New York Mets: July Served to Remind Us Change Starts At The Top


What if I said, here’s why I do not trust Fred and Jeff Wilpon, and why I do not trust Sandy Alderson for that matter?  And what if I also told you I’m not doing cartwheels regarding the Mets long term future?  Why would I do that?  Because there is precedent, and a history that just makes me think these things, that I will now discuss.  For if history is repeated, the Mets are doomed.

Once upon a time, the new owners chose Frank Cashen to be their Card Blanche carrying General Manager.  Before stepping down, Mr. Cashen directly, and indirectly, groomed and mentored, every Front Office executive the Mets, and Mr. Wilpon in particular, would exhaust, right up until the hiring of Sandy Alderson.

In a move still beyond most Mets fans ability to comprehend, Frank Cashen handed the reigns of the organization over to Al Harazin.  What happened on the field during his tenure is well documented.  What was also well documented was all the in-fighting taking place within the Mets Front Office.  How do we know?  Joe McIlvaine told us so.  After getting passed over in favor of Al Harazin, the Mets now had a disgruntled exec on their hands.  With the environment being what Joe Mac said it was, he took the General Manager’s job in San Diego.

Once the realization set in that Al Harazin was a horrible General Manager, the Mets turned back to their former executive and old friend; Joe McIlvaine.  The Mets asked him to come back to the organization and fill the seat they mistakenly denied him before.  Joe McIlvaine acquiesced, and returned.

What happened to him?  By the end of his reign, he ceased talking to his owner; namely Fred Wilpon; and stopped returning his calls.  As a matter of fact, many times, his bosses never knew where he was.  Joe McIlvaine would be off on some scouting trip, but leaving Fred Wilpon bewildered for lack of knowing where he was.  It warrants saying at this point, Nelson Doubleday was the less meddlesome of the two partners.  Regardless, Fred Wilpon endured enough of his GM’s act, and fired Joe MacIlvaine.

In addition to Joe McIlvaine, Gerry Hunsicker was a second, very well respected executive in the Mets Front Office that many teams in both leagues had their eyes on.  He too tired of waiting for his shot at being General Manager of the Mets while McIlvaine presided.  And so Jerry Hunsicker left the Mets to take the GM position in Houston.  In not so many words, he concurred with Joe Mac’s past assessment of the Mets’ Front Office; too much bickering between Mr. Doubleday and Mr. Wilpon was indeed a real issue.

Enter Steve Phillips, the last executive Frank Cashen brought into the organization who ascended to the position of General Manager of the Mets.  Steve Phillips in turn, introduced Omar Minaya and Jim Duquette to the Front Office.  While Phillips still held court, Omar Minaya accepted the General Manager’s position of the Montreal Expos.

This is when things started to radically change for the Mets.  After a partnership marred by years of bickering, by the end of 2002, Nelson Doubleday sold his half of the team to Fred Wilpon.  On his way out, he prophesied, Fred and Jeff Wilpon would run the team into the ground.  The two owners famously fought over re-signing Mike Piazza, where Doubleday was for, and Wilpon was against.  And even back then, they quarrelled over their home field situation.  Doubleday was in favor of renovating Shea Stadium.  Wilpon wanted to build a new park and Doubleday knew they couldn’t afford it.

Regardless, by 2003, Fred Wilpon was now the sole owner of a high salary, last place club thanks to Steve Phillips.  And when Phillips was fired in shame, Fred Wilpon turned to the only executive he had left; Jim Duquette.  But upon hiring him, he concurrently handcuffed Duquette’s expenditures, predominantly because Fred Wilpon had just borrowed a substantial amount of money to buy Nelson Doubleday’s half of the team, and because he still had his mind fixed on building Citi Field.  But Mr. Wilpon would need a good team to play in it.  And so the vote of no confidence in Jim Duquette came when Fred Wilpon effectively begged Omar Minaya to come back to the organization to be its General Manager.  In a very poor manner, Omar was hired before Jim Duquette was ever reassigned or fired.

There was another dynamic at work, which is partly why I do not trust the Wilpons.  Every General Managerial hire after Frank Cashen was an in-house one.  Every executive Frank Cashen and Steve Phillips ever brought into the organization, were promoted and subsequently fired; all of them.  And Mr. Wilpon didn’t just get lucky once.  He got lucky twice.  Convincing Joe McIlvaine to come back was rabbit foot number one.  Hiring Joe eliminated an open interview process, and kept the organization safely in known, and very familiar hands.  That was the same dynamic at work when Fred Wilpon asked Omar Minaya to come back.  Truth be told, the Wilpons are not Baseball Men, as if we didn’t already know, and effectively avoided an open interview process for twenty five years.

