The Metropolitans Baseball Club of New York
Our Matriarch; Mrs. Joan Whitney Payson
The partnership group headed by Nelson Doubleday (and Fred Wilpon) purchased the New York Metropolitan BBC on Jan. 4, 1980 from Charles Shipman Payson; who assumed control of the team after his wife Joan passed away 5 years earlier; and from their daughter Club President Lorinda de Roulet. The Mets' original and only owner to that point passed on October 4, 1975.
We owe everything as Met fans to Mrs. Joan Payson; the New York Baseball Giants fan and season ticket holder at the Polo Grounds; and to an honorable Mr. William Shea; who knew enough to threaten capitalists with that they understand best - direct competition. For he threatened to create a new Baseball league and upset the game's landscape, which he forced anyway. Hence, the expansion era.
Joe McDonald had been the General Manager for the previous 5 years under the out-going ownership. The way I understand it, the new ownership told Mr. McDonald the last few years at Shea weren't his fault but that they (Doubleday and Wilpon) wanted to go in a new direction. The club extended an offer to Mr. McDonald to stay with the team in a different capacity however, which he did for one year to help make the new ownership's transition smoother. But by 1981 he was gone from the Mets' employ and moving on to other endeavours.
Heading into the 1980 season, the Mets selected Frank Cashen, architect of the mighty Baltimore Orioles teams of the late 60's and early 70's to be their new General Manager. But before we get into Frank Cashen, these are the things I didn't know about Joe McDonald in 1978 when I was only 11 years old.
FIRST ~ He was Director of our Minor League Operations in the 60s busy farming-up Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Nolan Ryan, Tug McGraw and a bevy of our positional players that went on to win the World Series in 1969 and a N.L. flag in 1973.
SECOND - One of my favorite seasons EVER was 1976. By then, collecting baseball cards and flipping them in the school yard, going to games, watching on TV, listening to the Mayor's Trophy Game on the radio, and playing stick ball on the block all came together for me. It's all I lived for as a nine year old in Brooklyn.
In 1976, my team for the most part, was still in tact. But unbeknown to me, what I didn't understand then was, that it was time to break that edition of the Mets up. THAT TIME had come for them. From 1977 through 1979, one by one, I watched all my beloved Mets disappear. I was stung when they traded Tug McGraw, Cleon Jones, and Rusty Staub in '74 and '75. But those were only tremors. The big shake-up started in earnest during the Black-Out summer of 1977 and lasted the rest of the decade. Tom Seaver, Koosman, Kingman, Grote, Harrelson, Wayne Garrett, Skip Lockwood, Jon Matlack, John Milner, Roy Staiger, even Nino Espinosa, were all gone. Eddie Kranepool retired and who can ever forget ED OTT; then catcher of the Pirates; ending Felix Millan's career with a WWE wrestling style body slam? I thought Lee Mazzilli was going to play with all those guys. But I watched my team get dismantled and thought who might be responsible for this? My Dad was a Yankee fan so no help there.
What I didn't understand then about Joe McDonald was, like I said, it was time to break the team up. But as an 11 year old, I certainly didn't know that Lorinda de Roulet ordered every budget in sight capped or slashed. Not even used baseballs, pencils, or paper clips were safe from the financial reaper. The Mets was hemorrhaging money and looking for a buyer. I was nine, ten and eleven years old. WHO KNEW?! I sure didn't. And I blamed Joe McDonald for everything back then, to include trading Tom Seaver.
I know all that to be false now. This is what I now know about JOE McDONALD:
FIRST ~ If the choice to replace him was anyone other than Frank Cashen,- It could have gone down as one of the worst decisions the post-Payson Mets ever made. There is more to Joe McDonald's resume no one bothers to address, in part because, well...., Frank Cashen is the best executive hire the post-Payson Mets ever made. I will revisit this later and elaborate.
SECOND - Even as bad as it got between '77 and '79, the farm system was still working fast and furious. Joe McDonald had warm blood pumping through the system. He just was never allowed to acquire free agents or make trades that would increase payroll. He was operating under a mandate from the Team President herself. I will elaborate later in this post on what kind of talent he was grooming in those dark years..
Trust me, there's a point to all this. And if you're a younger Met Fan, you may learn something.
* The FRANK CASHEN ERA, 1980-1991 General Manager and Executive Lord of all things METROPOLIS:
The first and to date only Mets Executive that came from off-Campus.
He presided over the greatest period of Mets' prosperity. Between 1984-1990 no other team in baseball won more games. I'll spare you all the details. I forget I'm 43yrs old sometimes. But you should be pretty up to snuff with 80's Baseball. Mr. Cashen gutted a bad team even further between 1980-1982; refitted an already effective farm system with even more pistons; and were off and running.
