Meet the Mets! Meet the Mets! (Perspectives on the Sale of the Mets)
By Paul Semendinger (December 2019 and November 7, 2020)
(The framework of this article appeared as a post last December. Now that Steve Cohen has taken full control of the Mets, the article is worth re-visiting.)
There was some big news that came out of Flushing, New York yesterday having to do with that other baseball team in New York, the Mets. It seems that plans are in the works for the Mets franchise to be sold to billionaire Steve Cohen.
Why, would we, as Yankees fans care about this? What does this have to do with the Yankees?
I think it could actually mean a lot.
The following passages come from some of the articles linked above:
“Bringing on Cohen may signal a turning point in how the franchise spends.” (Bloomberg News)
“The Wilpon-era Mets, particularly since the Madoff scandal, have been hamstrung by the Wilpons’ apparently limited budget. Just Wednesday, they lost starting pitcher Zack Wheeler to the Phillies in free agency. At the beginning of the decade, the Mets’ payroll shrunk by nearly half as Fred Wilpon himself admitted “We were still getting revenues, lots of revenues, but those revenues were going to pay off debt.” (NY Daily News)
“The Wilpons have long-been criticized for an apparent unwillingness to spend the big bucks necessary to keep the the team competitive, despite being in the New York market.” (NY Post)
All of this made me pause and think a bit as the news of the potential sale came down…
The names Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden don’t mean as much today as they did in the mid-1980s. At all. In fact, those names actually bring up memories or analogies totally different from what those names represented in the years from 1984 through 1987 (or so…).
Most fans today were too young, or not even born, to remember (or even know) that for a period of time in the mid-1980s, the New York Mets owned New York City baseball. And the brightest stars, the superstars on those teams, in fact (sorry Don Mattingly), the biggest and greatest stars in the city were Strawberry and Gooden. In fact, it wasn’t even close. The Mets dominated New York sports – they were The Show. The Yankees were a distant second fiddle.
There was a time, and it didn’t last long, when the Mets were New York City baseball. The Mets were great. They were exciting. They won. They had energy and fun and they were loved – by so many.
Yes, the Mets owned the city.
Of note, for clarity, the Yankees of that period were actually a very good team with their own superstar players. Fans today hear of, or recall, the 1980s incorrectly in relation to the Yankees. People think the Yankees of the 1980s were a terrible team. They weren’t. They had stars galore, lots of promise, and the did win – a lot. They just didn’t win any pennants in those pre-Wild Card days. Of note:
1984 Yankees: 87-75 (3rd Place)
1985 Yankees: 97-64 (2nd Place)
1986 Yankees: 90-72 (2nd Place)
1987 Yankees: 89-73 (4th Place)
The Yankees of those years had Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Ron Guidry, Dave Righetti, and others. They were good, real good… they just weren’t great. With no Wild Card, the 1985 and 1986 teams went home at the end of the season. In today’s world, they might have reached or won the World Series.
The Yankees were fun to watch. Mattingly was setting records, winning Gold Gloves, earning an MVP. Rickey Henderson was stealing bases all over the place. Dave Righetti set the All-Time Single Season Saves record. Ron Guidry won more than 20 games in 1983 and 1985…
The Yankees were really good, but they weren’t the Mets.
The Mets owned New York. Big Time.
In 1986, the Mets (2,767,601) outdrew the Yankees (2,268,030) in total attendance. Look at the numbers, the Mets outdrew the Yankees by more than 500,000 fans. The Mets’ attendance was greater than the Yankees every year from 1984 to 1992. The first New York team to draw more than three million fans was the 1987 Mets. It wasn’t the Yankees. It was the Mets who owned New York.
I recall some special aired on WFAN, New York’s only sports talk radio channel at the time, that aired in the mid-to-late 1990s. A caller asked what the biggest stories were that WFAN covered; who were the biggest sports personalities of the day? The hosts at the time (I don’t remember who they were specifically) announced, plainly, as an obvious truth, that the player who always created the most interest among all in sports was Darryl Strawberry. The Straw Man was that big. He was New York’s biggest sports story – for a long long time.
All of this to say that there was a period, brief as it might have been, when the Mets owned New York and the Yankees played second fiddle. We haven’t seen days like those in over thirty years, but with a new owner in Queens, an owner with deep pockets and a willingness to spend, the Mets could actually become relevant again – much more relevant than they’ve been, even in the last few decades when they’ve won or reached the World Series.
The Mets could once again own New York…
If the Yankees let them.
And I just don’t think the Yankees will be willing to let that happen. Hal Steinbrenner remembers when the Yankees played second fiddle. He wasn’t the owner then, but you can be sure that he knew all about it – because this bothered his father, a lot.
The only way for the Yankees to combat the Mets’ new super rich owner will be for the Yankees to stay great, to stay competitive, and to be a championship club – a dynamic and fun championship club.
And the only way for the Yankees to do that, I think, is for them to spend the big bucks, when necessary, to land the big talent. The Yankees have to be smart. We don’t want them spending foolishly or unwisely, but when talents like Gerrit Cole become available, a direct competition with the Mets might make the Yankees more willing to spend big to get those players. In order for the Yankees to remain baseball’s biggest and best team, they will have to go full throttle to stay there. The Yankees won’t be able to dominate as New York’s biggest and most popular team if the Mets find that old energy and rekindle their now dormant fan base.
I have to wonder, if Steve Cohen owned the Mets during the 2018-19 off-season, if Bryce Harper and Patrick Corbin would have been on his radar. If those players had the opportunity to sign for big dollars to play in New York, but not for the Yankees, rather than in Philadelphia or Washington, would the Yankees have been more in the game. Might both of those players be Yankees today if there was a bidding war, brought on by the Mets, that the Yankees refused to lose?
There was a time when the Yankees were New York’s second biggest baseball story.
The potential exists for those days to return.
I would assume that the new Mets ownership is going to want to make a big splash and will seek to create headlines as they go for championships. This is going to force the Yankees to do the same.
The days of the Luxury Tax defining the limits of the Yankees’ spending might be over. The tax might hurt the Yankees’ bottom line, but it won’t impact them as much as playing second string to the Mets in baseball’s biggest city would.
The Mets sale will probably help to open a new dawn in the Yankees world, even today.
If the Mets become great, the only way for the Yankees to be baseball’s biggest team is to be greater.
It’s no fun being New York’s second best team.
And that’s GREAT news for Yankees fans.
Let’s Go Mets!
And then, Let’s Go YANKEES!!!