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This Date in Mets History: July 20 — Former owner Nelson Doubleday turns 80

Nelson Doubleday owned a share of the Mets for 22 years, a span that includes some of the greatest seasons in team history.

Nelson Doubleday (l) celebrates 80 years of existence on this blue-green orb today.
Nelson Doubleday (l) celebrates 80 years of existence on this blue-green orb today.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

According to a 1987 Fortune profile, Nelson Doubleday, 80 today, bought the Mets for two main reasons. You can probably guess the first one. It's the reason very rich people have enough cash on hand to purchase things like baseball teams. To paraphrase Liz Lemon, they do that thing where they turn money into more money. Doubleday figured the Mets could put a little extra lucre in the family coffers, so he made an offer.

The second reason was to "give somebody some fun they otherwise couldn't have had." Say what you will about the noblesse oblige attitude (I'll say it's mildly patronizing, though I find haughty words preferable to the moat-building actions of most modern owners), but it's easy to make a case that the most fun seasons in Mets team history came during the Nelson Doubleday era.

Here's fun fact gleaned from that Fortune piece: Doubleday was (and perhaps still is?) an avid CB radio enthusiast. His handle? Bookworm, a nod to his position as president of the Doubleday publishing empire, now part of Knopf. Back in 1980, his fellow hams gave him grief for buying the last place Mets. Said Doubleday, "Give me five or six years and they'll be a first place team." His prediction was spot on to the letter. In spirit, the Mets were playing meaningful September games just four years after the sale, a testament to Doubleday's hands-off approach. Much like his great-granduncle Abner Doubleday, the man Bud Selig still (incorrectly) refers to as the "Father of Baseball", Nelson always showed a greater appreciation for the real national pastime, making money, than the sport we dub as such. Content to do nothing more than bankroll the moves of GM Frank Cashen, Doubleday reaped the benefits of the bow-tied genius's acumen. In 1979, a mere 700,000 fans came out to Shea. By decade's end, the Mets were posting attendance figures of three million and higher with regularity.

The nineties were less fun (though 1999, even with its disappointing finale, might be the single most enjoyable season in team history). Those years also coincide with the rise to prominence of Doubleday's ownership partner, Fred Wilpon. By 2002, Nelson had seen enough. With a roster just a rounding error shy $95 million and featuring the likes of Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn, could you blame him? Doubleday sold his share to the Wilpons and, according to a 2011 ESPN article, hasn't spoken to his former partner in years. When asked about the Bernie Madoff scandal in the same piece, he said:

I'm just very sorry. I don't know what they were doing. It is none of my business so I stay out of it. I'm just very sorry.

Other Birthday
Met for a minute Charles Johnson is 42. Johnson was the linchpin in the three-way trade that brought Roger Cedeno and Armando Benitez to New York during the 1998 offseason. The deal came just seven months after the Marlins included the All-Star catcher in the passel of players they sent to the Dodgers for Mike Piazza. Interestingly, Johnson is the cousin of Fred "Crime Dog" McGriff, which makes him, according to both animal and nickname taxonomy, the Crime Dingo.

Games of Note
The humid July air helped a passel of Mets connect for home runs on this date. In 1971, Ed Kranepool became the team's all-time big fly leader by putting one over the ivy at Wrigley Field. While the blast, the 70th of his career, lifted Kranepool past Ron Swoboda on the Mets career leader board, it didn't do much to help the team that day, as New York fell 4-2 to Fergie Jenkins and the Cubs.

Three years later, the Mets made the rather spacious San Diego Stadium feel like a bandbox. Rusty Staub, Cleon Jones, and George Theodore went back-to-back-to-back against Lowell Palmer of the Padres to turn a 2-1 affair into a 10-2 blowout.

Finally, two sluggers who'd go on to surpass Ed Kranepool in career homers for the Mets hit a pair on this date. In 1975, Dave Kingman became the first Met since Frank Thomas to hit more than 30 dingers in a season. He connected for two of his then-club record 36 on July 20 against the Astros, driving home six in the process. Flash forward one decade and you'll find Darryl Strawberry did the same versus the Braves in a 16-4 thrashing. Straw also added a triple and another run knocked in for a career-high seven rib-eye day.

Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
Forty-four years ago today, astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the lunar surface. This small step for man—this giant leap for mankind—meant that everyone who said that America would put a man on the moon before the Mets won a World Series was proved right. But not by much.