We saw a little preview of the upcoming CBA negotiations with the scuffle between players and owners regarding how the 2020 season would play out. And now we hear of another issue being potentially impacted by a looming labor crisis. In Thursday’s New York Post article by Josh Kosman and Thornton McEnery giving an update on the sale of the Mets, there was an ominous close to the piece. Here’s the final sentence:
The owners will want someone they can trust to help in their upcoming collective bargaining talks with the players, a source said.
There have been a few constants in the history of labor battles in MLB, even beyond the obvious one of owners trying to give the players the shortest stick imaginable. One of these is that while owners think they’ll be able to achieve their goals by dividing the players, the reality is that owners are always, always more of a fractured group.
You can find many examples of this but perhaps the best Mets-related one is back when Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon were co-owners, they backed different horses when it came to who would lead the owners in the future. Doubleday supported then-current Commissioner Fay Vincent while Wilpon aligned with then-Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig.
Unfortunately, Wilpon chose well.
Selig eventually became commissioner and Wilpon was repaid for his early loyalty at least twice. The first was when Doubleday decided to cash out. Selig helped Wilpon establish a “market value” for the franchise that any neutral observer would say undervalued the club tremendously. And the other obvious benefit came during the Madoff scandal, when Selig not only didn’t pressure Wilpon, he also extended his pal a loan from the central fund that seemingly came with an open ended repayment date.
Selig was an owner longer than Wilpon but essentially both were the “new guard” of owners, with neither being the traditional movers and shakers like the O’Malleys or the Busches. Selig was a hawk on labor issues and clearly was a big reason for the stoppages of ‘94-’95. But the sport enjoyed labor peace for nearly 25 years after that. It’s amazing how détente was achieved once Selig himself stopped sowing unrest.
We don’t have Selig to kick around anymore but we have one of his main hires in Rob Manfred. Meet the new boss – same as the old boss. And soon we won’t have Wilpon, either. But it sure sounds like MLB is plotting to replace Wilpon with someone who will be just as loyal and toe the official party line that the commissioner creates.
The Kosman and McEnery piece certainly made it sound like it would be tougher for Steve Cohen to become the new owner than others involved in the bidding. Here’s what they said about Cohen:
The question remains whether he can be approved to buy the Mets by the necessary three-quarters of MLB owners.
Soon the Wilpons, working with their adviser Allen & Co., are expected to poll MLB owners to see how comfortable they are approving Cohen, sources said.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred in February took the Wilpons’ side when talks with Cohen fell apart, saying, “The assertion that the transaction fell apart because of something the Wilpons did is completely and utterly unfair.”
We’re not privy to all of the details about how the original transaction between Wilpon and Cohen fell apart. No one should view it that Wilpon was 100% wrong and Cohen 100% right. But it sure sounds like MLB is putting the overwhelming percentage of blame on Cohen’s shoulders. And why would MLB do this?
Essentially, they want Cohen to kiss Manfred’s ring before they’ll allow him into the club.
Maybe it’s naïve of me to think that whoever becomes the Mets’ new owner should be loyal to the New York Mets and their fans rather than MLB. Clearly, that’s not the way this is going to play out. Perhaps the only question that matters is if Cohen – or whoever ends up as the new owner – can say all of the right things during the courtship but when push comes to shove be his own man once he’s approved.
Wilpon was involved in Mets ownership at varying levels for 40 years, which is impressive. What’s less impressive is how he actually ran the club, especially once he became sole owner. In addition to the post-Madoff shoestring budgets, there was the nepotism factor with giving his son Jeff such a prominent role in the club, despite him rarely, if ever, showing any aptitude for the job. And perhaps most damning was how he was always just a puppet for Selig.
Here’s hoping the new owner legitimately has deep pockets, has no incompetent offspring and will be a strong and independent advocate for what’s best for the New York Mets.