Earlier today, it was revealed that the Mets had officially picked a suitor to be a minority partner, and his name is David Einhorn. The 43-year-old hedge fund manager was already in the news on Wednesday when he made waves at an investor's conference in New York by calling for the ouster of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. He concluded his remarks by loudly announcing GO METS, a seeming non sequitur at the time that now makes a bit more sense.
It's important to keep in mind that baseball is not like other businesses. MLB reserves the right to approve and decline any ownership transfer--however small--for any reason. It's the main reason Mark Cuban has been thwarted in his attempts to buy into both the Cubs and Rangers; the other owners just don't like the guy, and are not inclined to invite such an outspoken personality into their club. So the fact that the Mets have made this announcement does not mean Einhorn as minority owner is yet close to being a reality.
However, there is one huge factor that makes it unlikely that Bud Selig would reject Einhorn's bid. The deal between him and the Mets was brokered by Steve Greenberg (according to ESPN's Karl Ravech), son of Hall of Fame slugger Hank Greenberg. More importantly, he's a deal maker extraordinaire when it comes to sports business, particularly baseball. Apart from creating regional sports networks in Chicago for Jerry Reinsdorf and negotiating the CitiField naming rights, he was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the MLB Network. He also advised Selig when the commissioner finally sold his stake in the Brewers.
In other words, when Greenberg gets involved, things tend to get done. Assuming this holds true, the next question is, just who is this Einhorn guy, and what does this mean for the Mets?
The short answer is, he's the head of Greenlight Capital, a hedge fund that specializes in short selling (budget definition: buying stock for the express purpose of selling high and buying back low a short time later). His Microsoft feather-rustling was not the first time he'd made loud public pronouncements about another company's prospects. In 2002, he recommended shorting Allied Capital and alleged fraudulent lending practices. Five years later, he made the same recommendation for Lehman Brothers because of fears the firm was undercapitalized.
Einhorn's warnings more or less turned out to be true, though being "right" in these type of financial situations is often a case of self-fulfilling prophecy. A prominent investor like Einhorn expressing doubts about a stock's prospects can instill similar doubts across the market, thus engendering a chicken-or-the-egg debate about whether a company's prospects caused negative speculation or vice versa. Still, it's important to note that the SEC cahrged Allied Capital with breaking securities laws, while Lehman Brothers eventually went bankrupt, largely the same reason Einhorn recommended shorting it.
More importantly for our purposes, what does Einhorn want with the Mets? He spent part of his youth in New Jersey, and reportedly dressed as erstwhile Mets slugger Dave Kingman one Halloween. He spent the rest of his formative years in Milwaukee, where he switched his allegiances to the Brewers (another factor that may help him to curry favor with Selig). In any case, it seems he's at least marginally interested in baseball and not looking on this as simply an investment. I think you'd have to be in order to buy into a team with as much debt and other issues as the Mets.
He's also a relatively young man with tons of ambition and a disinclination to stay quiet. Considering this, I'd have to agree with Craig Calcaterra's assessment: if he comes on board, it could mean the end of Fred Wilpon's reign at the head of the table.
It's unlikely Einhorn, even as a minority partner, would remain silent about the Mets or uninvolved in its daily operations. I have to believe Einhorn is investing in the Mets with an eye toward eventually becoming majority owner. And in any case, I can't imagine him entering into any kind of deal that would leave him with no say in the team's management, especially if (as reported), said deal does not include any piece of the profitable SNY.
Einhorn was studiously tight-lipped in his initial press conference, refusing to either confirm or deny if he'd have a say in the Mets' moves. That in itself means nothing. This is, after all, someone who made it pretty far in the World Series of Poker back in 2006. (He finished 18th, and donated all of his winnings to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a charity with which he has been heavily involved over the years.) No good card player would show his hand so early. Perhaps he's hoping to wait out a quiet retirement for the aging Fred Wilpon and go toe-to-toe with Jeff. That'd be a sight to see.
At the very least, Einhorn's emergence means the possibility of a dissenting voice in Mets' ownership for the first time since Nelson Doubleday was pushed out in 2002. Interesting days are ahead for this team. Hopefully, the good kind for once.