The 2012 Mets: Trusting Sandy Alderson

The two League Championship Series have just concluded and we’ll see a never-before matchup in the World Series. Texas-St. Louis offers a couple of fresh – and one most unlikely – faces on the national stage. This will be the first Series in recent memory in which both teams got there on the backs of their offense. “Pitching wins championships,” the hoary bromide goes, but neither team has shown that dominant, lock-down starting pitching which has been a hallmark of World Series winners past, save for Chris Carpenter’s performance against the Phillies – he said, hiding a giggle.

What does this have to do with the Mets and Sandy Alderson’s 2012 off-season plans? In a broad sense, this latest chink in the armor of “conventional wisdom” might bode well for whichever moves Alderson might make. If nothing else, it should take some of the pressure off. The recent Series and the popularity of the Moneyball film/book will allow for a lot of out-of-the-box thinking on several fronts, with a minimum of ridicule from all but the most entrenched troglodytes of the MSM. The Jose Reyes situation could go either way: in a decidedly un-scientific observation, there are equal numbers of Met fans who would keep him at all costs as would let him walk. That will be Alderson’s biggest decision of the off-season and after that, there are almost no bad moves Alderson can make, short of bringing back Jeff Francoeur, signing Mike Pelfrey to a 15-year extension or some other such ridicularity. He can cast a wide net and when something doesn’t work, he can cut bait quickly – as he showed a willingness to do this past season, with mulligans on Brad Emaus and Blaine Boyer. Beyond paying lip service to building up the system, the Alderson regime has actually taken steps to doing just that. It’s not the sexy way to build a team – we leave that to the guys across town, who, for all their regular season success this year, played a grand total of five more games than the Mets – but it is the most sustainable and cost-efficient. There are hardly any two more important words bandied about nowadays.

The question is this: will New York fans be patient with this? With this team, that’s the key ingredient. Ownership – such as it is – has shown themselves to have rabbit-ears when it comes to “the will of the fans.” If public perception turns against the admittedly slow-going process, there is a chance that the Wilpons may cashier Alderson and bring on a more malleable personality to steer the ship, even if they’re being pushed out the door. This, of course, would be the ultimate spiteful act and final proof that Jeff Wilpon is no more than a spoiled brat who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

So it’s up to us fans to trust the process. If mid-season 2011 is any indication, the attitude shift and the clubhouse fumigation begun with Terry Collins’ hiring and continuing with the installation of Bob Geren as bench coach, the process is well under way and should bear fruit sooner, rather than later.

I, personally, have no other choice.

Mets’ Ownership Situation Makes Forecasting That Much More Difficult

Over my last couple of pieces, I’ve tried to get a pulse on what the Mets’ 2012 season might look like. It’d be easier to predict tomorrow night’s lottery numbers.

It’s always a tricky thing to try and guess what will happen down the line. The best anyone can do to predict the future is a best hypothesis, based on what’s happened in the past. Track record, you might call it. It isn’t the most reliable way plan out the next few months/years/decades, yet, we all try to gauge the time ahead. This is especially true if you follow – or work inside of, or write about – major league baseball.

This exercise in trying to get a handle on what’s gonna happen next is almost baseball’s stock-in-trade. It permeates just about every facet of the game, from the action on the field to the entire raison d’etre of scouts and GMs and it’s what’s mainly responsible for the rise of advanced statistics – sabermetrics, if you will. It’s what every off-season is built upon – and what makes it fun most of the time. The seasoned baseball watcher often finds himself or herself navigating a thicket of “if/then” statements: “IF the pitcher throws a curveball here, THEN the hitter will swing and miss more times than not.” “IF this kid fills out a little more physically, THEN he might have a decent career.” “IF we hand out this mega-contract, THEN we may be hamstrung financially.”

When it comes to the Mets, that last one is the rub.

