The New York Mets were born into a true Major League baseball city. While some cities had two teams, like Boston (Red Sox and Braves), Chicago (Cubs and White Sox), and Philadelphia (Phillies and Athletics), the New York was home to three teams – the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. When the ownership of the Giants and Dodgers made the fateful decision to move their franchises to California, the New York Metropolitans were conceived thanks to an avid Giants fan named Joan Whitney Payson – the dawning of a new era.
At the inception, the Mets hired George Weiss who had been instrumental in building the Yankees dynasty. However, the Mets never did have a great leadership plan, no chain of command that would allow for development of a strong baseball structure. Joan Payson was a businesswoman and philanthropist but most of all she was a huge fan. The problem is that she entrusted the wrong people with too much power. The main culprit was her stockbroker, M. Donald Grant who had no baseball prowess and even fewer people prowess. He was like the bitter old man who lived next door to you and if, God forbid, your ball went on his lawn, he would get enraged at you for walking on it to get the ball. And he alienated everyone. If you weren’t a good little soldier, you were gone. Think Tom Seaver…Midnight Massacre.
The Mets were lovable losers. It’s hard to believe if you take a look at their all-time roster, especially in the club’s infancy. The team was stockpiled with old stars. But the trouble was they were OLD stars…past their primes, some WAY past their primes. And the roster was filled in with some “not ready for prime time” players. It was an on-field disaster. They lost in the most indescribable ways and, yet, it didn’t stop the waves of fans from flocking to Shea Stadium. The fans adored them regardless of how bad and embarrassing the Mets were on the field.
That all came to a screeching halt when the miracle of 1969 occurred and the Mets took the entire world by surprise and won the World Series. Suddenly, it wasn’t a joking matter and it was time to begin taking the franchise seriously. And “The Franchise,” Tom Seaver, wasn’t satisfied with being saddled with the moniker of “laughing stock” and kept pushing for management to function like an organization that actually cares about the product on the field. Unfortunately, the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Grant, saw things differently, and preferred to operate like a tax shelter and, so long as the fans continued to come through the turnstiles at Shea, he didn’t care what anyone said. And any malcontents were sent packing.
Joan Payson, was never much of a hands on owner. In fact, the only decision she ever truly weighed in on was her, again acting more as a fan than an owner, insistence on bringing Willie Mays to the team in 1972. And even though the Mets made it to the World Series, somehow, again in 1973, the arrival of Mays would prove to be the eventual unraveling of the team. It went unnoticed, but the trade for Mays upset the core of the team. Centerfielder Tommie Agee was quite often displaced and the fact that he was, as the starting centerfielder, making a mere fraction of what Mays was earning to ride the bench, created disharmony in the clubhouse. Couple that with the sudden death of manager Gil Hodges and the disastrous trade of Nolan Ryan prior to the 1972 season, and the bottom was about to fall out.
On the other side of town, some ruthless guy convicted of illegal campaign contributions and obstruction of justice, George Steinbrenner, came in and began spending money, big money, thanks to the advent of free agency. And while the Yankees were paying the big bucks for some guys named Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson, the Mets plunged head-first into the free agent market and plucked a guy by the name of Tom Hausman. Who? I guess that is what Seaver was thinking.
So after Seaver voiced his displeasure at the lack of effort by the front office, he was pushed out the door on June 15, 1977 after Grant planted stories with the relentless Dick Young, the columnist for the New York Daily News. The fans were ready to hang Grant in effigy. And after Grant finally succumbed to public pressure in 1978, Payson’s family finally decided to put the team up for sale. The fans were clamoring for new ownership, new enthusiasm, and new money. When a group led by Doubleday and Co. bought the club, fans were excited. Who wouldn’t be? Doubleday? There was talk that there was a lineage from Abner Doubleday, the so-called inventor of the game of baseball. It had to be a good sign.
New York Mets were bought by Doubleday and Company
Eventually what emerged from that ownership change was a partnership of Nelson Doubleday, Jr. and Fred Wilpon. Frank Cashen, the architect of the perennial power Baltimore Orioles of the 1970’s was brought in to be General Manager and build the club into a championship-caliber organization. The “Magic is Back” they would say.
And it was. They drafted a guy named “Strawberry” and it made headlines. They traded the face of the franchise, Lee Mazzilli, for two guys named Walt Terrell and Ron Darling which drew heavy criticism. They stole Keith Hernandez from the St. Louis Cardinals because Whitey Herzog couldn’t stand him. And they brought Gary Carter in from the Montreal Expos in a blockbuster trade. It all culminated in the Mets’ second world championship.
