The Mets now belong to the richest owner in Major League Baseball as Steve Cohen, billionaire hedge-fund giant, was approved Friday by both the teams and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, only minutes apart.
The. Richest. Owner.
Let that sink in for a moment.
After more than a decade operating in the crater left by Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme, drowning in red ink deeper than Flushing Bay, the debt-ridden Mets have been liberated from the Wilpons by someone who could not be more perfect for the job.
Steve from Great Neck. A Mets fan who also happens to be worth an estimated $14 billion.
As incredible as all this is — truly unbelievable to longtime followers of the often comically inept franchise — it’s finally a reality. No more October surprises from the Mayor’s Office. No more J-Rod lurking in the weeds.
We’ve all been conditioned to expect the worst from the Mets, even during the best of times. There always seemed to be a price to pay for success. Another surgery, another collapse, another embarrassment waiting around the corner.
You pick the joke, the Mets were the punchline. Too cheap, too dumb, too insecure.
They could only be counted on to do one thing consistently. Mets were gonna Met. Always.
Why else were people willing to accept White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf as some bogeyman capable of killing a $2.475-billion sale that MLB desperately needed in this apocalyptic financial climate for professional sports? Or that de Blasio, in the midst of any number of pandemic-driven crises in this city, possibly had the juice to scuttle Cohen’s bid despite having no legal ground to stand on.
While it’s true that Cohen isn’t exactly squeaky clean in the business sector, and had to fork over $1.8 billion in fines for his previous firm’s insider-trading scheme (he was never criminally charged), nothing about his individual behavior has painted him to be unfit to run the Mets. Plus, he’s been a minority owner since 2012 and had been trying to gain control of the team for most of the past year (the first attempt imploded in February after a dust-up over control with the Wilpons).
But that’s all ancient history now. Friday was a raucous day of celebration in Metsville, and that included Cohen himself. In a statement, Cohen said he was "humbled" by the owners’ approval, and described buying the Mets as a "great privilege and an awesome responsibility."
Right from the jump, Cohen was pitch-perfect in tone. And get this: he even mentioned hurrying to close the sale because of free agency starting Sunday night. In the post-Madoff stage of the Wilpon Era, the Mets’ owners greeted free agency with dread more than anything, loath to explain another winter of passing on the marquee names.
No longer. Cohen already lined up former GM Sandy Alderson to be the club’s president a month ago — essentially taking over the ousted Jeff Wilpon’s role — so you can expect the rest of the front office to come together quickly, with some key holdovers from Alderson’s previous administration expected to stay.
Cohen’s timing could work to his advantage as well. As many teams cope with pandemic-inflicted losses and continue to slash money across the board — from payroll to front office to scouting — this winter is going to have an unprecedented amount of baseball talent available, at well-below-market prices. With Cohen’s deep pockets, he can scoop up these distressed assets, probably at a fraction of their typical cost.
There will be in-house renovation, too, as Cohen already has vowed to beef up the Mets’ neglected analytics department. And it’s worth noting that among his first acts as the new chairman and CEO, Cohen announced Friday that all Mets’ employees — including unionized groundskeepers, security guards and engineers — will have their pre-pandemic salaries restored, at a total value of more than $7 million. Also, Cohen has established a relief fund for seasonal employees worth another $2.5 million.
None of those people will swing a bat or throw a pitch for the Mets next season. But Cohen’s immediate cash infusion is telling when it comes to restoring the overall health of a franchise that was sagging beneath the weight of its own dysfunction.
"Steve will bring his lifelong passion for the Mets to the stewardship of his hometown team," commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement, "and he will be joined by highly respected baseball leadership as well. I believe that Steve will work hard to deliver a team in which Mets fans can take pride."
There’s no reason to expect otherwise. Every fan believes they could have done a better job than the Wilpons. Now one with $14 billion is going to get a shot. I wouldn’t bet against him.
"I consider it an honor to be the new owner of this iconic franchise," Cohen said.
He even signed off his statement with a "Let’s Go Mets!"
Too good to be true? Nah. For the first time, in what has felt like forever in Flushing, the dream is real. Believe it.