While watching the team’s ownership fall all over itself — “The Wilpon Follies” – from this vantage point since January, your intrepid columnist sees only a spaghetti tangle of “if/thens” between now – elimination day, yet again – and next April. I can only look ahead with a pair of foggy spectacles to try and piece together a game plan for the off-season. The reason for this is quite possibly the biggest “if/then” of all: IF the Wilpons are out of money, THEN they’ll have to sell the team. The “if” half of the statement is something we’ll never know for sure until the situation reaches its denoument, and until that happens, we won’t know if Sandy Alderson has the wherewithal to retain the services of Jose Reyes, hand out mega-dollars to Prince Fielder, acquire Matt Kemp or bring in a stud starting pitcher. When trying to make any kind of prediction, one must start with a rundown of the facts at hand: resources, liabilities, etc. When it comes to the Wilpons, we on the outside may never get even to that point. We’ve been overwhelmed by a torrent of double-talk – and not the charming, Casey Stengel kind, either – public blundering and obfuscation. They have succeeded in throwing fans and pundits alike off their scent.

That seems to be the only thing they’ve been successful at lately.

The Wilpons Just Don’t Get it: “HatGate” Is The Last Straw

If there’s such a thing as a four-ring circus, the Mets are it. It seems there is always something there to tarnish even their most shiny moments. An extremely moving, nicely planned and executed, nationally-televised ceremony of remembrance turned into a farce in short order. A nice gesture – one that has become somewhat of a tradition over the last ten years – has become the latest mini-storm to blow through Met Land.

Are we really surprised to find the grinning skulls of Fred and Jeff Wilpon behind this mess?

By now, if you’re reading this, you know the story. Two weeks ago, the Mets announced they’d wear the hats of the NYPD, FDNY, EMS and Port Authority Police on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th Attacks – as they’ve done every September 11th. This would dovetail nicely with the planned commemoration of that horrid event and a fine tribute to those first-responders who lost their lives that hideous day. One would think these plans would bear the label “Not To Be Messed With.” One would be wrong.

Hours before the game, it was announced that MLB had forbidden the Mets to wear the First-Responder millinery, and had to wear the MLB-issue “regular” home caps, emblazoned with an American flag on the side. There was an immediate hue and cry on Twitter and throughout the blogosphere that Ebenezer Selig – through an unlikely toady, Joe Torre – had squashed the Mets’ hope of honoring the heroes of the WTC with a crass commercial gambit: replicas of the Mets’ 9/11/11 caps are available from MLB.com for a mere $36.99. I was being as eloquent as I possibly could when I Tweeted: “That is complete crap.”

But there was an opportunity to be had here. This was a chance for the Mets organization to exemplify the scrappy, working-class-hero ethos so beloved in the mid-60’s. This was a chance for the players, the ownership and the fans to yell “SCREW da MAN!” in unison. It would have been so sweet to see the players and the Wilpons risk a heavy fine and defy the MLB edict.

Instead, they folded like a $36.99 suit.

The team met before the game and decided they didn’t want to incur the wrath of Seligula. They didn’t want to ruffle any of the feathers of the entity to which they are –quite literally – indebted. In these subsequent days, the whole situation has devolved into a “He Said/He Said” argument, with MLB claiming they delivered no threat of a fine. It just might be possible that this flap might just accomplish that which the Wilpons were trying to avoid: angering Bud Selig.

In any case, on the heels of their abandoned efforts to bring in a heavy-hitting investor , this is one more pock-mark on an already irreparably damaged reputation. Please sell this team.

And oh yeah: the bullpen stinks, too.

The New York Mets: It’s Gotta Get Better, Right?

There’s a lot going on in Met-land lately, but I’m finding myself hard pressed to pay attention.

There’s talk of new uniforms next year…again! If it’s to be a ditching of the tired, oh-so-90’s “Mets In Black” look, I say “Hear! Hear!” I could go through the rest of my life with only the home cream-and-pinstripes and the grey roadies. I could even deal with the royal blue tops — sported by Los Mets a couple of weeks ago – sprinkled in here and there. Maybe the alternate jerseys from a couple of years ago with the ginormous “NY” on the breasts could make an appearance as well.

