Tuesday, September 15, 2020

That Feeling When

I was walking my dogs in the woods yesterday evening when a notification popped up on my phone that Steve Cohen had reached an agreement to buy the Mets. Yesterday was a pretty tough day for me. I'm working my way back from back surgery, and have been overdoing things more than a little, in my own stubborn way. I was pretty tired and still had a couple of miles back to my car when the news came in. I felt a bolt of electricity pass through my body along with an unexpected amount of emotion. This news had been a long time coming.

Fred Wilpon first intruded into my consciousness in January 1980 when he was a small minority part of the purchase of the club from the heirs of Joan Payson. Doubleday & Co. Publishing owned the lion's share of the club. The club slowly improved thanks to the hiring of GM Frank Cashen. Fred only owned five percent of the team, and Jeff wasn't even in the picture yet.

The resurgence of the club in that era culminated on October 27, 1986 - a week after my 28th birthday - when the Mets won their last World Series. The engraving on the trophy had barely cooled off when, less than a month later, Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday bought the team from the publishing company and became 50-50 partners. It's been downhill since then, literally. The 1986 Mets were the best club in team history, and there really hasn't been a Mets team that was close to as good and as balanced as that championship team was.

The 90s were a bit of a horror show, but the decade culminated in a really fun team under manager Bobby Valentine. It didn't last long, however. The 2001 Mets were mediocre, and the 2002 Mets were a last-place team again. Late in the season, Wilpon bought out Doubleday, with the latter convinced that he wasn't treated fairly. Fred and Jeff were a father-and-son team of incompetence at that point. What we didn't know then, but would find out later, was that much of the money that was spent on the team in those years was financed by Bernie Madoff's pyramid scheme.

The consequences of that quickly became apparent when that house of cards came down in December 2008. The Mets' finances were irretrievably diminished, but Fred Wilpon's friendship with Bud Selig led to Fred and Jeff hanging on for an extra decade, with depressingly predictable results.

There have been a few short-lived periods of success over the years, but it's pretty fair to say that the more control the Wilpon family had over this team, the worse it's been for Mets fans. Only the presence of James Dolan in town saved them from being the undisputed worst team owner in New York, but that's only because Jimmy was able to screw up 2 teams.

Watching the Wilpon family doing a poor job of running the team was hard. The fact that their actions often made the club a laughingstock made it all that much harder. They made a lot of stupid mistakes, but you have to give them credit, they never seemed to learn from any of them. That Jeff Wilpon had an over-inflated sense of his self-worth and an almost total inability to stop rubbing most of the people who had to deal with him the wrong way was one of the worst-kept secrets in New York. Yet Fred seemed to be blind to his son's shortcomings, or perhaps he was just arrogant enough not to care.

None of us can claim to know what Steve Cohen might do once he takes over in November. I'm in the process of writing some pieces on what I might do if I were the lucky multi-billionaire to purchase the team. It's fun to do, and I have no shortage of opinions on the matter, but I am under no delusions that Cohen will do most of the things I come up with. He's a cipher to most of us at this point. We have real hopes that the keen mind that has made billions for himself over the years will implement the kind of structural changes needed to turn this organization into a consistent winner. He doesn't seem to be a huge attention seeker, which is good, because if he makes the right decisions in who he hires and what they implement, we'll be paying more attention to the team than to him.

I think my friend Greg Prince makes a pretty strong point about this stage of the relationship between Mets fans and their new owner:

Not being Wilpon is a great start for Cohen. As for the rest of it, only time will reveal that. I know I'm looking forward to getting to know the new owner better by watching the moves that he makes. As the Mets' last season under Wilpon ownership draws down to a last dreary, pathetic anticlimax, there is a reason to look forward with some genuine hope.

Please stay safe, be well and take care. And smile. For the first time in a very, very long time, it feels like a good time to be a Mets fan.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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