Many say under his watch, the team partied too much - drinking and drugs, getting into on and off field brawls at clubs, getting arrested, and things of that nature. They reveled in their cockiness. Read Darryl Strawberry's recent book for tales of more high-jinx. Hindsight says they underachieved. Regardless, the whole time (!), Fred Wilpon was acting like FLOUNDER from ANIMAL HOUSE. Remember at the end of the movie how the Delta Guys wrought havoc on the Home-Coming Parade? - And Flounder, after pouring out his 2000 marbles for his part, looked around at the chaos and thought to himself aloud, - "OH BOY, THIS IS GREAT!" - Remember that part? Well? That was Fred Wilpon in the 80's! Flounder.
Throughout Frank Cashen's years, the thriving farm system Joe McDonald left behind continued to thrive and kept pumping out prospects. In addition to the farm system, Frank Cashen procured a lot of executive talent that was at the time, the envy of Baseball. The Wilpon's continued to feed off that buffet into the present day with Omar Minaya (that connection will be tied together later in this post). The next five Met GM hires after Frank Cashen, would all stem directly or indirectly from the same Frank Cashen, and cover the Wilpon's behinds for the next 20 years.
When Frank Cashen stepped down as General Manager heading into the 1992 season, he stayed on as a Vice President and Team Consultant into the late 90's. As a matter a fact, he resumed his GM post briefly in 1998 when Steve Phillips was out whoring around and had to take a leave of absence from his GM'ship. GOOD GRIEF!! - More about that dummy later.
* Al HARAZIN, METS' GENERAL MANAGER 1992-1993:
First off, I don't know how the hell this guy rose through the ranks faster and higher than Joe McIlvaine within the Mets' executive talent pool. He was the accountant for crying-out-loud. Secondly, I wish I didn't know who's decision it was to make Harazin GM and not Joe McIlvaine. Was it Cashen's idea or was that decision lobbied by.., by someone else? How could this be? Did Doubleday/Wilpon have a say? Was that really Cashen's hand picked replacement? I don't really know. What I do know is that Al Harazin was an unmitigated disaster as General Manager.
Al Harazin is the genesis of when I believe Fred Wilpon first became gun shy about going out and pursuing free agents with vigor. Al Harazin, in part because of the overwhelming backlash from the Mets not signing Darryl Strawberry, went out and spent all kinds of' cash on Vince Coleman, Willie Randolph, Bobby Bonilla, Bret Saberhagen et'al. The only professional outta the motley crew Harazin signed was Eddie Murray (I'm sorry, and Willie; but an over-aged Willie). Outside of Eddie Murray, 1992-93 was...Fuhgeddaboudit Horrendous.!
Those were two mighty dark years in Flushing:
* Doc Gooden couldn't stay clean
* Jeff Kent was always angry with everybody.
* Bonilla was threatening to show reporters "the Bronx".
* Vince Coleman was throwing fireworks at fans in the L.A. parking lot.
* Saberhagen using a super-soaker filled with bleach to spray down reporters.
* And manager Jeff Torborg couldn't keep his foot out of his mouth.
Oh my, how the media wrecked Jeff Torborg.!
Fred Wilpon deserved credit for showing a backbone and in a press conference declaring, "Vince Coleman will never wear a Mets' uniform again" over the fireworks show. But it was from this time on, Fred Wilpon began his aversion with free agency until Omar Minaya came back in 2005 and convinced him to once again, up the ante a little.
Things went very wrong for the Mets in 1991-93 indeed. And Wilpon seemed proactive in wanting a new direction. Nelson Doubleday didn't say much about anything. He was really backround'ish but he was the Board Chairman. Nelson was the Big Daddy but Fred Wilpon was always the front man. That was always odd. But Nelson always knew how to let the Baseball people do their jobs. Fred was always buzzing around. The partners were fast becoming Frick and Frack.
The Mets, as mentioned, had executive talent on the books. Bob Mandt seemed to be in the mix but seemed to top out along the way and slipped. His expertise lied elsewhere anyway. But he was under consideration once for the GM job. Joe McIlvaine was the rising star. Other teams knew it too. But somehow the Mets GM chair went to Harazin. Because McIlvaine was impatient and tired of waiting for the Mets job, he took the San Diego Padres offer in 1990.
Now, if Frank Cashen knew he was going to retire in another year.....then..? Why not...? ...never mind.
