On January 25, 1980, the media gathered inside Shea Stadium’s Diamond Club to learn of the deal that had been finalized the day before: Nelson Doubleday & Co. had seized controlling interest in the Mets, shelling out $21.1 million to the Payson family to win a 21-group bidding war. The Mets had finished in last place three years in a row, and they were in desperate need of a top-to-bottom overhaul. In stepped Doubleday, a titan of the publishing industry, to save the day.
But there was another man introduced to the media that day, and that man was Fred Wilpon. Until that moment, Wilpon was a scarcely-known real estate owner. On that day, the Mets faithful learned that Wilpon would now be their club’s president and CEO, though he owned a mere five percent of the franchise.
“New York deserves — baseball deserves — a National League franchise in New York that is successful every year, that’s the envy of every other club in baseball,” Wilpon told reporters that day. “We will do whatever is necessary to bring a winning team to New York, and soon.”
Six years later, of course, the Mets sat atop the baseball universe. But a championship wasn’t Wilpon’s only victory in ’86: that year, he and Doubleday became 50-50 partners. Eventually, amid controversy in 2002, Wilpon swallowed up Doubleday’s remaining half of the team.
Fast forward to today, and the Mets’ situation is not all that different than it was in 1980. They have endured three straight losing seasons, suffered from dismal attendance figures, and their ownership is in a state of crisis.
Knowing where Fred Wilpon’s Mets journey began might help us understand his perspective, and perhaps see, for example, why he backed out of his minority ownership deal with David Einhorn last year. More importantly, though, knowing where Wilpon’s journey led — and knowing that history repeats itself — is reason to have hope.
The Mets were the laughing stock of the league in 1980, and, as much as it stings to admit it, they are the laughing stock of the league now. But who knows? Maybe in a few years they’ll be back on top. The Mets are selling $20 million shares — just under five percent — in the team, and while it doesn’t seem like much, Wilpon himself showed us that five percent can go a long way. We know he will hold onto his beloved Mets for dear life, but one day they will fall into more capable, financially stable hands. We can take solace in the fact that someone will save the Mets again, just like Fred and Nelson did 32 years ago.
Maybe that day will come sooner than later. For all we know, the Metssiah is waiting in the wings, ready to give Wilpon a taste of his own medicine.