A few weeks ago, I was asked by my good friend David Kessler to serve as a featured speaker at an event at Temple Am Echad in Lynbrook, NY.
My choice for the presentation was entitled “Baseball: The Sport Of Perspective”, during which I discussed the unlikely and hugely successful pairing of Christy Mathewson and John McGraw with the New York Giants.
I also detailed the incredible and tragic story of Babe Dahlgren, his grandson Matt’s heroic efforts to tell the true story of his grandfather’s MLB career, and Branch Rickey’s active role in the baseball-wide character assassination of a proud man.
The gentlemen in attendance seemed very interested in both subjects, and in the subsequent Q&A, asked several questions about each.
But then someone asked about the current situation of the New York Mets, and things got really interesting.
The ownership of Fred Wilpon really began when his right-of-first refusal clause ambushed Nelson Doubleday during the sale of Doubleday Publishing.
At the time, Mr. Doubleday was selling the publishing company that owned the Mets to the German firm Bertelsmann A.G. But Mr. Wilpon had a right of first refusal in the event of any sale of the team, and his lawyers made it clear he was ready to exercise it. In a settlement, the two men agreed to become equal partners, paying Bertelsmann $81 million for the team. It has been said that Mr. Doubleday never forgave Mr. Wilpon.
– NY Observer, Andrew Rice, 10/29/2000
That was 1987. Since then, the Frank Cashen-built club would have one last hurrah with the NL East title in 1988, wild-card berths in 1999-2000 (the latter resulting in a NL pennant before losing to the Yankees in the World Series) and a NL East title in 2006.
The franchise would also endure some of the most embarrassing periods in its history; and most, if not all of the idiocy can be laid at the door of the Wilpons.
George Steinbrenner, who Jeff Wilpon desperately wants to be (and has even said so, at least according to one Mets insider) had a sign on his desk; “Lead, Follow, Or Get The Hell Out Of The Way”
Jeff, if you want to be like the Boss, then start acting like it. For real.
Whether or not 2010 will prove to be another 1996 or 2001 will not be determined by the players, Jerry Manuel, or even Omar Minaya.
Only Jeff Wilpon can directly affect the direction this franchise will take over the five years; because he is the one who makes every single decision the Mets make; on or off the field.
LEAD – Anyone who believes Jeff Wilpon sits in his office at Citi Field and allows Omar Minaya or his staff to make unilateral decisions is still on line at the Shake Shack. Frighteningly thin-skinned for the scion of a powerful baseball family, Jeff needs to lead. He needs to be out in front, and critics be damned. The majority of the fanbase already loathes the Wilpons, so what’s the difference? If not, he can just …
FOLLOW – Omar Minaya is a lovely man. He is a terrible GM, whose mistakes far outweigh his successes (and have been far more costly). Like his father, Jeff Wilpon fancies himself a savvy baseball man, and favors an “old school” approach to the GM’s office. It’s not working, and the Mets have never had the courage to hire an “outside man” lime Pat Gillick or Andy McPhail, who have a genuine track record. Maybe for the right type of incentive, a Terry Ryan, a Gerry Hunsicker (who they passed over once before), could be convinced that they would get to run the baseball operation, and their long line of accomplishment would allow Jeff to gain some experience in building a winner. Sadly, that approach would likely last about six weeks, so that would mean that Jeff would have to …
GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY – This, unfortunately, is the most unlikely of these above unlikely scenarios. But really, if the Wilpons really want to win a World Series, build a contending team with a fruitful farm system and be the toast of New York, they have to be removed from the baseball side. The solution is simple, easily attainable and a lot cheaper than Minayaball:
Hire a sabermetric-friendly GM who has a healthy enough ego to surround himself with a diverse and eclectic staff; a guy who has a solid record of player development, has made a bold trade or two and has the guts to be front and center of a major metropolitan franchise. Of course, being media savvy is important, and the corporate mentality of Wilpon World must also come into play.
But if recent history is any indication, expect another former (or current) Mets assistant GM to get the job, but only after the lame duck manager is fired and replaced by an amiable interim GM who will get the team to play passably enough to get a two-year contract.