Met fan Cohen, athwart Met fans’ impatience

Steve Cohen, an owner who believes a jump into the pool requires water in it first.

“I don’t need to be popular,” tweeted Steve Cohen, the so-far very popular new owner of the Mets, on Monday. “I just need to make good decisions.” Apparently, there were enough Met fans thinking Cohen needed to make decisions, period, in the wake of the Padres’ wheeling and dealing and the Mets deciding not to join the hunt for Japanese pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano.

Cohen’s apparent watchword is, “If Rome wasn’t built in a day, the Mets won’t be reinforced in a week.” Met fans drained from years of Wilpon family follies say the American prayer: “Lord, grant me patience—and I want it yesterday.” For Cohen, that’s about as funny as passengers booked for seafaring passage aboard torpedoes.

When the Padres blew up the hot stove with deals making Padres of Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, Met fans felt the old familiar itch to do. something. anything. like yesterday. They forgot for the moment that, before the Padres wheeled and dealt, the Mets were the most active on this winter’s odd market.

I guess on to another pitcher. @StevenACohen2 well I guess McCann and May is it for us. Time to hibernate until Spring Training,” tweeted one such fan. To which Cohen had a polite but snappy retort at once: “That’s the spirit, just give up and go to sleep.”

From the moment his purchase of the Mets was affirmed, Cohen has been singular among baseball owners for putting himself out to engage his team’s fans. He has solicited their input and suggestions. It doesn’t mean he’s inclined to suffer fools, gladly or otherwise, even if they forget that he has been a Met fan himself—like me, since they day they were born.

He knows he has a team to reinforce. He knows his amiability has made him something customarily alien to baseball owners: beloved, so far. He doesn’t want to go from there to public enemy number one, but neither does he want to step imprudently into any one of several abysses.

The New York Post‘s Joel Sherman has also caught onto Met fans’ indignation: he’s been receiving no few tweets and e-mails “wondering whether Steve Cohen is the Wilpons, just hoarding a larger stash of money.

“After all,” he continues, “why was George Springer not under the Christmas tree? Why wasn’t Trevor Bauer provided to joyously greet 2021? Why James McCann and not J.T. Realmuto [behind the plate]?”

Sherman notes what such fans forget. This winter’s free agency market, for various reasons, has been about as swift as a number 7 train with a wheel chip on each car. The Mets handing James McCann $40 million for four years is both the most free agency money invested this winter and the longest contract done yet for non-foreign free agents, Sherman reminds you.

“Cohen’s promise was that the Mets would spend like a big-market team, and he should be held to that promise,” Sherman writes. “But that promise has not been broken this offseason. At least not yet.” And Cohen did not become wealthy because he reads markets the way old television jokes read Romeo and Juliet: “Two crazy kids ran off together and died.”

He’s willing to spend but not like the proverbial drunken sailor. For one thing, Cohen knows the Mets’ farm system, what will remain of it after the Show finishes its more than slightly mad stripping of the minor leagues, needs replenishment if not a mild overhaul. For another, he knows a healthy farm often leads to healthy reinforcements either by promotion to the Mets or in deals that bring healthy reinforcements if not fresh prime.

“Hey, Give the Padres credit,” Cohen tweeted after one of the Friars’ two splashy trades. “They had a top 5 farm system that gave them flexibility to trade for Snell. Newsflash, the Mets farm system needs to be replenished.”

News flash, further: Met fans may have the patience of piranha at meal time, but Cohen has no patience for falling into the position of bidding against himself. “The Blue Jays are the only other club known to want to spend lavishly in free agency,” Sherman observes, “but historically it has been difficult to lure top free agents to Canada. Cohen will have to believe that a Springer or a DJ LeMahieu is really going before he considers that game of chicken. There certainly are quieter suitors. But, again, none of the remaining big free agents will be signing without hearing Cohen’s last and best. He will not do a deal he calculates as bad just to stop the noise of even impatient Mets fans.”

Cohen’s memory, like mine, surely harks back to the 1980s when another New York team, owned by a man to whom patience was a vice, jumped into the market pools as often as not before checking to see the water level. For every Catfish Hunter, Rickey Henderson, and Dave Winfield, there were a few too many Dave Collinses, Joe Cowleys, Don Gulletts, Steve Kemps, Dave LaPoints, Bob Shirleys, and Ed Whitsons.

Cohen also knows that, with one or two outlying exceptions, the Yankees’ greatest successes in the free agency era have come by way of a homegrown core blended with a little smart horse trading. Yap all you want about them trying to buy pennants, but when the Yankees spent the biggest in the open market they didn’t reach the Promised Land to which Yankee fans believe they’re entitled every year.

When another fan tweeted to Cohen, “What exactly are we doing? Is James McCann really going to be our biggest pickup this offseason? Please say no,” Cohen replied, “Let me put it differently. Don’t you think someone will take our money? It just has to make sense.”

The last time any Met administrator spoke about “making sense” was when?

The Mets know their starting pitching can’t stop at Jacob deGrom, re-signed Marcus Stroman, David Peterson, due-to-return Noah Syndergaard, and just another body. Seth Lugo is far better suited at the rear end of the bullpen, which also needs all the reinforcement/replenishment it can get.

