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The team’s first owner was always its most enthusiastic fan.
Today marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Joan Whitney Payson, the beloved owner of the New York Mets from their inception until her death on October 4, 1975. As shareholders in the New York Giants baseball team, she and M. Donald Grant, who would serve as chairman of the board under Payson, were the only dissenters when the vote was taken in 1957 to move the team to San Francisco.
A few years later Ms. Payson became one of the backers of the proposed New York franchise in the upstart Continental League. That team-on-paper eventually became an NL expansion club, and when the dust had settled she owned an 80 percent stake in the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York, thereby becoming the third woman owner in MLB history and the first to buy a major league sports franchise. As much a fan as an executive, she came to the ballpark often to root for her Mets and was greatly admired by the team’s players and staff.
“Joan Payson was like a grandmother to me and to everybody else. She ran it like a family.” —Ed Kranepool
Ms. Payson’s holy grail from day one was Willie Mays, and she was instrumental in getting him back into a New York uniform, albeit a few years later than we all would have liked. She not only brought him back (at age 41), but also got to see him play in one more World Series in 1973.
One thing she also wanted, but did not get, was to dub the new franchise the Meadowlarks. Fortunately, there was little enthusiasm for that moniker among the brain trust and in the end she agreed with the majority that “Mets” was the best of all possible names.
Of all the superstars who proved a disappointment as soon as they donned a Mets uniform, no one’s meteoric descent was greater than that of Roberto Alomar, who celebrates his 45th birthday today. After all, this was not a player who was already showing signs of a decline and on whom they were rolling the dice (e.g., Ken Boyer, Jim Fregosi, Joe Torre, Carlos Baerga). Alomar was a future Hall of Famer who was only 34 and coming off a 100 RBI season with Cleveland in which he posted a career-high in slugging of .541. His drop in OPS from .956 in 2001 to .708 in 2002 was historic even by Mets standards. And unlike the much-maligned George Foster and Bobby Bonilla who both, after lackluster inaugural seasons with the Amazins, had some fairly productive years, Alomar looked even worse in his second season as a Met. He hung on with the White Sox and D’Backs for another year and a half but was clearly washed up.
Amazin’-ly Tenuous Connection
Everything’s relative in today’s other birthday notices. Shawon Dunston, Jr., who spent his first year in the Cubs organization in 2012, turns 20. His dad is most remembered by Mets fans for leading off the 15th inning of Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS, hitting a single on the 12th pitch of a nine-minute at-bat, and eventually scoring the tying run just before Robin Ventura hit his “grand slam single.”
Marlins reliever Ryan Webb, who has already pitched more major league innings, and more effectively, than his ’70s Mets dad Hank, is 27. Ryan made his major league debut, as a Padre, on July 8, 2009, three days after being traded by Oakland for another Met with major league family ties, Scott Hairston.
Sportswriter Jack Murphy would have been 90 today. His younger brother, Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy, was especially proud of the fact that the city of San Diego renamed their ballpark Jack Murphy Stadium after Jack’s death in 1980. Bob pointedly continued to call it that even after it was officially rechristened Qualcomm Stadium in 1997.