That's one the Mets let get away. But not for long. Al Harazin was fired during that infamous 1993 season; unable to complete his second year on the job. What happens next is lucky break number two for the Mets. The first was getting Frank Cashen in the first place. This time, the Wilpons were lucky McIlvaine came back.
Fred Wilpon pretty much begged Joe McIlvaine to return to the nest. Joe Mac obliged. In addition to getting tired of waiting for the Mets job, he left in the first place, in part because of all the Mets' behind the scenes, Front Office in-fighting. That usually meant between Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday. Yes, at times it was often ugly and public.
* JOE McILVAINE, METS' GENERAL MANAGER 1993-1997:
This is the last Mets GM who had a clearly defined rebuilding PLAN and put it into effect, post haste! Joe McIlvaine was coming in to completely rebuild this team. It would be piloted by the firm but fair Dallas Green. I was all for it. I was in total agreement with everything McIlvaine wanted to do. The whole plan was built around Generation-K. It was gonna be great! The new product was to be home grown. From this era came a member of my very select Mets I call "MY GUYS" - TODD HUNDLEY.
Jerry Hunsicker, another highly prized executive in the Mets' Front Office, also tired of sitting around waiting for his chance, and by 1996 went to become GM of the Astros. Fred Wilpon's hand was forced by the departure of Hunsicker. He then tapped on the shoulder of Cashen's last available pupil. McLlvaine was out, STEVE PHILLIPS the rising (porn)star was in.
This is where all starts to go awry for Fred-A-Licious Wilpon - my fellow Brooklynite - the Dodger fan - the man who went to high school in my neighborhood like Lee Mazzilli, and John Franco before him - my team's owner who pitched for Lafayette H.S. in Bensonhurst while Sandy Koufax played first base. That Fred Wilpon.
Whatever assessment you have concerning the years 1997 through 2000 (2001-2003 LOL!!!) if they're positive, attribute them to Bobby Valentine; do yourself that favor first.
Steve Phillips had been a part of the Mets executive pool since 1990. He was the last of the personnel brought in by Cashen to work for the Mets. Besides being horny, here's Steve Phillip's major achievement ~ Steve Phillips was the beneficiary of a Florida Marlins' fire sale. The inability of the Marlins to retain their talent was the biggest reason behind the acquisitions of Mike Piazza, Al Leiter, and Dennis Cook. After the Florida fire sale and the 2000 season, his acquisitions were incredible failures and that includes the Melvin Mora trade. You know the names. Don't make me do it.
Steve Phillips did draft David Wright, whom would turn out to be the compensation for losing Mike Hampton to free agency. He also drafted Jose Reyes and Scott Kazmir. That's not bad work right there!
But Steve Phillips obliterated any respect he built for himself up to the 2000 season. He set his reputation as well as Wilpon's cash a-blaze with some acquisitions made between 2001-2003 which shell shocked Fred Wilpon even further. For the second time, Fred Wilpon was stuck with one of the highest payrolls in baseball with nothing to show for it but shame, like in 1993. This was bad for Fred. He always had a delicate psyche. He doesn't like bad press and controversy. A guy named Steinbrenner loved it though. But not Fred.
Back to Mike Piazza, only Nelson Doubleday knew enough to sign Piazza for his worth. Fred didn't want to write that check and that kind of thinking drove Nelson crazy. At this point, Fred Wilpon's partnership with Nelson Doubleday was falling apart like wet toilet paper.
STEVE PHILLIPS also had to take a leave of absence from the team because he was out and about being a slut. No this isn't 2009 and ESPN I'm talking about. He was an adulterous whore back in 1998 too. Frank Cashen had to come in from the BULLPEN and temporarily take over while the Mets dealt with the first Steve Phillips Scandal.
Moving forward ~ After sitting by while Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Kevin Appier, Mike Bordick, Jeremy Burnitz and company stole his money, Wilpon, sporting the second highest payroll in baseball, was kicking around with a last place 2003 team, a bickering GM, and a rabies afflicted manager.
Fred Wilpon backed Phillips in his blood feud with Bobby Valentine and the manager was out. It was a bad move but definitely the easier choice to make. Valentine didn't hesitate venting frustration with the organization. And with Wilpon, that's a no-no. So, Valentine basically got to fill-out his own pink slip. But Phillips also read the writing on the wall and knew Wilpon was tired of his act as well. The Wilpons fired Steve Phillips shortly after.
By the time Fred limped into the 2003 off season, all direct remnants of Frank Cashen were gone and the resources he left behind were suddenly exhausted. Additionally, Nelson Doubleday couldn't deal with his partnership with Wilpon anymore. The sentiment was Nelson found Fred Wilpon insufferable. Nelson and Fred finally worked out a deal and Doubleday's half of the team would be bought by the Wilpons. "FLOUNDER" had now lost BLUTO, D-DAY, OTTER and HOOVER.
