Lindor gets his lucre

341 million more seasons to smile than Lindor already had making himself a Met.

The night before Opening Day, Francisco Lindor went from prospective off-season free agent to a Met for life. The morning after Lindor became a $341 million Met, the anticipated enough Opening Day duel between Jacob deGrom and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer got postponed thanks to five Nats players and one team staffer testing positive for COVID-19.

Lindor was already the catch of the offseason when the Mets reeled him in from the Indians with pitcher Carlos Carrasco in exchange for Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, and two prospects. That one showed things stood a fine chance of being far different under the Steve Cohen regime than they were under the former Wilpon government.

But would the gigarich Cohen be willing to open the vaults deep to keep Lindor beyond his walk season? Turns out that he would, after a little tussling and a few hiccups. Especially after Lindor turned spring training into his personal coming-out party as a Met.

All Lindor wanted, it turns out, was for someone—preferably his new bosses—to acknowledge that, sure, Fernando Tatis, Jr.’s hot stuff and liable to stay that way, and sure, the Padres weren’t stupid to lock him down and make him a Padre for life, but there was someone else playing shortstop on the baseball street who’d shown and proven a little bit more (well, a lot more) than Tatis had just yet.

When the Mets first offered Lindor $325 million, Lindor—whose smiling style can provide alternative power in the event of a major blackout—said nice, but not so fast. He’d have had to be willfully blind not to notice the Padres invested $340 million in a shortstop who’s played just shy of a full season’s worth of games in two years. He wanted just a little bit more—$1 million more as things turned out.

A little nudge here, a little tug there, a little bump yonder, and Lindor got what he wanted. Just $1 million more worth of evidence that he’d done already what the Padres hope Tatis continues doing. Even if the tradeoff for getting just that much more acknowledgement meant Lindor also looks at $50 million deferred money.

“When it came to negotiating his contract, Lindor was comparable to Tatis only in the sense they play the same position,” writes Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. “Lindor, 27, was one year away from free agency. Tatis, 22, was four years away. And in terms of career accomplishment, Lindor had produced five seasons of at least 4.0 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs, and Tatis had yet to produce one.”

The thing they have in common otherwise is how much plain fun both Lindor and Tatis are to watch. They’re studies in controlled incendiaries at the plate; they’re studies in acrobatics at shortstop. So far. Barring catastrophic injury or other unforeseen unforced troubles, they’re likely to be that for a long enough time to come.

Lindor’s played six Show seasons; Tatis has played 143 Show games so far. This is how they compare in terms of my Real Batting Average metric: total bases (TB) x walks (BB) x intentional walks (IBB) x sacrifice flies (SF) x hit by pitches (HBP), divided by total plate appearances (PA):

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Francisco Lindor (6 yrs, per 162) 732 319 59 27 8 5 .571
Fernando Tatis, Jr. (143 games) 629 325 57 2 4 10 .633

Tatis is equivalent to the hot first-season wonder. Lindor’s a six-year veteran. If Tatis after six years shows an RBA of .571 or better, he belongs at Lindor’s level. But Tatis isn’t just going to have to keep it up at the plate. He’s going to have to step it up major bigtime in the field. For that equivalence of one season, Tatis has saved 18 runs below his league average. For six seasons, Lindor has saved 56 runs above his league average.

Tatis is the prodigy, the work in progress. Lindor’s the established positional model. If he’s aware that he’s proven himself a top-of-the-line all-around shortstop, you can’t blame him for believing the Mets—or his next employer, should he have chosen to play 2021 out and hit what might be a crowded offseason market throttled by dependence on the next CBA negotiations and outcome—should pay him just so.

Without Lindor’s presence the coming shortstop division of the next free agent class is going to be formidable enough. Unless one of these players lands himself an extension to his liking before the 2021 season finishes playing out, here they are, according to RBA so far:

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Javier Baez 2708 1201 128 30 12 22 .504
Carlos Correa 2583 1089 272 17 27 15 .550
Corey Seager 2301 1034 207 15 12 16 .558
Trevor Story 2541 1228 213 10 9 21 .583
Francisco Lindor 3510 1531 284 27 36 25 .542

Story, of course, benefits from the Coors factor; neutralised and his RBA might be somewhere more between Lindor and Correa. Now, put them all in the field, see who’s saving runs how far above his league average, and it’s no contest:

Player TZR
Javier Baez +11
Carlos Correa +30
Corey Seager +23
Trevor Story +41
Francisco Lindor +56

With Lindor off the market, Story is the best all-around shortstop in the coming free agents’ class by the raw numbers, but that Coors factor may or may not factor likewise into whether his payday might come that close to Lindor and Tatis.