They also have a very solid core around the field and at the plate, and McCann is a big upgrade behind it. But if they really want to go in for George Springer, they need to decide who’s the expendable one to slot Springer into their outfield. They need to decide how to make things work otherwise so Jeff McNeil can be restored to his natural infield habitat.

They need to decide whether Cohen’s determination to replenish the farm is worth casting eyes upon Springer, Trevor Bauer (pitcher), and D.J. LeMahieu (middle infielder). That trio, Sherman reminds us, got qualifying offers from their 2020 teams, meaning the Mets lose draft picks if they sign any or all of them. For farm replenishment, that’s not an option. If they can only afford one big ticket, Springer may yet be their prime target. May.

Cohen and the Mets also need to find a way to help commissioner Rob Manfred off the proverbial schneid and into the right decision about last year’s experimental rules. So does, well, every other Show team. You’d like to think that even ownerships as determined to tank as Cohen isn’t don’t want to embarrass themselves entirely.

In with the universal designated hitter, once and for bloody all, and out with the other nonsense. Among other salutary things—such as an end to the lineup slot wasted by spaghetti-bat pitchers, and rallies murdered when enemy pitchers work around that potent number eight bat to strike out their counterparts—it’ll keep Dominic Smith’s bat in the lineup without having to sacrifice Pete Alonso’s bat (yes, children, Alonso’s 2020 was an aberration of a down irregular season) at first base.

Cohen seems determined to avoid the comedies of errors committed by prior team ownerships and administrations. He resists the temptations to which too many Met fans would be prone if placed into his position for even one week. A man who speaks about making sense is a man who earns a very wide benefit of the doubt.

Speaking for myself alone, now, I have a wish of my own for Cohen. It has nothing to do with wanting him to slip into a sailor’s uniform, get himself bombed out of his trees, and throw dollars around the free agency market like they were just blasted out of a pinata.

My wish is that Cohen might consider a gesture on behalf of more than a few of the Met players he, like me, grew up watching and rooting for in the 1960s and 1970s. Players whose major league careers were kept too short for assorted reasons. Players who were frozen out unconscionably when, in 1980, owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association re-aligned baseball’s pension plan.

The re-alignment awarded pensions to players after 43 days’ major league service (previously, a player needed four years) and health benefits after a single day’s major league service. But it didn’t apply to short-career major leaguers who played between 1949 and 1980.

For those short-career players, their sole redress was a 2011 deal between then-commissioner Bud Selig and then-players union director Michael Weiner, a deal giving them $625 per quarter for every 43 days’ major league time they had, up to four years’ worth. The kicker, right in the pants, is that they can’t pass that money to their loved ones if they pass before they stop collecting the money.

Several former Mets are among what are now 618 such short-career players without full pensions other than what they receive under the Selig-Weiner deal. They include pitchers Bill Wakefield, Bill Denehy (traded to Washington in exchange for manager Gil Hodges) and Jack DiLauro (a 1969 Met, though not in the postseason), infielder Bobby Pfeil (another Miracle Met), outfielders Rod Gaspar (still another Miracle Met) and George (The Stork) Theodore, and others.

Denehy, Pfiel, and Gaspar have each told me in interviews they believe that, if Weiner had lived (he died of brain cancer in 2013), he would have worked to go further with such pension redress. The players union since has taken little to no interest in such redress; neither, apparently, does the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.

But Marvin Miller, the late pioneer of the players union, is known to have said that not re-visiting the 1980 pension changes on behalf of the short-termers was his biggest regret. And if the Show has now conferred proper formal, official major league status on the seven known Negro Leagues we believed to our souls contained major leaguers all along, it should be known that there are African-American and other minority players among the frozen-out 618.

I’m not a man who believes I have the right to tell anyone else how to spend his or her money or where to channel their resources. Nor do I believe I have the right to choose another person or group’s obligations, moral or otherwise. But Gaspar had a point when he told me, last month, “They have so much money, the owners, the players’ union, they have so much money, how much money would it cost them to give the [pre-1980 short-career] guys who are still alive the pension?”

It would be a phenomenal gesture on Steve Cohen’s part if he should think well, by himself, of doing something solely for the short-career, pre-1980, former Mets affected negatively by that pension change. If nothing else, the image augmentation would be invaluable—an owner doing what the players union and alumni association either can’t or won’t.

Should Cohen consider it, however he might choose to do it, it might even kick off a wave among his fellow owners to do likewise for their teams’ frozen-out, pre-1980 short-career former players. Might. Quick: Name one owner who wouldn’t mind making the players’ union look a little foolish.

No, no—a thousand times, no

Steve Cohen’s purchase of the Mets closed Friday. Almost at once, Cohen became the Mets’ version of the Hoover—beating, sweeping, cleaning. He flipped team president Sandy Alderson’s switch and Alderson hit the carpet roaring.

General manager Brodie Van Wagenen? Hasta la Volkswagen. Special assistant and former GM Omar Minaya? Gone. Assistant GMs Allard Baird and Adam Guttridge? Bye, bye, birdies. Executive director of player development Jared Banner? Dearly departed.