And the Mets’ last world championship.
It wasn’t too long after that a feud developed between Doubleday and Wilpon on how to run the organization. Doubleday preferred to blend into the woodwork and that nobody recognize him, while Wilpon enjoyed the spotlight. And it always seemed like management was in a state of flux. After Cashen’s departure, there was an endless flow of general managers and, with it, a constant change of managers on the field. There was no stability and no real sense of direction. Sure, money was spent. But while the Yankees were getting the likes of Hideki Matsui, the Mets were getting the likes of Kaz Matsui. It always seemed like while the Yankees were shopping at the Mercedes dealership, the Mets were at Rent-a-Wreck hoping for a bargain.
Doubleday was able to put his foot down and have his say when the Mets, after trading for Mike Piazza during the 1998 season, resigned him to a huge contract to keep him in a Mets uniform for the next eight years enroute to his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Other than that, Wilpon ran roughshod over Doubleday and, following the arrival of Fred’s son Jeff on the scene, Doubleday had enough. The public divorce was much like many of the celebrity divorces…it was ugly. And it left the Wilpon family in total control.
New York Mets are saved by Major League Baseball
Years after the divorce of Doubleday and Wilpon, then came the Madoff debacle. That’s what it was. A debacle. Whether you believe that Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz knew what Bernie Madoff was doing or not, it’s really not relevant. What IS relevant is that the matter interfered with the function of the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club. With the urging of Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig, the Wilpons brought Sandy Alderson to stabilize the organization. And they were also given a loan to help right the ship. Alderson cleaned house and worked hard to bring integrity to the organization. Meanwhile, in the background, lawsuits were filed. Against Jeff Wilpon. Sexual harassment. Wrongful termination. So in addition to his constant meddling, Jeff Wilpon brought unnecessary legal entanglements upon the club at a time when it was most vulnerable.
The Mets made it back to the World Series in 2015. Yoenis Cespedes carried the team on his back, and then rode the back of a horse into camp the next spring and things went downhill from there. The trip back to the Series couldn’t disguise the utter dysfunction of the Wilpon-run organization. While Alderson was trying to run the team the way he successfully ran the low-budget Oakland A’s years earlier, wannabe GM and know-it-all Jeff Wilpon had to constantly muck it all up.
Alderson finally had enough and between fighting health issues and the interference of Jeff, he stepped aside. Public pressure, like many times before, began to percolate and it seemed like everyone was calling for, begging for, the Wilpons to sell.
And even when the family was finally ready to sell the team, the Wilpons had the absolute audacity to insist that, after the sale, good ole’ Jeff would get to stay in control for five years. If ever an “LOL” needed to be inserted…there you go. That’s like buying a home, and the previous owner says, “I am selling you the house but I get to sleep in the master bedroom for the next five years.” Who in their right mind would ever agree to something like that? But then, you have to figure, who is the one asking for that term in the agreement?
Steve Cohen, already a minority owner and familiar with the Wilpon nonsense, said “No.” In came A-Rod and J-Lo and another media frenzy with the two-headed, high-profile, power-hungry, publicity-craving dynamic duo. Well…so now they are not a duo? Can you imagine what that breakup would have caused in the world of the Mets?
After bowing out, Cohen was back in the picture, but with criticism. After the recent GameStop stock fiasco, suddenly, Cohen was again drawing attention to a fine his firm had to pay for insider trading, and his ability to be an owner was being called into question. Conveniently, people forgot about Steinbrenner’s convictions of crimes, fines he had to pay, suspensions he served for illegal and inappropriate behaviors? Come on…really? How quickly people forget what Mr. Steinbrenner was found guilty of, what he did after becoming an owner and was suspended for time by Major League Baseball, only to now be hailed as deserving of a Hall of Fame induction all these years later.
And within weeks of finally getting approval and taking over the team…fans were already calling for his head. Why? Because the Mets didn’t sign any of the so-called “Big Three” of this year’s free agency extravaganza – George Springer, J.T. Realmuto, and Trevor Bauer.
Same old Mets, same old ownership? Here we go again? The dawning of a new era?
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And everybody was wondering why Jerry Seinfeld, who has the money to purchase a ballclub all by himself, and is one of the hugest Mets fans out there, said, on the air, that he would prefer to remain a “fan” rather ever get involved with being an “owner.” There are not many people who can truly be a successful business owner and a fan at the same time. Even Steinbrenner had trouble accomplishing that.