With the firing of Omar Minaya, Fred Wilpon was finally out of executives.  There was no one left to turn to.  All the executives Cashen and Phillips recruited into the organization, were used, and discarded.  There was no more familiarity; no more next guy in line.  The long string of in-house General Manager promotions finally came to an end; and for me, not a GM too soon.

Sure the Mets held an interview process, if you are inclined to believe their process wasn’t a charade that is.  Once Bud Selig recommended Sandy Alderson interview for the job, he rather instantly assumed control of the team, and became the first General Manager hired from outside the organization since the day they hired Frank Cashen.  The end-around on this play resulted in the owners escaping their own lack of baseball acumen yet again.

Of course, that was just a synopsis of things.  And this is not about dissecting Sandy Alderson’s resume, or work so far with the Mets.  Further more, I have no doubt Sandy Alderson will prove to be the most competent GM this team has had since Frank Cashen.  Instead, this is more about his want to work here long term.  He is here now and put a Plan in place.  Fair enough.  The questions will always persist however, is Sandy Alderson here for love of the game, and the challenge being GM of a New York City team offers?  Is his intention to see this through?  Or, is he here at the insistence of the Commissioner and charged with ensuring the S.S. Wilpon is sea worthy again?  That’s what makes Sandy Alderson unique to the Mets condition under Fred Wilpon.  There is always the chance Sandy Alderson will walk away.  The last GM to do that was Frank Cashen, when he arranged his own retirement.  So just to reiterate, this makes Alderson truly unique among all the former bearers of the team’s torch since that first 1980 season under new ownership.

The fact is, no tangible reason exists to rule out this is not a short term assignment to reverse something brought about by crippling financial straights and a generation of bad decisions.   Aside from The Plan, one of Sandy Alderson’s most dominant themes since his arrival has been fielding a team that will lead to an increased gate.  For Mr. Wilpon is still in deep, deep, trouble.  Within an eight year span, he borrowed to buy Nelson Doubleday’s half of the team.  He borrowed heavily to build Citi Field.  And he borrowed to fund Omar Minaya’s expenditures.  Additionally, Fred Wilpon never benefited from the gate he anticipated from Citi Field, and has been hemorrhaging paper profits versus his original estimates regarding Citi Field revenue; profits he desperately needed to pay off massive self imposed debt.  Only then of course, may we speak of the Madoff Mess which wiped out a monstrous sum of, what we now know were ill-gotten paper gains, which the team used to hedge themselves, and borrow against, as standard operating procedure.  So for all we know, Sandy Alderson is merely here to affect an organization wide correction.

Then there are Sandy Alderson’s deputies; J.P. Ricciardi, and Paul DePodesta.  Are they that loyal to Sandy Alderson to warrant working under him long term?  Or at some point, will they get itchy for another crack at being a GM somewhere, like Joe McIlvaine, and Gerry Hunsicker did?  If down the way they are still on board, they will surely be Sandy Alderson’s successors.  And if history has taught us anything, we know one will get promoted.  Then it’s only a matter of time before the other, is hired and eventually fired as well.

By then, the Mets will be out of executives again.  But at least for now, Fred and Jeff Wilpon have two executives in the hole again for if, and when, Sandy Alderson ever steps down.  It’s highly unlikely, at least to me, the Wilpons will ever fire Alderson.  And with that said, I’m riddled with anxiety because I do not believe Sandy Alderson is interested in being GM of the Mets beyond the short term, meaning beyond this rebuilding period, and perhaps the next two or three years after; if that.  I feel once he thinks the team’s condition has been satisfactorily addressed, he will step aside.  So much is riding on the young arms of Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler already.  And the pace of their advancement almost appears organizationally desperate to me.

Within five short years, the Mets can theoretically be right back where they started from.  The last four months do not erase the last eight years.  We all know the Wilpons are still in trouble and that this situation is still too fluid.  If Mr. Wilpon fails to learn anything from his experience, and does not maximize, what right now equates to his new lease on life, then like I said to start, our team is doomed.  Many have speculated this way before I have.   But this is what happens when your owner is still sending mixed messages.  How many more lives can this Cat have?