So said ESPN’s “news services” within a blink of the Cohen purchase closing. And then, a red flag: “Friday’s moves make [manager Luis] Rojas’ future uncertain. Fired Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, who completed a season-long suspension last week, could be a candidate for the analytics-oriented Cohen.”

Met fans celebrating the official consecration of Cohen as the new owner and that feeling of relief with the eighteen-hundred-ton Wilpon truck finally pulling away and off their backs should be hollering, “Danger, Will Robinson!”

They should remember that Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez and their gang probably got spurned as potential Met buyers not just because they couldn’t round up the full dollars but because A-Rod was foolish enough to seek informal administrative counsel from Luhnow, while Luhnow remained under suspension and J-Rod were still in the running to buy the team.

They should remember that seeking Luhnow’s advice on baseball operations compares to seeking marital counseling from Zsa Zsa Gabor.

They should remember that Luhnow continues blaming God’s will or any and everybody else for the Astrogate debacle that brought that a world champion and American League West dominator not to its knees but to a stance of defiance despite being exposed as particularly extralegal electronic video cheaters.

They should remember that, given another chance to own up, Luhnow lied to Houston NBC reporter Vanessa Richardson when he said, “Whether it’s the players or the video staffers, they just decided on their own to do it and that’s a shame, because had they come and asked me for permission I would have said no. Had they gone and asked Jim for permission, he would have said no. There’s just no reason why that should have happened.”

They should remember that,  even before the advent of the Astro Broadcasting Company, Luhnow was exposed (by Wall Street Journal reporter Jared Diamond) as seeing and not rejecting a front office-developed algorithm, Codebreaker, that the intern showing it to him said could be deployed for off-field-based sign stealing.

They should remember that Luhnow’s Astro “culture” was well exposed as a result-oriented culture in which human relationships were cheap, disposable, and disregarded. ”Luhnow had all year to speak,” thundered baseball writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz in a delicious Twitter rant. “But as was the case throughout his tenure Luhnow is as calculated as ever. That’s why baseball folks throughout the country say he’s dismissive of traditional baseball folks, scouts, players, etc. He sees them as assets, people to manipulate.”

They should remember that Luhnow dismissed the near-complete opposition in his front office, when he dealt disgruntled relief pitcher Ken Giles for then-under-domestic-violence-suspension relief pitcher Roberto Osuna in 2018. And, that Luhnow tried to cover the hide of his then-assistant Brandon Taubman being so fornicating glad they got Osuna in the presence of female reporters after the Astros won the 2019 American League Championship Series.

They should remember that, when Luhnow said to Richardson, “there’s no reason why we needed to explore breaking the rules to gain an advantage, it made no sense to me,” it begged the question of why Luhnow didn’t kill the Astro Intelligence Agency in its Codebreaker crib.

They should remember that 2017 Astros designated hitter Carlos Beltran, hired by Van Wagenen to manage the Mets last fall, never got to manage even a single spring training game for the Mets—because Beltran’s own Astrogate culpability got him suspended for 2020, too.

They should remember that it’s one thing for the Tigers to hire a repentant A.J. Hinch, especially since he won’t be getting his second chance at the original scene of the crimes at which he looked the other way, mostly; but, it’s something else that the Red Sox re-hired Alex Cora, whose fingers were all the way in the Astrogate pie, while not quite being in the pie known as the Rogue Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring. Hinch and Cora are like the Watergate burglars but not the Big Enchiladas when all is said and done.

They should ask aloud that, if the new owner about whom they’re raving otherwise is as analytically inclined as advertised, Cohen shouldn’t even think of Luhnow and the stain he’d bring to the Mets, when there are likely a good number of candidates with the same inclination but a parallel respect for the humans who work or play under them and an equal disinclination toward cheating your way to the top.

They should insist that Cohen, who’s shown a remarkable agreeability to reasonable fan input, keep the house clean once he’s cleaned it up. That Cohen and Alderson should have but one thing to say about even the outside prospect of inviting Luhnow into his remaking/remodeling Mets: “No, no—a thousand times, no!”

Cohen asks Met fans for input

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The New York Post captures Steven Cohen and his wife, Amy, celebrating Cohen’s purchase of the team he’s rooted for since the day they were born.

Forget everything else since the World Series finished and ponder this. A fellow Met fan since the day they were born now owns the team. And he hit Twitter running over Halloween weekend, soliciting his fellow Met fans’ input on improving their experience as fans.

Social media has been with us by and large since about the turn of the century, or within the first few years. Until Steve Cohen did it, I don’t remember any incoming baseball owners jumping aboard Twitter, reviving a dormant account, and asking their new teams’ fans much of anything, never mind a question like that.

Some of the answers Cohen received during his weekend Tweet and greet were on the sublime side, as were his replies. “You’ve already done it by buying the team,” tweeted a user handled Austin. “Nah,” Cohen replied, “we can do more than that.” David Tratner, identifying himself as a former NFL public relations executive, tweeted, “Hire smart people in every area (which may include people already in the building).”  Cohen replied, “Hire them smarter than you. That has worked for me in the hedge fund biz.”