There are murmurs that the outfield walls might have kinder, gentler dimensions commencing in 2012 as well. There’s only so much that can be done, here: there’s an awful lot of concrete to be dealt with. I’d be in favor of lowering Great Wall of Flushing (thank you, Howie Rose!) from sixteen feet high to a more humane eight. I’d also welcome abolition of the cursed “Mo Zone,” where homers go to die. It’s interesting that the park was seemingly built with Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes in mind, neither of whom – possibly – would enjoy its fruits past 2011.

This is all well and good. Those deck chairs on this Titanic will be in perfect position. This is the definition of window dressing, designed to take our minds off a most depressing present. Yes, I have faith in Sandy Alderson. He’s saying all the right things and it looks like he and his squad are making all the right moves. We out here in the fan base are drooling over the prospect of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler becoming the new Seaver/Koosman and Brandon Nimmo launching balls over the erstwhile Mo Zone. And yes, I like what Terry Collins is doing in that room. I know the win tally is worse than Jerry Manuel’s final, fitful kicks last season, but Collins is doing what he was brought in here to do: fumigate the clubhouse. When he was hired back in November, I mentioned that this was most likely a tenting operation, designed to exterminate the funk emanating from Roosevelt Avenue. He seems to have done that. There are signs on the field – despite the stagnant win total – that this franchise is closer than we think to ascending to contention. The only game in this losing skein that was truly putrid was last night’s (8/22). They’ve been in almost every game they’ve played this year, and I think that says a lot about character, something that to the naked eye was absent from June 2007 through last year.

No. My concern is that all this window dressing we’re seeing right now is meant to distract us from the fact the old, fetid ownership is still in place and will remain so through the end of the 2011 season – and most likely beyond. I know there’s an Einhorn waiting in the wings, but the process is maddeningly slow and we have to watch the Wilponian dog-and-pony parade before anything of substance will shift. I have a fear that the longer Fred and Jeff Wilpon hang around, the greater the chance that all the good work of Alderson and co. will be undone by desperation and stupidity up in the tower.

But boy, did those Los Mets uniforms look good…

Will David Einhorn Save The Mets?

It would appear the endgame is nigh for Fred and Jeff Wilpon.

The judges are convening – even as we speak – and the fate of the ownership seems a fait accompli: the Wilpons will be forced to sell their chunk of the Mets in order to pay off mammoth debts on Madoff victims, SNY-TV, and Citi Field. For all I know, they may also have a 90-day invoice to the caterers for the post-game clubhouse spread. In short, it would take several massive miracles for Fred, Jeff and Uncle Saul Katz to retain a significant portion of the franchise. With a little help from their friends in the MLB hierarchy, they’ll be able to make their exit as gracefully and with as much dignity as possible, considering the NYC media cauldron and 24-hour news cycle.

Enter David Einhorn, the new, chosen, designated, legal partner in the ownership group. At first flush, he would seem the perfect fit to swoop in and take control. He’s in his early-40’s, he’s a Long Island local, he has been a roaring success in fairly arcane financial ventures – how he makes his money is certainly over my head – and he’s a baseball fan. Sound familiar? This is strikingly similar to the resume Fred Wilpon himself brought to the table 31 years ago, when he and Nelson Doubleday took the reins from a diffident and disinterested Payson family. Fred was young, dynamic and aggressive in terms of building the Mets’ brand, first by hiring Frank Cashen as GM and slowly, prudently discarding the pinchpenny ways of the prior regime. That ownership was just the breath of fresh air this franchise needed.

