Davidoff: For Mets, a Ray of hope

Tampa Bay Rays' owner Stuart Sternberg speaks to

Tampa Bay Rays' owner Stuart Sternberg speaks to an unidentified person during Game 4 of the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox in Boston. (Oct. 14, 2008) (Credit: AP)

If the Wilpons ultimately have to sell operating control of the Mets - and that would shock no one at this point - you couldn’t do much better as a successor than Stuart Sternberg, the principal owner of the Rays. Sternberg lives in Westchester County, and he attended his first major-league game at Shea Stadium in 1965.

Here comes the irony, however: Sternberg (who has repeatedly denied an interest in purchasing the Mets) has done such great work in Tampa Bay that finding a new owner for his current club could be an immense challenge.

"Stu's done a great job there, and still no one goes to the games,” an official from another club said, on the condition of anonymity. “So why would anyone else buy them?”

The Rays, playing in outdated, poorly located Tropicana Field, drew 1,843,445 fans in 2010, an average of 22,758 per game. That ranked them 22nd inMajor League Baseball despite winning the American League East, the game’s toughest and most exciting division.

A new stadium, located either in Tampa or Orlando, would greatly enhance the Rays’ status. Yet that doesn’t seem likely, given Florida’s awful economy.

Bud Selig has played musical chairs with franchise ownership before, most notably in 2002 when the Marlins’ John Henry purchased the Red Sox, the Expos’ Jeffrey Loria bought the Marlins and Major League Baseball took on the Expos. The commissioner viewed that plan more as a necessary evil than as a prototype, though, and if the Mets go fully on sale, they shouldn’t lack for suitors.

Honest Appraisal

Johnny Damon knows the AL East like no one else. He’s the only current player on the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays who can say he has worked for all three superpowers.

Now with Tampa Bay, Damon offered his characteristically frank assessment of how his two former clubs, both withconsiderably more resources than his new team:

“Well, hoot, the Red Sox on paper, wow. That’s a dream team,” he said. “You have All-Stars all over the board there. A very good pitching staff. They’re tough.

“I think New York was kind of in that waiting game so much with (Andy) Pettitte. They need some guys to step up for them. I thought they definitely had Cliff (Lee). I think that was their man objective. They probably would’ve been more interested in Crawford if they knew that Cliff Lee wasn’t going to work out. It is what it is.”

What Couldn’t Have Been

When Brian Cashman opted for Joe Girardi to replace Joe Torre as the Yankees’ manager for the 2008 season, he had to notify the runners-up Don Mattingly and Tony Pena and discussed future job opportunities with both.

Pena never left and is in his third season as Yankees bench coach. Mattingly, however, left for Los Angeles and is now preparing for his first season as the Dodgers’ manager.

“To me, when Cash offered me the job after Joe got the job to stay there, I had tot urn that page,” Mattingly said. “I knew what I wanted to do eventually. From that point, in a sense, it was a clean break, because I had a chance to see anew game from the National League side. I got to know new people,organization-wise.

You know what they say: One door closes, and another door opens. That’s basically is what happened.”

The sense here is that the Yankees never seriously thought that Mattingly would want to work under Girardi. The men are just too different in their approaches to the game, with Girardi’s intensity a contrast to Mattingly’s relaxed, confident nature.

Jackie’s Legacy

The Jackie Robinson Foundation will hold its annual dinner Monday night, 6:00 at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Honorees include hip hop impresarios Sean “Diddy” Combs and Russell Simmons. Those interested in attending can purchase tickets at JackieRobinson.org.