Except perhaps for that time when his old hedge fund outfit got spanked by the Securities and Exchange Commission over insider trading. Now, read carefully: Cohen himself was neither accused of nor charged with wrongdoing in that case. It didn’t stop assorted naysayers from screaming blue murder over the prospect of a “felon” becoming a baseball owner.

It also didn’t stop New York’s self-congratulatory mayor, Bill de Blasio, a man who illustrates wisdom by standing athwart it, from threatening at almost the eleventh hour to kill Cohen’s purchase of the Mets. Cloaking himself in doing “our due diligence,” de Blasio sought to use a customarily obscure clause in Citi Field’s land lease agreement with the city—empowering the city to block users known for (brace yourselves) “moral turpitude” from buying—to kill the sale. (The Mets actually own Citi Field through their Queens Ballpark Company subsidiary, but the city owns the land on which it sits.)

When de Blasio was quoted credibly as saying he didn’t want some “billionaire hedge fund” guy buying the Mets, nobody thought to ask, nor did he deign to say so far as is known, which kind of billionaire he preferred to buy the team. Finally, last Friday, the requisite majority of major league owners voted to approve the sale. Cohen thus got the next-best thing to every Met fan’s boyhood wish. If he couldn’t become a Met, at least he got to buy the team.

Some of the weekend answers Cohen got were on the ridiculous side, too, but you might have expected that. “We also don’t need a new analytics department,” tweeted a user handled LOLCOWBOYS—his @ account identifier indicated himself as a Yankee fan—after suggesting the Mets should sign such aging free agents as Yadier Molina and/or J.A. Happ. “Going old school works. Just ask A rod. You should hire A rod as head of the analytics department.”

Cohen didn’t answer that one. But when not rejecting the former Yankee whose powers of baseball analysis have been found very wanting of late, respondents urged the Mets away from baseball’s playing senior citizens: “For too long,” tweeted a fan named Pete, “the Mets have been a team where talent acquired was of the Player to be named to the DL later variety.

A considerable consensus urged Cohen to consider restoring the black alternate jerseys the Mets wore a decade ago. (Say I: No chance. Stick to those handsome blue alternates.) Another fan suggested installing markers in the parking lot, where Shea Stadium used to sit, signifying important moments and plays in Met history, such as the precise spot where left fielder Cleon Jones caught the final out of the 1969 World Series. (Sound as a nut.)

“I like that one,” replied Cohen. He also went on to promise a far better institutional job of honouring the better and more instructive sides of the Mets’ chameleonic history, adding that he’d even return the Mets’ annual Old-Timers Days on partial behalf of doing exactly that. “No brainer,” he said.

My own contribution to that cause was suggesting such uniform number retirements as David Wright (5), Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter (8), Dwight Gooden (16), should-be Hall of Famer Keith Hernandez (17), and Tug McGraw (45). Cohen didn’t reply to that one as I write, but a Twitter account identified as Carter’s gave it a like. My best guess is that the account based from Carter’s Palm Beach home belongs to his family. (He died at 57 in 2012.)

I should have made another suggestion, on behalf of such former Mets as pitcher Bill Denehy, outfielder George (The Stork) Theodore, and other pre-1980 Mets whose major league careers came and went in a blink for assorted reasons. So I’ll make it now.

Mr. Cohen, you have the kind of good will and resources to make something happen for Denehy, Theodore, and over six hundred other former major leaguers who, for reasons ranging from the nebulous to the ridiculous, got frozen out of a 1980 re-alignment of baseball’s player pension plan.

The owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to change the plan and make players’ vesting eligibility 43 days of major league service time instead of the original four-year service time requirement. They also agreed to a one-day service time requirement as vesting eligibility for health benefits. But they excluded short-career major leaguers whose short careers happened between 1949 and 1980.

That mistake affected over 1,100 former players in 1980; attrition since has reduced the number to a little over six hundred. Denehy* may be the best-remembered of the impacted former Mets: after an injury-blocked rookie season in 1967, the Mets traded him to the Washington Senators in order to bring their manager, Gil Hodges, back to New York to manage the Mets.

An unconscionable volume of cortisone injections following his original 1967 shoulder injury—which proved a rotator cuff tear, about which then-Met and other medical personnel were far less than truthful with him—have helped make Denehy legally blind since 2005 and place him now on the threshold of total blindness. He isn’t the only one of the six hundred plus pension freeze-outs with profound health issues.

Eight years ago, then-Players Association director Michael Weiner and then-commissioner Bud Selig got Denehy, Theodore, and their fellow pension freeze-outs a small but telling redress. They got those players $625 per quarter for every 43 days’ major league service time for up to four years. The kicker is that they can’t pass those monies on to their loved ones after they pass on. And they still can’t buy in to the players’ health plan.

“It was a nice gesture on the part of Weiner and Selig who, undoubtedly also realized it could hardly make up for all those lost years in which the pre-1980 players got bupkis,” wrote longtime New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden last February.

Just why those players were frozen out of the original 1980 re-alignment remains somewhat mysterious. Denehy, former Texas Rangers pitching phenom David Clyde, and other affected players have said they think many if not most involved in the re-alignment believed many if not most of those short-career men were little more than September call-ups.