Tatis landing his Padres lifetime meant that Lindor’s market would take a big leap flying high. Now Lindor’s jumped the coming shortstop market up, of course. But—assuming the CBA negotiations don’t put any kind of crimps into the real market values of players—Baez, Correa, Seager, and Story may see better dollars than they thought they’d see without getting close to Lindor’s bank account to come.

Assume a fair market and intelligence to match coming for argument’s sake. Story and Correa should see larger lucre than Seager and Baez. But that’s only on assumption. We don’t know yet what the coming CBA will deliver.

The bad news is that I’m pretty sure of one thing the coming CBA won’t deliver. The Major League Baseball Players Association isn’t likely to even think about revisiting the player pension plan and giving a reasonable shake to the class that was frozen out of the plan’s 1980 re-alignment capriciously and unfairly: short-career major league players from 1949-80.

Those players include a small handful of one-time Mets. Players such as Bill Denehy, the pitcher traded to the Washington Senators after a single injury-disrupted season as a Met, so the Mets could bring Gil Hodges from Washington to manage them.

Players such as Bill Wakefield, whose lone major league season was as a Met reliever in 1964 when he set a team record for appearances. Players such as outfielder Rod Gaspar and infielder Bobby Pfeil of the 1969 Miracle Mets. Players such as 1970s outfielders George (The Stork) Theodore and Leon Brown. And more.

The 1980 re-alignment changed pension vesting to 43 days major league service and health care vesting to a single day’s major league time. But it excluded players with short careers who played between 1949 and 1980. Some who follow the issue believe one reason was that they were seen as little more than September call-ups, though most of the players frozen out made teams right out of spring training.

The sole redress those players have received since comes from a 2011 deal between then-commissioner Bud Selig and then-players union director Michael Weiner: they have the pre-1980 short-career players $625 per quarter for every 43 days major league service, up to four years worth. The bad news: it doesn’t allow the players to pass those dollars to their families upon their deaths. The worse news: Weiner’s own death, taking further chances for better redress off the table so far.

Cohen has shown he wasn’t kidding when he said he was willing to spend and invest reasonably in reviving the Mets and securing them as a competitive Show team. Perhaps if the players union continues refusing to do better by the short-career players frozen out of the full pension realignment, Cohen—like me, a Met fan since the day they were born—might think about doing something better just for his own former Mets.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: It’s worth considering, and doing. Think about the props Cohen would earn if he, an owner, starts with his own team what the union still won’t think about with all 614 remaining un-pensioned short-career major leaguers. Maybe he’d inspire other owners with comparable dollars and love of the game to do likewise for theirs.

Denehy, Wakefield, Gaspar, Pfeil, Theodore, Brown, and other such short-term former Mets were among the players who supported the union during their major league lives, walking pickets, surrendering small incomes otherwise, the better to see the days when a Francisco Lindor could count before taxes on $341 million going into the bank thanks to a far more fair and open market than that in which they played.

Someone needs to make a serious move. If the union can’t or won’t, why not an owner? Especially one who’s been as unapologetic in his love for his team and the game as Cohen has been?

Old sexts mean new unemployment

Imagine for one moment an otherwise bright child who’s made mistakes as most children make, bright or otherwise. He comes home from whatever he was doing with his friends, but he discovers an old incident he thought passed without notice or consequence was now unearthed, and his father demands accountability.

Let’s say it was something like giving a push back to that cute but obnoxious little girl who decided the way to make friends and attract the opposite sex was to push, shove, or even punch. He took it long enough because he was taught young gentlemen do not push, shove, or punch young ladies, but he finally got fed up with this particular chick who didn’t know the meaning of the words “knock it off.”

Nobody was truly harmed. It’s not as though she’d shoved him out of third-story windows, it’s not as though he finally dragged her to the nearest open window on the sixth floor. But somebody, who knows whom, let the ancient push back slip within his father’s earshot, and Dad confronts him subsequently giving him minus two seconds to explain himself.

Aware that the conversation is about a comparatively ancient error, he gives the deets straight, no chaser, certain that no father in his right mind would even think about punitive action regarding such a cobwebbed misstep. But he discovers the hard way how wrong he is when Dad pounces, pronounces him grounded for the rest of the forthcoming month, and fans his behind rather mercilessly for an exclamation point.

The boy repairs to his room with more than just a chastened ego and a very sore bottom. He’s between rage and sorrow because it was only a foolish mistake, not exactly the crime of the season. He pushed back after taking it long enough, but it didn’t make him any less a young gentleman or prove he had murder in his heart.

