheless, we know that these issues are going to continue and will likely grow. The Giants clearly felt that we had reached the point where the benefit of keeping him (all the good stuff I listed before) had fallen below the cost (all the chemistry stuff).
Therefore, I commend the Giants for picking up a first-round pick this year, a third-rounder next year, and a solid safety in Jabrill Peppers. The only question that remains for the Giants is “Where do they go from here?” Did the Beckham trade happen because Eli told Dave Gettleman that the QB cannot win with Beckham’s huge ego and personality hovering over the team? Possibly. Did Gettleman pull the trigger because he had decided that it is time for a rebuild and that the Giants should either trade for Josh Rosen or draft Dwayne Haskins? Hopefully. Time will tell. That said, you can read a million analyses about this trade on other sites. I want to pivot now to the tangential topic referenced in this article’s title.
The New York Giants have traded a top-flight wide receiver in the prime of his career. This is not a common occurrence in New York. Teams in this metropolitan are usually big spenders and rarely trade megastars in their primes. As a result, I have spent the past few hours thinking about how many players better than Beckham or of bigger star power than his have been traded away from New York teams in the primes of their careers, and my unofficial research places Beckham firmly in the #2 position on this list. For now, I will keep you in suspense as to whom I have selected for #1 on the list.
When coming up with this list, remember that I am focusing solely on players who were traded from New York teams. Thus, though Darryl Strawberry was an elite outfielder in 1990 (37 homers, 108 RBI: huge numbers back then), the fact that the Dodgers then signed him to a free-agent contract makes him ineligible for this list. Similarly, John Tavares racked up 621 points in 9 years with the Islanders and also had a big hand in the team’s first playoff-series win (over Florida in 2016) since 1993….but the Maple Leafs signed Tavares as a free agent. Thus, he too is ineligible for the list.
In 2011, the Mets traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants (for Zack Wheeler), but Beltran was past his prime. Plus, even in his prime, was he ever a candidate for “Best Outfielder in the Game”, as Beckham has been considered the best wide receiver in the NFL? I would say not. The Knicks once traded Patrick Ewing, and the Nets once traded Jason Kidd. Both are those are all-time great players for their respective franchises, and both led their teams to two NBA Finals appearances. However, both of them were also in the twilights of their careers when they were traded. Neither player was involved with any “Best current player at his position” discussions when they were traded. You could also make the analogous comments about Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch. Many people like to cite the Mets’ trade of Nolan Ryan as “the worst trade ever”, and that is a fair argument in hindsight. The Mets did give up a guy who would go on to strike out 5000 batters, pitch 7 no-hitters, and pitch at a high level for more than 20 years. However, when the Mets traded Ryan (and two other players) for Fregosi, Ryan was a decent-at-best pitcher whose control kept him from being anything great. Thus, at the time of the 1971 trade, people did not think something monumental had happened.
The way I see it, there are only two players in Beckham’s territory. One of those players is Darrelle Revis. When the Jets traded Revis to Tampa Bay in 2013 for a 2013 first-round pick, he was considered the premier cornerback in football. “Revis Island” was still a “thing” at that time. However, there are two reasons why I put Beckham above Revis on my list. First, Revis missed almost all of the 2012 season due to a torn knee ligament. When an excellent NFL player suffers a major injury in his fifth season, it is natural for us to wonder if that player’s days as a star have come to an end. (In hindsight, this was the case with Revis. Revis was a solid player the next two years with Tampa and New England, but he was not the elite player he had been.) Secondly, even if we ignore the injury factor, tie goes to the wide receiver over the shutdown cornerback. The receiver who makes big play after big play has much more star power than the corner who prevents the ball from ever coming his way. Therefore, I consider Beckham to be a slightly better player and bigger star than Revis was at the times of their respective trades.
As a result, we are left with only one player dealt from a New York team when a bigger star and better player than Beckham is. That player is “The Franchise” or “Tom Terrific”. That player is Tom Seaver. Unfortunately, we have recently learned the news that the greatest Met of all time now suffers from dementia. However, many who watched Seaver pitch say that he is the best pitcher they have ever seen. The guy dominated for the Mets from 1967 through 1977, as he was regularly among the league leaders in wins, strikeouts, ERA, complete games, and shutouts. He had been the face of the 1969 “Miracle Mets”, and he remained their biggest star through 1977, when the Mets had fallen on tough times. Sure, Beckham is a mega-star now, but many people in this world are mega-stars. In 1977, when most people had no more than 7 TV channels, no computers, and minimal telephone capabilities; there were fewer mega-stars. In this area, Tom Seaver was a mega-star.
You might be thinking, “Well, he had already pitched 10 years when the Mets traded him to the Reds in 1977. Wasn’t he on the decline?” Not at all. Seaver was pitching at a high level, and stayed at that level until roughly the time when the Mets brought him back from Cincy in 1983. From what I have heard from my parents and other huge Mets fans of that day, nothing compares to the Seaver trade. Most Giants fans agree that OBJ is one of the best receivers in the league, but plenty of Giants fans can see why the Giants made the trade. Agree with the trade or not; the transaction is defensible. That was not the case with Seaver. Seaver was the only guy for Mets fans to hang their hats on, and the Mets traded him. Fans were devastated and saw no silver lining in the move.
Granted, a part of me does wonder how the trade would have been received today. After all, the 1977 Mets were a bad team who traded a top-flight player for four prospects. No, none of those prospects materialized into anything great, but it is a regular occurrence today for bad teams to trade stars for prospects. In 1977, there were fewer entertainment options, so I think that fans were more passionate about having their teams put together the best teams possible – the future be damned. I have to admit that, while I am a big-time Devils fan, I have not watched them too much over the last month as I know that this year’s disappointing team is better off tanking. Fans of all sports now realize that bad teams are usually better off tanking, but it is easier for us to “trust the process” in 2019 when we can binge-watch “Schitt’s Creek” and Harlan Coben’s “Safe” to pass the time during a bad Devils season. Yes, I highly recommend both of those shows. Ideally, the Devils will land the top pick in the draft, bring in Jack Hughes, and play at a level next year that makes me want to watch all 82 games again.
However, in 1977, what were you going to do to pass the time during a bad Mets summer? There is only so much “American Bandstand” one can handle. Therefore, Mets fans were going to be much more loyal to a bad 1977 team than they were to bad 2017 and 2018 teams. Thus, Tom Seaver remained a huge star, albeit on a bad team. In fact, I would argue that Seaver was a bigger star relative to the 1977 sports world than Beckham is to the modern sports world. If we could calculate WAR for star power, Seaver’s 1977 star-power WAR would be well above Beckham’s. Plus, Beckham is one of the best current wide receivers, but Tom Seaver is one of the best pitchers of all time. Big difference there.
Therefore, I consider the OBJ trade to be the second-most monumental trade of a New York athlete. The trade of Tom Terrific ranks #1 on the list. Let us hope that the Giants make more out of their two acquired draft picks and Jabrill Peppers than the Mets made out of the four prospects they obtained.