Denehy made the 1967 Mets, the 1968 Senators, and the 1971 Detroit Tigers out of spring training. Clyde was signed for a six-figure bonus right out of high school and thrown onto the mound for the Rangers immediately, before the Rangers broke a promise to Clyde and manager Whitey Herzog to send him to the minors for proper seasoning after letting him start twice to goose the struggling Rangers’ gates.

More of the short-career men made clubs out of spring training than the owners and the union remembered or even cared to know. Eligible former players since 1980 collect their pensions whether they were blink-of-an-eye one-day fill-ins, short-term scrubs, long-term spare parts, long-term regulars, or Hall of Famers. Pension vesting isn’t tied to statistical achievement.

It’s rare enough to see a genuine fan grow up to become the owner of the team he grew up loving. (Like me, Mr. Cohen, you saw your first live Mets games in the ancient wreck of the Polo Grounds in 1962-1963.) It’s even more rare when such an owner actively solicits his fans’ input and doesn’t laugh them out of town for their answers.

Mr. Cohen, the worst kept secret on earth is that your pockets are deeper than the Atlantic Ocean. You don’t have to open them to every last one of the six hundred plus pension freeze-outs. If all you do is address Bill Denehy, George Theodore, and their fellow short-career pre-1980 Mets, you would throw down one of the most considerable gauntlets of your time.

“Realistically speaking,” Denehy told me this morning, “no one’s going to come in and bankroll the whole six hundred [plus] players. But if they just take care of the former players in their own organisations, it would be a great start and get the ball rolling a little bit.”

You made yourself an instant hero among Met fans with your weekend Twitter excursion, Mr. Cohen. For that alone, you may repeal the law that says no fan in the history of professional sports has ever bought a ticket to a game to see the team’s owner. (Frustrated 1980s Yankee fans buying into Yankee Stadium to boo, hiss, insult, or hang George Steinbrenner in effigy at the depth of his act notwithstanding.)

You might make yourself even more a hero taking that pension bull by the proverbial horns, especially if more Met fans really knew and understood what little the Denehys and Theodores and others ask for having played the game even briefly. It may help you to know that the late Players Association director Marvin Miller—who was finally elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously as a pioneer—is known to have said in his retirement that not revisiting the 1980 pension re-alignment on behalf of the short career freeze-outs was his biggest regret.

Moving to take care of just your Mets’ own short-career pension freeze-outs would put you even further on the side of the angels and challenge your fellow owners to take a second, third, and even fourth look at their own, Mr. Cohen. Those would be the most profound looks those former players have received in years.

And it would consecrate you, sir, as what your weekend Tweet and greet merely began, the man who started to clean up the New York Mess—and started to clean up a long, long overdue pension plan redress.

———————————————————————

* Fair disclosure: Since interviewing him for a 2019 essay—recalling his role in bringing Hodges to New York, his battles with substance abuse borne in due course of his rookie-season shoulder injury misdiagnosis, after he was subject to such a volume of cortisone shots that eventually contributed to the blindness with which he’s lived since 2005—Bill Denehy and myself have become friends.

Pending end of the Mets’ reign of error

Citi Field at dusk last week. Met fans hope Steve Cohen’s ownership means no more nightmares.

“In truth,” writes The Athletic‘s Marc Carig this morning, “there’s no way to know what kind of steward [Steve] Cohen will be. There’s no guarantee that his love for [the New York Mets] translates into success. There’s no promise that he uses his billions to boost payroll to a level appropriate for a team that plays its home games in New York.

“Of course, the bar he must clear to be an improvement over his predecessors isn’t very high.”

Indeed. Carig himself isolates the bar right after that observation. Promptly enough, he reminds Met fans who need no reminder, and fans elsewhere who think the Mets remain figments of someone’s warped tragicomic imagination, that the legacy of Fred Wilpon and his son Jeff since taking full ownership in 2003 has been reduced to the hash tag #LOLMets.

On Monday, there came the news that Cohen and the Wilpons finally came to a deal allowing Cohen to buy the Mets for $2.4 billion. The last doorway through which Cohen must pass is the approval of 23 of the remaining 29 major league owners. Donald Trump and Joe Biden have smaller chances of winning the coming presidential election than Cohen has of losing approval as the Mets’ new owner.

Cohen resembles more the genial neighbour ready to throw a few steaks on the grill for the whole block than a filthy rich financier. All he has to do to clear the Wilpons’ bar, really, is take even one baby step off the ground.

Since Nelson Doubleday sold his share of the Mets to the Wilpons in 2002, the Wilpons  have accomplished what many in New York once thought impossible. They made the worst of George Steinbrenner’s Yankee reign resemble Camelot. (The Arthurian, not the Kennedy.) “A one-man error machine,” George F. Will called Steinbrenner when the 1980s ended. With extremely few exceptions, the Wilpons have been a two-man forfeit.

“The GMs change. The managers change. The players change. But until now, what has remained the same are the owners, and their aversion to accountability, and their refusal to level with their fans,” Carig writes. Those very words could describe the 1980s Steinbrenner, except that even The Boss found ways to hold himself accountable, however long after the facts.

