A long, long time ago — in another lifetime, really — a person I knew who had covered major league baseball for many years told me the Mets would never be consistent winners.
"Why?" I naively asked.
"Bad owners," I was told.
It wasn’t until I started covering baseball myself in 2003 and got in a few years around the Mets that I understood.
The Wilpons were bad owners. Not bad people. (Well, Fred seems OK.) But bad owners.
All Mets fans should rejoice today. Steve Cohen, the Long Island gazillionaire who reached an agreement to buy the team on Monday, could end up being a great owner. Or a mediocre owner. Or a bad owner. There’s no way to know yet. But the Wilpon era is finally coming to a close.
Since Fred Wilpon became the team’s principal owner late in 2002, the Mets have been to the postseason three times — in 2006, 2015 and 2016. That’s in 17 full seasons starting in 2003.
A lot can happen over a long season and over nearly two decades. Every franchise has hits and misses, ups and downs.
But there is no excuse for three postseason appearances in 17 years, especially for a franchise that has access to the revenue streams that are available in New York, that has as dementedly loyal a fan base as you will find in any sport, and that during its run added a money-printing TV network in SNY and a brand-new ballpark in Citi Field.
If you and I and your Aunt Sadie owned the Mets and threw darts to pick players, random chance probably would get us in the postseason more than three times in 17 seasons.
Here are the postseason appearances and World Series titles by some marquee franchises during the Wilpon era: Cubs (7 appearances, 1 World Series title); Red Sox (10, 4); Cardinals (10, 2); Dodgers (11, 0).
And the one that should really hurt: Yankees (13, 1).
The Mets should be in that stratosphere.
Once you get to the postseason, we all know it’s a crapshoot. But normal 162-game baseball seasons reward organizational excellence. A five- or 10-year stretch of seasons rewards sound decision-making. The Mets in the Wilpon era lacked both.
One of the many great things about Mets fans is that their love of the franchise — mostly an unrequited love — couldn’t be snuffed out by the Wilpon era.
Oh, there was grumbling about boycotts and chants of "sell the team" and probably a few who stopped buying tickets and never came back. But there were far more who held their noses and continued to open their wallets even though they knew the money eventually was ending up in the Wilpons’ pockets or paying off their massive Madoff-induced debt.
Now, assuming Cohen’s deal goes through, the holding of noses can end. The Cohen era can start with the foundation of an owner who is worth a reported $13 billion, who grew up as a Mets fan in Great Neck and who had the patience to wait out a snag in his first agreed-upon deal to buy the team.
That was earlier in 2020, before COVID-19 and before a 60-game season and before Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez made headlines, but not headway, in their Page Six-fueled attempt to beat out Cohen.
The Mets don’t need celebrities as their owners. They need someone to sign big checks, hire the best people and let them do their thing, and recede into the background when it’s time for the team to take the field.
Every time I saw Jeff Wilpon walking through the dugout before games or hanging around the batting cage talking to players and looking like the grumpiest son of a millionaire you’ve ever seen, I thought of that wise old baseball scribe and what he told me a lifetime ago.
Mets fans, bless their hearts, deserve better. Now, with Steve Cohen, maybe they’ll finally get what they deserve.