30 years on, this ownership is once again in desperate need of fumigation. The front-office put in place during these final fitful months of Wilponic hegemony has given David Einhorn the head start Fred never had. Think of it as Fred, Jeff & Saul’s going-away gift to us fans. If Einhorn will stay out of Sandy Alderson and co.’s way, keep his mouth shut and just keep signing the checks, that would be the most satisfactory answer to the question posed in the title. I’d love to see him be a kind of Steinbrenner-with-an-internal-filter: a burning passion to win without being an ass about it. My guess is that that’s how he will start out. I think it will result in at least a few pennants and a World Series title or two. But time, as we know, brings out many changes and shifts in personality and actions. It’s quite possible that Einhorn could eventually become a latter-day Jeff – nosing around the clubhouse, circumventing the plans of the GM and his lieutenants, getting chummy with and seeking policy input from players.

Were that to happen, the longtime, sadly cynical Met fan such as I would only be able to shake his head and look forward to better times. We’re used to that by now.

David Einhorn: International Man of Mystery

Last week, a rush of news from the Ivory Towers of Flushing informed the world that hotshot fancier David Einhorn had sunk $200 million of his hard-earned moolah into a shaky-at-best operation known as the New York Mets. Over here, it was immediately viewed as good news . If I were to listen to the MSM – which is really quite funny, if you’ve read any of my stuff at all – I would come away with a far different impression.

Adam Rubin and David Lennon would have us believe that Mr. Einhorn might actually be a bigger villain than Fred and/or Jeff Wilpon. Einhorn showed up at City Field on Memorial Day and gave the media…well…nothing. He did exactly what any savvy businessman who has entered into a deal which has yet to be finalized would do: said nothing. Could he confirm that the new deal had a clause which would allow him to take full control of the Mets? Can’t answer that. Will he be sinking more money into the team? Deal isn’t final, so I can’t comment. What do you think of the team on the field? Can’t say and I really shouldn’t. This drove the beat guys bonkers and as we see from the two citations above, they went straight to the trusty narrative: if the Mets are involved, it’s gonna be bad…REALLY bad. It’s actually funny to read.

So who is this Einhorn character, anyway? From most accounts, he’s the latest Wall Street wunderkind, the ballsy dude who, among other things, predicted the falls of Allied Capital and Lehman Brothers and made a tidy sum short-selling those two formerly august entities. He currently has his sights on Microsoft, which he feels is being mismanaged by CEO Steve Ballmer.

Sound familiar?

It seems he can also play the goofball, if he wants to, sporting the good ol’ backward baseball cap look at the poker table.

In fact, he finished in 18th place in the World Series of Poker in 2006, pulled down over $650,000 and immediately turned it over to his doppelganger, Michael J. Fox for his foundation for Parkinson’s research.

So the Einhornian mad poker skills serve him well in other areas, apparently.

Latest Ownership Circus Leaves At Least One Fan Bewildered

When news of the follies and frolics of the super-rich filters down to us, the great unwashed, it’s usually entertaining. William Randolph Hearst invites Jimmy Stewart and Louis B. Mayer out to San Simeon? FUN! Papa Joe Kennedy referees while Young Joe, Jack, Bobby, Teddy, Kick, Pat and Eunice play a game of touch on the lawn? GREAT! Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday are such big baseball fans they’ve rescued the Mets from a clapped-out Payson family? HALLELUJAH! See? They like to have fun, just like us. Isn’t it cute?

The trouble starts when those follies & frolics have a direct impact on OUR entertainment. When Louis B. gets in bed with Will Hayes and J. Edgar Hoover, the “Production Code” is born and censorship limits what we’re allowed to see. When William Randolph Hearst foists Marion Davies and her hambone non-talent on an unsuspecting public, simply because he can and she’s sharing his bed, the paying customer is ultimately affected. The Kennedy hegemony was and is played out on a world stage – to the fascination of many and the dismay of more than a few.

As for the Wilpons, the latest revelations about their financial woes have left me with a case of vertigo. I’m not sure exactly WHAT to make of the latest tidbits. The Wilpons announce they are looking to take on another investor for the first time in 30 years? I can’t really sort out whether or not this is good news. Does it mean there’s another voice in the room? Well, I’m all for that if it puts a leash on young Jeff. They say they won’t relinquish control of the team, but I’m not sure who-in-their-right-mind would want to sink upwards of $100 million into an organization in which they would have no say in its running.