The stories from those who have lived through it sound the same. They describe a cover-your-ass culture, in which getting the job done often took a back seat to simply avoiding the wrath of Jeff Wilpon. They recount looking over their shoulders and trying to manage up — with varying degrees of success. It’s a dance that requires bandwidth that should be devoted to making the team better. After a while, it’s too exhausting. So many through the years have simply lost their ability to stomach that reality.

Carig knows not every last Mets problem since 2003 can be laid at the Wilpons’ feet, but it has seemed often enough as though every positive met ten negatives. “Upon buying out nemesis Nelson Doubleday,” the New York Post‘s Joel Sherman wrote after the buyout, “Fred Wilpon made bringing a sense of ‘family’ to the organization a priority. Little did we know he meant the Corleone family.”

Doubleday himself tried to warn anyone who’d listen, right after he sold out and when Jeff Wilpon was made the Mets’ chief operating officer: “Jeff Wilpon said he’s going to learn how to run a baseball team and take over at the end of the year. Run for the hills, boys. I think probably all those baseball people will bail.” Some learning.

A few years later, there came a move not even Steinbrenner thought of when he spent much of the 1980s throwing out the first manager of the season for reasons running the gamut from specious to capricious. Even Steinbrenner’s execution of Yogi Berra sixteen games into 1985 didn’t quite equal the Second Mets Midnight Massacre for disgrace because, as the New York Daily News‘s Bill Madden observed, at least Yogi got the guillotine in broad daylight.

Officially, then-Mets general manager Omar Minaya fired manager Willie Randolph—after he and the Mets flew from New York to southern California to open a series with the Angels, after the Mets won the series opener, and about three hours after midnight. All Minaya was was the caporegime carrying out the orders of underboss Jeff Wilpon and his father’s co-consigliere Tony Bernazard. (Beware, Mr. Cohen. That’s Bernazard now manning the first base coaching line for your Mets.)

Minaya and, really, all his successors holding the GM title found themselves, most of the time, doing just that, holding the title while Wilpon fils held and exercised the power while leaving them on (pardon the expression) the firing line. Cohen will do well and right to engage real baseball people with hearts and minds, the wills to exercise both, and no requirement for rear-view mirrors attached to their sunglasses.

Just promise Met fans, Mr. Cohen, that you’ll resist the temptation to mortgage the Mets’ future on behalf of the old Steinbrennerian tack, exercised too liberally too often by the Wilpons, of bringing in “name guys who can put fannies in the seats,” even if the name guys are on the threshold of the end of the line.

Or, demeaning the guys who still have miles to go before they sleep but discover the hard way that they could hit for the home run cycle (solo, two-run, three-run, salami) at the plate or throw a 27-pitch perfect game and still get a Wilpon boot heel in the backside, while wearing Met uniforms or when leaving for other, less capricious pastures. The trashing of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey upon his almost immediate departure was only the lowest of such lows.

The Wilpons’ monkey business management even impacted the Mets’ number one farm team. Why on earth did the Tidewater/Norfolk Tides move clean across the country to Las Vegas, to play in pleasant-stands/rickety field/hotter than hell Cashman Field? (They’ve since moved to Syracuse.) Wilpon fils soured the relationship with Norfolk, according to a Tides executive who spoke to Wall Street Journal reporter Brian Costa in 2013:

[C]ommunication with team officials became ‘virtually nonexistent’ . . . When he became involved in everything was when things changed. I dealt with him on some things and somebody always had to go to him if you wanted to do anything. He had his nose and hands in everything.

Don’t get anyone started on the Mets’ medical disasters of the past several years, either. The Wilpons, Jeff in particular, were seen micromanaging those, too, particularly the clumsy public relations side of them. You’d have been very tempted to think that Wilpon pere and fils alike believed to their souls that numerous avoidable Met injury complications, usually when players were back on the field sooner than reasonable, were either God’s will or the players’ faults.

Anyone else taking over a storied if troubled franchise would merely have his work cut out for him. Cohen may have to reach into a miracle bag right away. This year’s Mets—with a more solid core of younger talent than credited—might be in better postseason position if they hadn’t had a hiccuping bullpen much of the way or catchers who don’t seem allergic to hitting or to pitch calling and framing when working with arms not belonging to Jacob deGrom.

Small wonder that when the social media universe exploded with glee at the finality of Cohen meeting the Wilpons’ price the glee was mixed with a considerable majority of opinion that Cohen’s first order of Met business ought to be targeting and signing J.T. Realmuto, currently the Phillies’ catcher who becomes a free agent after the postseason.

(Codicil: If you must, get him for no more than three years. At 30, Realmuto isn’t likely to be serviceable behind the plate for too much longer, and the Mets already have a few DH types aboard. The starting pitching not named deGrom, Seth Lugo, or pending return Noah Syndergaard needs work. And keep an eye out for available young competent catching.)

