Despite Firings, Mets Won’t Improve Unless Wilpon Steps Away

Published on: 4th October, 2010


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Despite Firings, Mets Won't Improve Unless Wilpon Steps Away  | read this item

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New York – The Mets fired Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel. After the past four years of utter futility on the field and bad chemistry and character off the field, these moves were no surprise. They probably should have been made a year ago but if Mets management is nothing else, they are exceedingly loyal to their employees.

Whoever the Wilpons decide to bring in to turn this dysfunctional organization around, the results of a new regime, however, will be no better than what’s recently gone down around here unless the owner of the team commits to staying out of the way.

All the Mets need do is look to their cross-town rival New York Yankees to see the impact an owner stepping away from the day to day can have on a team’s success.

George Steinbrenner, as some older fans may recall, was suspended in 1974. By the time of his reinstatement in 1976, the pieces were in place and the Yankees won four division titles, three American League pennants and two World Series in five years.

Steinbrenner was suspended again in 1990. By the time of his reinstatement in 1993, the pieces were put into place by brilliant baseball men, Gene Michael and Buck Showalter, and the Yankees would, in 1994, begin a brilliant run of success that hasn’t let up and shows no signs of letting up.

It’s not hard to conclude that the Yankees have always been best-served when Steinbrenner’s hands were tied … Or, as in the middle 1990s, when he chose to take a less active role.

Fred Wilpon, the true owner of this franchise handed over the day-to-day operation of this team to his son, Jeff two years ago. It may have been the biggest mistake Fred has made since he bought a one-percent stake in the Mets in 1980 when Charles Shipman Payson sold the team, with Doubleday & Co. holding the remaining interest.

In 1986, Doubleday president Nelson Doubleday, Jr. sold off his company, and he and Wilpon each bought a 50 percent stake in the Mets to become full partners. In 2002, the Wilpon family purchased the remaining 50% of the Mets from Nelson Doubleday, Jr. for $391 million.

As president of the Mets between 1980 to 2002, as Chief Executive Officer since 1980 and as Chairman of the Board since 2003. the senior Wilpon has been a respected face of the franchise, always available to the press and always veiwed as a sharp, local kid from Brooklyn who built a real estate empire through sheer hard work and smarts.

His son has not been seen in the same light, having never built any organization of note. He is known in baseball circles as a man who has no idea what it takes to run a business or a baseball team yet, that is exactly what his father gave him the opportunity to do without proper experience.

The whispering about the younger Wilpon has been about his need to get involved in baseball-related decisions, an area he has zero knowledge of. His employees will never speak on the record about their frustration with Wilpon’s impact on player personnel decisions but several people in baseball, employed by other teams have talked about how Wilpon took away Minaya’s ability to make decisions. During trade talks, other team general managers often didn’t know who to speak to but it became clear Minaya had lost his capacity to make decisions for the Mets, unlike most g.m.’s in the game.

The Wilpon’s should take their learnings from the Yankees in how to build a team without an owner’s meddling and bring in the strongest, most independent candidate possible to be its next general manager. Someone, say, like Tal Smith. Or, Gerry Hunsicker, who has roots to this organization going back to the 1980s. And, while they’re at it, they should make sure the next person in charge doesn’t melt under the hot glare of the New York media, as Minaya sometimes did.

It’s a tough job to fill but the candidates are out there. If the Mets offer the sort of autonomy required, they’ll get their man. Otherwise, they’ll be doomed to more of this self-inflicted futility for the near and far future.

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