A thing to bear in mind, as well, is the fact that Freddy & Jeffy aren’t taking on this limited partner with the idea that their influx of cash is going BACK INTO THE ORGANIZATION. This $100+ million isn’t going into the “Saving-Up-For-Albert-Pujols” fund, nor will it be sunk into the vital scouting department or player development arms of the operation.

No, sir.

It’ll be going to pay the creditors currently stalking Sterling Equities, the parent company of our beloved NYMs.

And I DO know that THAT is not good news at all.

If there is a Miracle Man owner with a magic pill at his/her disposal, I pray that they reveal themselves quickly: my stomach can’t take much more.

Wishing Doubleday was still the Mets owner

NJ.com’s Matthew Artus wrote an article about the history of Mets general managers since Frank Cashen came aboard. He closed his piece hoping that owner Fred Wilpon would have similar luck as with Cashen when hiring the team’s next GM.

Upon reading it, my first reaction was – I wish it was Nelson Doubleday who was making the choice.

It is often said that dying young can be a good career move. While Doubleday did not die, his reputation has certainly improved among Mets fans since he sold his shares in the club to Wilpon. Why is it that Doubleday has more credibility among the team’s fan base than the guy who actually cared enough to stick around? Is it merely a case of absence making the heart grow fonder or is there actual evidence for preferring Doubleday?

Let’s start by reviewing the history of the Doubleday-Wilpon Mets.

According to Andrew Rice of the New York Observer, when the Mets went up for sale in 1980, Wilpon was interested in buying the club but did not have the necessary cash. He approached John Pickett, who then was the owner of the New York Islanders, about combining on a bid. Pickett was not interested, but he did point Wilpon towards Doubleday, and Wilpon ended up with a 5% stake in the club when Doubleday purchased it from the Payson family for a then record $21.1 million.

So, the partnership between the two men was closer to that of a shotgun wedding rather than two old chums or two people who had a history of doing business together. It was an odd pairing, with Doubleday being “old money” and Wilpon being “nouveau riche.” The son of an undertaker, Wilpon was a self-made man who made his fortune in real estate while Doubleday inherited his money.

At first, the two co-existed without either much love or rancor. Since Doubleday owned the vast majority of the club, it was easy to see who had the power. Furthermore, Doubleday was the classic hands-off owner, one who let his new general manager run the club. This arrangement led to the mid-80s juggernaut and it was hard to imagine things being much better for Mets fans.

But in 1986, the year when the Mets reached the World Series for the first time in 13 years, things took a drastic turn for the worse. Doubleday decided to sell his publishing company, which owned the Mets, to a German firm but he was going to retain ownership of the team. However, allegedly unbeknownst to Doubleday, Wilpon had a right of first refusal on any sale, and he wanted to buy the Mets.

The two men agreed to become equal partners in a settlement deal, with each side contributing $81 million to buy the club back from Bertlesmann AG. Doubleday was not happy with how he went from having controlling interest to being an equal partner with Wilpon.

Things got even worse during the early 90s, when Doubleday supported Fay Vincent and Wilpon was aligned with Bud Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf in the plot to oust the MLB Commissioner.

Health problems pushed Doubleday to the side, allowing Wilpon to take an even more visible role with the club. The two partners investigated selling 80 percent of the club to Cablevision, but Wilpon eventually backed out of the deal as he wanted to turn the club over to his son, Jeff. Ultimately, Doubleday sold his shares to Wilpon, but not before a big argument between the two men over the selling price.

MLB was brought in to help establish a proper valuation for the club. Given Wilpon’s relationship with now Commissioner Selig, it was not a big surprise that the MLB appraisal was less than what Doubleday thought was fair. In court documents, Doubleday’s lawyer said:

“In short, MLB – in a desperate attempt to reverse decades of losses to MLB’s Players Association – determined to manufacture phantom operating losses and depress franchise values.”