How about a front office overhaul? Met fans drooling over Cohen’s advent probably have wet dreams about incumbent GM Brodie Van Wagenen’s departure. The team’s medical staff may or may not need yet another frame-up overhaul. If the Show repairs its relationship with the minor leagues, assuming the minors have a 2021 season to play at all, it wouldn’t hurt Cohen to deliver some badly needed damage control.

Like yours truly, Cohen is a Met fan since the day they were born. On such behalf could he also use his formidable resources as Carig suggests powerfully enough, “spend[ing] on areas not seen by fans. That goes beyond a heavier investment in analytics. It extends to scouting and player development. The Yankees and others have poured resources into those areas. There’s no reason for the Mets to lag behind. Cohen could make that change relatively easily, and almost instantly.”

The new owner doesn’t lack for his own baggage, of course. He’s tangled with the Feds over insider trading, though his old company SAC Capital was forced to yield $1.8 billion to pay a record fine while Cohen himself wasn’t accused of wrongdoing. All he had to do was not involve himself in managing outside investors’ money for two years, and he obeyed the order dutifully enough.

The Wilpons did dodge a howitzer shell by preferring Cohen over a group led by former All-Star Alex Rodriguez and his paramour Jennifer Lopez, who didn’t have enough to out-bid Cohen as it was, after all. A-Rod probably cooked their chances when it became known he sought the unofficial counsel of disgraced former Houston Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. Taking sound baseball counsel from Luhnow compares to studying human relations with Kim Jong-un.

But selling to J-Rod would also have meant not being rid of Wilpon fils entirely. From Daily News writer Deesha Thosar: “Jeff Wilpon desperately wanted the group led by [J-Rod] to take over because the couple, unlike Cohen, would have let him have an active role in the team. Right up until Monday evening, when Sterling Partners announced Cohen would purchase the Mets, Jeff Wilpon was the one propping up A-Rod in exchange for keeping a hand in operations.”

Perhaps in spite of themselves, the Wilpons leave that solid young Met core to Cohen’s stewardship. They also leave a crown jewel in Citi Field, which they built, but which they had to remake after discovering their original little palace played (and looked) more like Ebbets Field surrounding the Grand Canyon. The remake/remodel has done wonders, for the team on the field and the fans in the stands who love the current ambience and the culinary offerings alike, and can’t wait to come back when pandemic relief allows.

“[W]ith how the Mets are currently constructed,” writes Daily News reporter Bradford William Davis, “all the team needs to be turbocharged into a contender is above-replacement level ownership.”

Cohen merely has to do what the Wilpons mostly couldn’t, wouldn’t, or both: Fortify, deliver, and sustain a team as digestible as its ballpark without causing organisational or fan base indigestion. A man whose from-boyhood passion was merely born with Who the Hell’s on First, What the Hell’s on Second, You Don’t Want to Know’s on third, and You Don’t Even Want To Think About It’s at shortstop can’t do any worse. Can he?

Tempered joy in Metsville

Amed Rosario (arms up) gets a hero’s welcome after his walkoff bomb finishes a doubleheader sweep of the Yankees Friday night. Crowning a pair of surreal days for these surreal Mets.

When hedge fund titan Steve Cohen first emerged as a potential buyer of the New York Mets, I had a little mad fun with that news because we have a couple of things in common. Not financially, of course; Cohen can hand out in tips about a million times what I’ll ever be required to pay in taxes. But we have our mutual grounds regardless.

We’re both Long Island boys who’ve been Met fans since the day they were born. We both made our baseball bones on the original troupe about which it’s fair to say they were baseball’s anticipation of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. We both grew up or (in my case) finished growing up (har har) in Long Island towns with pronounced Mob connections.

Cohen grew up in Great Neck, where there lives the opulent wedding/bar-mitzvah factory emporium (Leonard’s) at which Johnny Sack asked Tony Soprano to perform a hit, a request made just before Sack was carted back to prison from his daughter’s wedding. Bronx native though I am, I finished growing up (snort) in Long Beach, also the home of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather.

Sorry, Mr. Cohen. My mob family’s Oscars can blow up your mob family’s Emmys.

But it looks at last as though Cohen will graduate from an eight percent stake to controlling ownership of the Mets, more or less as the last man standing. So that gives him more than one up, since the only piece of the Mets I own and can afford is a game hat.

Celebrity would-be buyers Alex Rodriguez, a former Yankee who actually grew up loving and hoping to play for the Mets one day (he actually had his chance, which either he or his then-agent blew like a ninth-inning Met lead), and his paramour Jennifer Lopez, pulled out of the bidding Friday. That may have been the first heavy sigh of relief from Met fans on the day.

Apparently, not even J-Rod could come up with quite the money needed to buy the Mets, whose incumbent Wilpon ownership has long enough been a two-man implosion machine. The J-Rod group would also have included one NFL owner (the Florida Panthers’ Vincent Viola), a BodyArmour founder (Michael Repole), and a WalMart e-Commerce U.S. wheel. (Chief executive officer Marc Lore.)

