Money talks, and Steve Cohen sounds like hope for Mets faithful
In two decades of doing this job, I’ve never witnessed anyone be interviewed by the media for 45 minutes and look like they enjoyed every second of it.
Until Tuesday, that is. When new Mets owner Steve Cohen fielded dozens of questions as gleefully as Keith Hernandez used to vacuum up ground balls. Cohen, dressed Wall Street casual in a half-zip sweater, often responded with a wry smile, as if this was all too good to be true.
And then it hit me, why Cohen was so happy. As a lifelong Mets fan from Great Neck, Cohen was giddy for the same reason everybody watching at home was -- because someone exactly like him bought his favorite team.
"You want us to win the World Series, and so do I," Cohen said during Tuesday’s introductory Zoom conference. "New York fans have high expectations and I want to exceed them. I want an exceptional team. I want a team that’s built to be great every year. I don’t just want to get into the playoffs -- I want a championship."
By then, only a few minutes in, Mets’ diehards around the globe probably stood up and applauded. Or wept with joy. Or dumped ice water on their head, wondering if they were dreaming this whole production.
To have Cohen so shamelessly revel in his Mets fandom, then lay out his vision for the franchise in such transparent, credible terms, was unlike anything we’ve experienced before in Flushing. Did the Wilpons want to win a World Series? Sure. It just never seemed to be the top priority. And the price had to be right.
With Cohen, however, the entire Mets’ narrative has flipped. The broke team now belongs to the richest owner in the sport, worth an estimated $14 billion, who also happens to be one of the smartest hedge-fund titans on the planet. And, though Cohen pledged he wouldn’t throw around cash like a "drunken sailor," he insisted the Mets will be spending as a big-market team should -- but intelligently with an eye toward sustained success, year after year.
"I’m a very motivated, very proactive type of guy," Cohen said. "I just don’t sit back and accept mediocrity. We shouldn’t accept just making it to the playoffs. That’s not good enough. That means we’re going to have to go out and get great players, develop great players, provide them with the resources that they’re going to need in all parts of the organization. That’s what we’re going to do."
And how’s this for motivated? Cohen had no problem setting a conservative timeline of three to five years for a championship. Not merely competing for a title. Having a parade. After what we heard from him Tuesday, I’d take the under. Cohen came off as more than a mega-billionaire Mets’ fan. He finally became three-dimensional, took shape, in putting forth a strategy with new president Sandy Alderson that is committed to transforming the identity of a franchise that has been mostly a punchline for over a half-century.
If Cohen and Alderson are to be believed, from this point forward, saying the "Mets are gonna Met" or describing something as "Metsian" just took on a much different meaning. Cohen repeatedly emphasized he didn’t buy the team to finish second and Alderson -- who spoke in a relaxed tone we didn’t see as GM under the Wilpons -- spoke as if he was finally free to shed the club’s joker label.
"You don’t change the perception without changing the reality," Alderson said. "They’re not often the same, but you’re not going to have a positive perception for long if the underlying facts just don’t support it. We have to do a lot of things well, and I think Steve is going to go a long way toward changing that narrative — I really do. It’s going to give us some leeway."
Neither Cohen nor Alderson would make comparisons between their plans and how the Mets were run by the Wilpons. But they didn’t need to. We’re all very familiar with what went down in Flushing before Cohen’s arrival. The future could not be more different, and Alderson -- handcuffed by finances during his previous Mets’ stint -- did take the opportunity to highlight one significant upgrade.
"I don't want to create the impression that we're just going to go out and sign a bunch of players," Alderson said. "But I think we now can emphasize the acquisition rather than the cost. Does that make sense?"
Crystal clear, actually. And Alderson, refocused on the goal of making the Mets an "iconic" franchise, thinks that others want to be part of this Cohen-spurred movement in Flushing, too.
"The Mets have become a very attractive landing place," Alderson said. "That’s true across the board. Suddenly, overnight, people are interested in working for the Mets within the game who perhaps were not before. I think players are interested in the Mets for reasons they might not have been before."
It’s the same reason Alderson returned, and why people found themselves cheering a TV news conference Tuesday with the same celebratory fervor as a Mets walk-off homer. That reason is Steve Cohen.