You almost can’t believe it when you read it: The Wilpons are selling the Mets. Say it out loud to make it real: The Wilpons...are selling...the Mets.
Holy shit, it’s true. On Tuesday, December 3, Tiki Barber, of all people, unexpectedly shared on air (minute 38) that he had heard “from a little birdie” that a sale of the Mets might be underway. It was a wild and unsubstantiated statement from out of the blue, and though it caused a little stir on Twitter, it was easy to dismiss—that is, until Wednesday when Ken Rosenthal broke it open with a Tweet and confirmed that yes, indeed, the Wilpons are, in fact, really, truly, actually in negotiations to sell the team to a very rich Hedge Fund Guy named Steve Cohen.
Cohen, of course, has the type of eyebrow-raising, uh, legal track record one might expect to be associated with a prominent, high-powered, 10-almost-11-figure-net-worth Hedge Fund Guy who was busy plying his trade in the thick of the financial catastrophe of the late aughts (and for many years before that). It raises a lot of questions about the Mets’ future, all of which boil down to “will Cohen be better or worse than the Wilpons, and in what way(s)?”
It’s a good question, and well worth considering, and it’s fertile soil to till for many an article and Twitter argument to come for a while—at least until we can discern Cohen’s material impact on the organization.
For now, though, let us leave those questions for another day that we might pause and wonder at this new, altogether unexpected, reality. A mere week ago—hell, on Monday—if you had asked any random Mets fan to speculate about the future of the team’s ownership, you probably would have heard something to the effect—along with gestures of anger and despair—that it’s likely to remain a Wilpon family business for many moons to come. And yet all of a sudden the Wilpons are on their way out.
I am jubilant, but it also feels a bit like a battle has been won that exacted too steep a cost to warrant real celebration. It’s like staring at a beautiful landscape through the grimy window of a Greyhound bus: one starts to resent the smudges and the smears and the grease more than one appreciates the scenery, and so one directs their ire accordingly. Nothing that anyone has written or will write about the Wilpons has made a lick of difference. They owned the team through it all, on their own terms, and now they’re selling the team on their own terms, and are much, much richer now for it. Like their tenure as owner-operators of the Mets, it is infuriating.
The nearly two decades of Wilpon ownership that precede this moment have featured an almost uninterrupted slurry of avoidable mistakes and failures. We Mets fans—and, I would argue, Major League Baseball—are worse off for it. There have been a few good and memorable teams to cheer for since the Wilpons bought out Nelson Doubleday in April 2002; but the Wilpons never understood how to make good times last, let alone build an organization that produces a halfway decent product with even some modicum of regularity. What the Wilpons did succeed in building, instead, was a well-earned reputation of being petty incompetents.
As with many stupid things these days and throughout history, there is a failson at the center of it. Jeff Wilpon was always the most maddening character in this play: a guy who, if not for an accident of birth, wouldn’t otherwise be allowed within a country mile of any MLB front office; a guy who obstinately persists in fancying himself a Baseball Man despite years of hard evidence to the contrary; a guy who, famously, nobody really likes or wants to work with—not even Fred’s brother-in-law and business partner, Saul Katz, whose discomfort with the prospect of Jeff taking over someday appears to have been the impetus for the sale.
At this juncture it seems important to recall that we’re talking about people owning and running our favorite baseball team and not, say, people who wield geopolitical power. In a way, though, that point underscores what has made the Wilpons so acutely maddening to abide: in a world full of myriad insanities outside our control, one looks to baseball as a refuge. But the Wilpons were a constant reminder, an embodiment, even, of our society’s absurdities and injustices.
The road ahead may be rocky and unpleasant. We may find that Cohen, like others in baseball these days, has no particular interest in things like winning baseball games and instead wants to wring every dollar of value out of the organization until such time as he can kick the can down the road to the next Guy. Or, as one almost doesn’t dare to hope, he could allocate a tiny fraction of his many billions of dollars to creating something fun and special and good. We’ll see. For now, though, the end of the Wilpon Era is in sight, my goodness, and it is a welcome one indeed.