By Mike Steffanos
George Vecsey and Billie Jean King feel that they can tell the Mets what to name the new ballpark? Apparently, it would be "the right thing" and a "no-brainer" for the club to forgo an estimated $10 million in naming rights to honor pioneer and former Mets great Jackie Robinson. As most of you know, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier when he came up to the Mets as a 28-year-old rookie in 1947. Jackie went on to play his entire 10 year professional career with the Mets, and will be forever identified with that franchise. Other great Mets players from that era include Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Don Newcombe and Gil Hodges, who went on to manage some other expansion team whose name escapes me right now.
Also, because Vecsey and King understand that they are asking the Wilpons to forgo a lot of money to honor the former Mets great, both will donate a large sum of money to the Mets to facilitate this gesture that they both so strongly believe in. George and Billie Jean point out that they have made a substantial amount of money in their chosen professions, and understand that it's somewhat hypocritical to ask someone to endure financial loss without being willing to share in that loss.
Please don't mistake the above paragraphs as any attempt to belittle Jackie Robinson, nor what he endured to open major-league baseball to all who are good enough to compete at that level. It was fitting and proper to retire Robinson's number across all of baseball, and the New York City area is full of things which were named after the former Brooklyn Dodgers great. I am not in favor of segregation nor prejudice in any manner. However, if Fred Wilpon caves in to those who are attempting to pressure him into naming his stadium after a player who had absolutely no connection at all to the New York Mets, he will be a fool.
For too many years, the Mets have made their franchise subservient to the two teams who callously abandoned their fans when they chased dollar signs 3,000 miles away. By the way, this happened almost 50 years ago. While I understand the love that fans a few years older than me still feel for those franchises, I don't feel this team needs to do any more to honor that love. Time to move on folks -- or simply move yourselves to Los Angeles or San Francisco. This team is closing in on 45 years of existence, and still struggles to find its own identity -- but it's important to lifelong fans of this club that we be allowed to do so. In a way, it's the lack of a strong Mets identity that allows folks such as Vecsey and King feel they have the right to dictate to the club what they should do. However, we are getting there, and we don't need to name our stadium after someone who never played or coached or worked in the front office of the New York Mets.
Jackie Robinson deserves every honor he gets. What he accomplished will never fade away, but he was not a Met, and the New York Mets are under no ethical obligation to the whims of others to honor him in the naming of their stadium. Vecsey, King and the others who are pushing this have put the Wilpons in an unenviable position. If they refuse to cave in, it looks like they are refusing to honor Robinson, in essence looking like racially insensitive men chasing a buck. If they do cave in, they lose $10 million that will need to come from somewhere else -- our pockets -- and the team's stadium will carry a name that has absolutely nothing at all to do with the New York Metropolitan baseball club.
Others who have weighed in on this issue
What opinion I've seen so far seems to be of the same mind:
...that being said, i have to be honest, while i respect and admire robinson, believe me i do, umm, he was a dodger...sorry...he was...i mean, it already irks me that the new stadium will be some kind of homage to ebbets field, where the old brooklyn dodgers played...now it will be named for one of their greatest players...will he have the dodgers hat on in pictures around the stadium...doesn't that seem strange to you...teams have a lineage, and he's a player in the lineage of another team...
But for a team that has been noted to avoid their own history to name their ballpark after an old Dodger would be another move that would be a small P.R. disaster amongst their fan base. And to name your park after Jackie Robinson because Billie Jean King thinks it's a good idea is asinine. I'm all for honoring Jackie Robinson, but as a friend of mine noted today: It's not like Jackie Robinson hasn't been honored...it's not like he's flown under the radar since his retirement like, say, Larry Doby has. His uniform number will never be worn again! That's a pretty gosh darn significant note of his significance.
If the team takes the speculated $10 million from some corporation for naming rights, it will be painted as greedy despite the fact that every new yard built since Oriole Park at Camden Yards has held a corporate moniker - and many built before Camden Yards have since sold their names. I'm not saying I like it, but it's the reality. If you want stuff like Barry Zito under your Christmas tree this off season, you can't begrudge the team for trying to do things that generate money without raising ticket prices even higher.
And if the Mets do something nice, like add a statue of Robinson, every columnist will break out with lines reading how it is a lesser tribute because the team took the money for the naming rights.