You might want to contemplate that when you wonder whether the Mets went a few bridges too far firing general manager Jared Porter Tuesday morning—almost a fortnight after he and the Mets delivered the trade of the winter bringing Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco aboard—over infractions he committed while he was the Cubs’ director of professional scouting four years ago.

Our hypothetical push-back kid merely responded in kind at long enough last. Porter wasn’t pushed. He sent, shall we say, naughty/nasty sexual images among 62 text  messages to a young woman working as a reporter whose only provocation, if we can call it that, was exchanging business cards on the pretext of coming discussion about international baseball scouting.

The lady discovered the hard way that Porter had amorous designs upon her and didn’t readily take “no” for an answer or ignorance as a subtle hint.She was a foreign correspondent come to the United States for the first time, assigned specifically to cover the Show. She had no idea going in that she’d run into more than a few Porter screwballs on the low inside corner.

“The text relationship started casually before Porter, then the Chicago Cubs director of professional scouting, began complimenting her appearance, inviting her to meet him in various cities and asking why she was ignoring him,” say ESPN writers Mina Kimes and Jeff Passan. “And the texts show she had stopped responding to Porter after he sent a photo of pants featuring a bulge in the groin area.”

Kimes and Passan say ESPN knew of the Porter texts to her in December 2017 and thought about reporting them until she told the network she feared her career would be harmed. She has since left journalism, though Kimes and Passan say she’s kept in touch with ESPN concurrently and went public only under anonymous cover, fearing backlash in her home country.

“My number one motivation is I want to prevent this from happening to someone else,” she’s quoted as saying. “Obviously, [Porter]’s in a much greater position of power. I want to prevent that from happening again. The other thing is, I never really got the notion that he was truly sorry.

“I know in the U.S., there is a women’s empowerment movement. But in [my home country], it’s still far behind,” she continued. “Women get dragged through the mud [in my country] if your name is associated with any type of sexual scandal. Women are the ones who get fingers pointed at them. I don’t want to go through the victimization process again. I don’t want other people to blame me.”

The Mets hired Porter in December, from the Diamondbacks, for whom he worked as an assistant GM since 2017. On Monday night, Porter told ESPN that yes, he’d texted with her, but no, he hadn’t sent any pictures, until he was told their exchanges included selfies and other images, at which point he said, “the more explicit ones are not of me. Those are like, kinda like joke-stock images.”

Mets owner Steve Cohen isn’t exactly laughing, tweeting Tuesday morning, “We have terminated Jared Porter this morning. In my initial press conference I spoke about the importance of integrity and I meant it. There should be zero tolerance for this type of behavior.” Especially since, speaking metaphorically, the lady didn’t exactly push, shove, or punch Porter first all those years ago.

The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal says the lady had an ally in a baseball player from her home country, who helped her create a rather forceful message to Porter back when that Porter didn’t exactly heed at first: “This is extremely inappropriate, very offensive, and getting out of line. Could you please stop sending offensive photos or msg.” He’s said to have apologised to her much later.

“Colleagues of mine who are women use words such as ‘tired’ and ‘exhausted’ to describe their daily struggle to be treated the same as men, to command the same respect when they walk into a clubhouse, to do their jobs without facing sexual provocation,” Rosenthal adds. “They are professionals, not playthings.”

It’s one thing to ask a lady for a date. It’s another thing to try your best to change her mind if she says “no.” But turning from there to hot pursuit sexting is something entirely different and disturbing.

The Mets were unaware of Porter’s sexually explicit hot pursuit until Monday. They cut Porter loose early enough the morning after. A 7:30 a.m. Eastern time firing happens when enough New Yorkers have barely finished coffee at the breakfast table before rumbling out  hoping for just a little more snooze on the subway before work.

Some think the Mets could have been aware of Porter’s old lewd hot pursuit sooner. Some think Cohen and company have surrendered to cancel culture, to which Cohen had a reply when one indignant tweeter demanded to know Porter’s path to redemption “now that his life has been ruined.”

“I have no idea,” Cohen replied, though surely he knows Porter’s redemption is likelier to come away from baseball than within it, as second chances so often do. “I have an organization of 400 employees that matter more than any one individual. No action [taken] would set a poor example to the culture I’m trying to build.”

A subsequent tweeter isolated a parallel point addressed directly to the demand for a path to redemption: “As someone who is 100% opposed to cancel culture, this is a ridiculous thing to say. Jared brought this on himself. His path to redemption is on him. This has nothing to do with cancel culture.”

Others think the Mets in the Cohen era have now become the essence of decisive action when made aware of such wrongdoing. The joke is kinda like on Porter now. But nobody’s laughing.

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.

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* 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.