This caused major shockwaves at the time, as the owners and players were preparing for a new CBA.

The lawsuit continued:

“MLB – in cahoots with Wilpon – had no intention of honoring its promises to Doubleday. Quite to the contrary, MLB orchestrated a sham process that not only mistreated Doubleday and betrayed his trust, it actively favored Wilpon and engineered a result that served MLB’s other – and conflicting – interests.”

Commissioner Selig responded by threatening Doubleday with a $1 million fine for discussing financial issues publicly. Eventually, Doubleday relented to the sale price as set by the MLB-appointed arbitrator but got a greater percentage of the money up front and also negotiated to receive $40 million if the Mets built a new stadium.

MLB released a statement regarding the sale and included a quote from Doubleday in the release. However, a report by T.J. Quinn of the New York Daily News said that the quote “was not written by Doubleday or his associates, according to sources.” The alleged Doubleday remark was:

“I deeply regret and apologize for the conclusions many drew from the papers that were filed last week by my lawyers. I did not in any way mean to impugn the integrity of the commissioner . . . or anyone from his office. Nor did I intend the counterclaim to get in the way of the ongoing collective-bargaining process. If it did, I apologize to the commissioner and to (players union chief) Don Fehr if it in any way had a negative effect on bargaining. I appreciate the assistance of Commissioner Selig in getting the deal finally done.”

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So, we have Nelson Doubleday, a person born on third base and who was famous for wearing pink sweaters tied around his neck. He was a businessman first and a baseball fan a distant second. And we have Fred Wilpon, a self-made man and one who was a high school teammate of Sandy Koufax. Why do fans prefer Doubleday?

Doubleday hired Frank Cashen and by extension Davey Johnson. Wilpon, in his first act without Doubleday around, hired Art Howe, who he claimed “lit up the room.”

Doubleday got out of the way after hiring Cashen and let him do his job. Wilpon instituted a collegial managerial style with no evident chain of command and put his son in a position of power.

Doubleday was willing to spend money when he thought it was in the best interests of the club and is allegedly the one who pushed for the Mike Piazza trade. Wilpon was the one who allegedly pushed for character guys and was the one blamed for sending outspoken players like Kevin Mitchell and Lenny Dykstra out of town.

Wilpon is the one who is aligned with Bud Selig, whose main goal is to make tons of money for owners. Doubleday backed Fay Vincent, who most remember fondly (rightly or wrongly) as the last “true” commissioner of baseball, the one who acted in “the best interests of the game.”

Wilpon is the one who got a stadium built that was more interested in honoring the Brooklyn Dodgers rather than the New York Mets. Doubleday wanted to save taxpayer money by renovating Shea Stadium instead of building a new park.

Doubleday was around for the 1986 and 2000 World Series runs. He sold his shares in 2002. Wilpon was the one who oversaw the collapses in 2007 and 2008 and the general ugliness of 2009 and 2010.

So, perhaps it is anecdotally but there does seem to be a reason for Mets fans to reminisce about when Doubleday ran the club. And it will probably remain that way until the Mets win a World Series under total Wilpon control. The best thing Fred and Jeff Wilpon can do is to take a page out of Doubleday’s book (pi) and hire the best man for the job and let him do his business without interference.

Just because you let more experienced baseball people do their job does not mean you cannot remain in the limelight. Doubleday was both a visible and quotable presence while he let Cashen do the heavy lifting.

If only the father-son Wilpon combo could do the same thing.

Are Wilpons ready for hard truths?

“But the Mets have lacked ability to self-assess and look at the big picture. Are the Wilpons ready to hire someone who will tell them hard truths — and to listen when those hard truths come? This cannot be about buzzwords. For real this time, the skills sets must be gravitas, vision, creativity and fortitude.

If the Wilpons can find someone with all of that, here is an idea: Give him autonomy. For real.”

Joel Sherman laying out how the new GM hire should go.

Source: New York Post

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