On Monday afternoon, the announcement Mets fans have been dreaming of for decades finally happened: the Wilpons and their ownership group have agreed to sell 95 percent of their stake in the New York Mets to multi-billionaire hedge fund owner Steve Cohen. That means it looks like the Wilpons are, unbelievably, actually on their way out. It’s a reality we never thought possible. Every Mets fan’s wildest fantasy has come true.
The news has been met with a lot of celebration all over from Mets fans, and understandably so. Cohen is set to become the richest owner in Major League Baseball, with the presumed ability to spend on literally any free agent with no strings attached. It’s tantalizing to think about. That being said, it’s still important to note that a potential changing of the guard at the top of the organization doesn’t necessarily signal freedom. Recent sports history has been dominated by hedge fund managers like Cohen buying teams and turning them into vehicles for profit with their only vision being the perfect balance sheet. We only need to look to the Miami Marlins to see how ownership can get worse.
Assuming Cohen is approved by the other owners in November, we don’t know actually what the future holds. This franchise that has been so maddeningly predictable for decades is now completely unpredictable. We don’t know if the Mets will become even cheaper and more profit-focused than ever before, or if they will become a juggernaut dynasty by the time the 2020s are out, being players at the top of the free agent market every season. We don’t know if this is any kind of “liberation” just yet. We do know, however, that the Wilpons leaving will almost certainly change everything we’ve come to know about this organization.
There is a reason that every conversation about the Mets, no matter what the topic, somehow always circles back to ownership. That’s because the Wilpons have completely woven themselves into the fabric of the franchise, and it’s never been illustrated better than in this New York Times piece from December about them. The article outlines just how much the family has influenced nearly every Mets matter over the years—and how their history of dysfunction, strife, and incessant meddling has dragged down the organization for decades.
The power that Fred and Jeff have wielded over every aspect of Sterling Mets, L.P. is so ubiquitous that everything we’ve come to accept as the ignominious identity of the New York Mets—underachieving, disorganized, spiteful, and uniquely stupid—is actually just the identity of the Wilpon family. Everything the Mets do is, directly or indirectly, the action of a Wilpon. This extends all the way down to the minutiae of minor league roster moves to ensure that the Brooklyn Cyclones always win. The Mets are the Wilpons, and we’ve all known it for years.
This is not to overlook the fact that the Mets have held an identity of failure since their inception, long before a bold real estate developer named Fred took an interest in it. Fleeting years of success throughout the team’s early seasons only served to temporarily silence the lovable losers moniker until the next bad Mets team came along and restored it. But the Wilpons brought a whole new level of crassness to it all. The team’s identity became not just one of failure, but one of spectacular embarrassment. It became a team whose lineage of managers and general managers since the early ‘90s is so bad that almost none of them were ever hired for those positions again anywhere else. It became a team that steadfastly refused to ever make sense.
So cutting the Wilpons out of things might just change the entire script. It will overhaul the way the franchise is run, and how it presents itself. It could revamp the culture within the organization, and the perception of it from the outside. This is, for all intents and purposes, a complete paradigm shift for this franchise.
The Mets have existed only in this weird Wilpon world for so long that fans of my generation and younger have never known them to be anything other than the Wilpon Mets. For us, the Mets have always just been interminably this way, and we just accepted it. But now, they will be something different.
With the Wilpons out, the source of everything that has made the Mets “The Mets” is gone. The monthly spectacular public relations failures are gone. The hatred harbored for ex-Mets for no real reason is gone. The disrespect for the team’s own history is gone. The offseasons of the Wilpon Script where we could take a pen and paper in October and predict the gist of everything they’re going to do—never come close to signing a big free agent, but make absolute sure to get that annual “Fourth Outfielder” acquisition that almost never works out, along with the “Veteran Fifth Starter” and the “Proven Closer”—are gone.
There is actual intrigue now. What does the future hold? It’s exciting. Mets teams of the future will be different, because they have to be. The people who are really making the decisions are changing for the first time in decades. Of course, it’s possible that Cohen just ushers in a different brand of lameness. Maybe the team becomes even cheaper and more amoral. Or maybe, just maybe, they become fun and interesting. Whatever happens, it’s probably going to be different from what anybody has seen from this franchise in decades.