J-Rod said farwell to the bidding by observing they “submitted a fully funded offer at a record price for the team which was supported by binding debt commitments from JP Morgan and equity commitment letters from creditworthy partners.” The Athletic‘s Daniel Kaplan observes red flags:

[N]otable in the statement is a reference to debt and equity commitment letters from creditworthy partners. On the latter, equity commitment letters are different from money in the bank, and adding a lot of debt to a team that loses around $50 million per year, pre-COVID-19, is not a recipe upon which MLB may have looked fondly.

MLB isn’t “too keen on another [Derek] Jeter/Marlins where they had to scrape their last nickel to pay the purchase price,” a source close to MLB told The Athletic earlier this month, referring to the debt-heavy Marlins. “Especially for a major-market club that already has such large operating losses. Cohen’s checkbook is even more valuable in a COVID and post-COVID environment.”

Not that Kaplan missed red flags flying around Cohen himself, of course. Cohen’s former SAC Capital outfit copped to insider-trading charges and coughed up a record fine of $1.8 billion. Cohen himself wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, but in 2016 he had to agree to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s demand that he not manage the monies of outside investors for 24 months.

Just as problematic may be sex discrimination claims filed in Connecticut against Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management, which I noted myself during the week. Those don’t charge Cohen personally, but one filed in 2018 does, Kaplan writes, though he adds that later in 2018 “the parties voluntarily agreed to terminate the case and submit the case to arbitration, according to court filings.”

Buying an eight percent take in a major league franchise won’t place you under the proverbial microscope, but looking to become the controlling partner will. Baseball’s 23 other major league ownerships have to be edgy about welcoming to their often-dubious ranks a man whose history includes battles over financial crime and sex discrimination charges.

Fred Wilpon and his son, Jeff, haven’t been anywhere near such suspicions so far as anyone knows. They’ve been seen mostly as having been more dumb than dishonest regarding the Bernie Madoff scandal, in which they invested and took an extremely expensive bath. The same could be said for most of Madoff’s investors. But the fallout eventually amplified the Wilpons’ wounding flaws.

Their naivete about Madoff helped them leverage to make the notorious Bobby Bonilla deferred-compensation contract, compel them to pay a reported $29 million into the fund marked for compensating other Madoff victims, and force them “to borrow hundreds of millions more to cover debts they had made against their Madoff assets, [having] almost a major-league payroll’s worth of money due every year just in interest on those debts.”

In baseball terms, the Wilpons weren’t exactly geniuses, either. Before they bought out their original co-owner Nelson Doubleday, they tried to thwart a deal Doubleday wanted to make in the worst way possible. Lucky for them that wiser minds prevailed. That’s two wild cards, one pennant, and one World Series appearance—not to mention the post-9/11 shot heard ’round the world and a Mets hat atop his head—underwriting Mike Piazza’s Cooperstown plaque.

For every Piazza, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Johan Santana, and Billy Wagner deal, the Wilpons blocked exponential other solid signings and tradings their baseball brain trusts recommended or signed off on deals and trades about which “dubious” could be considered a compliment.

When Cohen first stepped into the Mets’ controlling partnership picture last winter, I remembered the Wilpons also doing once what some thought could never be done. They made George Steinbrenner himself, the man who threw out the first manager of the year during the 1980s, resemble the epitome of benevolence, with their despicable 2008 execution of manager Willie Randolph, his pitching coach Rick Peterson, and his first base coach Tom Nieto.

The guillotines dropped on the trio after the struggling Mets traveled all the way west from New York to play the Los Angeles Angels in an interleague set and won the first of the set. At three in the morning. It must have been enough to make Randolph, a longtime Yankee fixture at second base, nostalgic for The Boss’s Malice in Wonderland fun house.

Red flags or no red flags, the news that J-Rod dropped out of the Mets’ bidding does indicate the Mets dodging at least one bullet, if what I noted during the week is true and Rodriguez was taking informal counsel from disgraced former Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. Taking baseball administration counsel from Luhnow is like seeking family counseling from Ma Barker.

The news may also have had an effect on the Mets otherwise.

On Thursday, the night before J-Rod pulled out of the Mets’ running, the Mets’ front office botched almost completely a stirring protest gesture against rogue police and racism, when the Mets and the Marlins observed a moment of silence on field before walking off the field postponing their game.

But come Friday, as MLB commemorated its pandemic-delayed Jackie Robinson Day, and—tragically—the actor (Chadwick Boseman) who played Robinson so powerfully in 42 lost his battle against colon cancer the same day, the Mets swept a doubleheader from the Yankees in the Bronx.

The sweep finished when Amed Rosario, pinch hitting for starting Mets shortstop Luis Guillorme, caught hold of a hanging slider from Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman with pinch-runner Billy Hamilton aboard and sent it into the left field seats. A Mets team who entered the twin bill as the Show’s worst for hitting with men in scoring position (.199) went 5-for-12 in that situation Friday.

Come Monday is the reported deadline for new Mets ownership bids. Joy in Metsville about the end of the Wilpon era is probably tempered by their wish that a saviour with cleaner hands might enter at the eleventh hour. Such a saviour will need five king’s ransoms to out-bid the Long Island boy who once paid for a single painting what the Mets will have paid stud pitcher Jacob deGrom for the entire length of his current contract.

The Mets have been many things in their 58-year life. Dull isn’t necessarily one of them.