Every once in a while during the past few years, after she saw a headline or heard a bit on the radio, Susan Stearns would pick up the phone in her Manhattan home and call her son or his wife to ask: Is this for real?
Each time, they would explain that no, they were not moving to New York, and he was not about to run the Mets. They lived in Milwaukee and he worked for the Brewers, as he was contractually obligated to do through the end of the 2023 season.
And then Monday happened. The subtext of all those conversations, whether or not they said it out loud among themselves in those private moments, finally could be dropped. Three years after Mets owner Steve Cohen initially became interested in hiring him, a month and a half after they first talked about the job and three weeks after he agreed to join the organization, David Stearns was introduced as the Mets’ first president of baseball operations.
Susan Stearns’ little boy is the boss of the team she taught him to root for.
“We’d have to calm her down a little bit,” Stearns, 38, shared of those talks with his mom, which finally shifted in tone late this summer. “This time I didn’t have to calm her down, which was nice.”
Stearns’ hiring last month and his introductory news conference at Citi Field on Monday afternoon marked the start of what the Mets hope is a new era of stability and success, concepts with which they have only dabbled in recent years.
After Cohen bought the club around this time in 2020, Stearns was one of “four or five executives,” he said, that he wanted for the position of president of baseball operations, a step above general manager.
When none of them was available for the job — as was the case with Stearns, who was not allowed by Milwaukee to interview — or wanted the job, Cohen settled for multiple rounds of hiring less accomplished executives as GM. All along, though, he had his mind made up: He wanted a POBO. His eventual hiring of Stearns was viewed within the industry as an inevitability.
“Candidly, it was uncomfortable a little bit,” Stearns said of his professional purgatory, with people talking about him — and his mother listening — while he was in the middle of something with the Brewers.
“I loved Milwaukee, and I worked with tremendous people there who are really talented, and I worked for a good owner. It was uncomfortable to have those rumors out there while trying to win a World Series with the Brewers.”
Or as Cohen put it: “Sort of dog years. Well, listen, I mean, David and I first met in August, right? So, while he seemed like a reasonably good candidate, until you actually meet somebody and get to know them, it’s impossible to know whether or not he’s the guy.”
When Stearns finally became free to engage with other clubs in August, Cohen made the call.
They met in person on four occasions, including once for dinner with their wives, according to Stearns, and talked on the phone about a dozen times. Stearns said he spoke with other teams during that period, though he declined to say which or how many.
Cohen noted that he had “no serious discussions” with other candidates after Stearns stepped down into an advisory role with the Brewers a year ago, signaling his eventual departure. He had been their chief baseball executive for seven seasons.
By mid-September, after years of rumors and weeks of what amounted to an extended courtship in a baseball-hiring context, they decided their union felt right.
“I’ve been really patient looking for the right person,” Cohen said. “It was so interesting, when I was doing the due diligence on David, I’ve never seen — I do a lot of due diligence at my hedge fund — I’ve never seen such universal congratulations and saying, ‘You’ve gotta hire this guy.’ That’s pretty extraordinary.”
During his first public comments as a member of the Mets, Stearns offered the usual corporate-speak about building “truly sustainable competitiveness.” He said the 2024 Mets’ competitiveness should be defined as being “a true playoff contender.”
He detailed his plans for his first week on the clock, including reaching out to the coaches, who need addressing after the firing of manager Buck Showalter, as well as “a number of players” and other baseball operations employees. And he mentioned that it’ll take much of the offseason to figure out a good dynamic/responsibilities split with general manager Billy Eppler, who is staying on with that title in a de facto demotion.
The Manhattan-born Stearns also made sure to brag about his Mets fan bona fides, including sneaking into Shea Stadium as a kid.
“I’ve ridden the roller coaster of disappointment and hope along with every other Mets fan,” he said. “It’s meaningful for me, it’s cool for me that [my two young children] get to grow up Mets fans now.”
After graduating from Harvard in 2007, Stearns interned with the Mets in 2008. He then worked for Major League Baseball as the manager of labor relations from 2008-11 before being hired as director of baseball operations for Cleveland in 2012. Stearns served as an assistant GM with Houston from 2013-15 before joining Milwaukee in September 2015.
Cohen highlighted Stearns’ ability “to establish a followership wherever he was.”
“I expect David,” Cohen said, “to be here a long time.”