The S.S. Wilpon officially became rudderless. Doubleday left with the team's fortitude to gamble and dream big in tow. Frank Cashen took away all the team's brains and know-how. FLOUNDER was about to find out things can and would get worse....and more treacherous. Fred Wilpon and the Mets made their first 10 degree turn towards the ICEBERG. But what's a Wilpon to do?
Omar Minaya was previously brought into the fold by Steve Phillips via the Texas Rangers. He was the Mets Assistant GM and Lord over minor league and international development since Sept. of 1997. He left to take a precarious Expos GM job in 2002. So with Frank Cashen's influence a distant memory, Wilpon turned to another Phillips appointment, Jim Duquette. It would be Fred Wilpon's first decision as a solo artist. He was the only one around now.
Wilpon was UNPLUGGED. Minority Partner Saul Katz was kicked up a notch from his position of obscurity within the ownership group, as the rest of us were all left thinking what the Son of 'Pon - Wilpon the Younger - Lil Jeff - really knew about Baseball.
At this point the Mets' fan base is about to get subjected to two Steve Phillips' imports; Jim Duquette and Omar Minaya.
* JIM DUQUETTE, METS' GENERAL MANAGER 2003-2004:
Ever since Fred Wilpon had to pay down the 2003 disaster of a season, his mandate became to do things second rate, and from a mindset shackled with timidity. It's hard to argue against paying up for Piazza and Ventura and that over-achieving team of 2000. But it was the Alomar's, Mo Vaughn's and Baerga's that made Freddie break out in a rash; just like Vince Coleman and Bobby Bonilla made him schizoid before that. And this was the owner's mindset Duquette was inheriting.
You have to feel sorry for this guy. Fate cut him a little slack by bringing in Art Howe to manage, and getting the era named after the manager (i.e. the Art Howe years). Howe only bought Jim Duquette a little time, for Jim was determined to put his ineptitude on display for all to ridicule. Somehow, pitching coach Rick Petersen got into his right ear and polluted Jim's, and Jeff Wilpon's judgement. That meeting of the minds cost us Scott Kazmir. Petersen thought he'd be able to get more out of Victor Zambrano. Really? Between Art Howe, Duquette trading Kazmir, poor play on the field, and no indication things were going to get better in the era under Wilpon's sole ownership, Met fans were stewing.
Fact is, since day one, Jim Duquette never had a chance. He was manipulated by Wilpon like a Jim Henson Muppet the entire short time he was GM. During Jim Duquette's very brief tenure, in a quite publicly known secret, he was ordered to freeze payroll. The new Mission Statement called for Met Mediocrity. Band-aids would plug the team's needs just long enough until the Wilpons could see if they could come up with a clue.
Wilpon sensed the discontent, and before even firing Duquette, he hired Omar Minaya. No..., the Wilpons begged Omar to come back and work for the Mets, in effect creating a two-headed GM for the latter part of the 2004 season. The appointment making Omar the official GM, and Duquette's formal dismissal from his position didn't officially occur till the 2004 season was over. But the handling just wreaked of desperation by the Wilpons. Regardless, the Mets had their man most Met fans were content with.
Wilpon is always monitoring what we're saying because he's that paranoid, not because he's that in touch with the fan base. But with our increasing decibels of discontent, an idea was born. "I know - Let's ask Omar Minaya to come back ~ Because the bottom line here is, I don't know anybody else. Where's Frank Cashen when you really need him?"
Fred Wilpon used his third and last "Lucky Break" card. Omar was someone who Fred Wilpon was familiar with. Fear of the unknown is paralyzing for some..(Fred). Wilpon had a comfort level with Minaya. Omar had a good reputation. But c'mon, the truth is Wilpon just couldn't pool together a well educated baseball brain trust since Frank Cashen left. This organization is at the mercy of Steve Phillips' proteges now. I do not believe the Wilpons have the industry insight to hire someone better than Omar. So yea, here in this instance, Fred Wilpon lucks out; again. Omar came back like Joe McIlvaine did once before him, both at Fred Wilpon's behest.
* OMAR MINAYA, METS' GENERAL MANAGER Sept. 2004-present:
Omar's record since 2005 is 427-383. However, 2006, as the years pass seems to be the aberration. The win totals each year are 83, 97, 88, 89 and 70 in 2009. Ninety seven wins in 2006 seems to be standing alone. Ever since Carlos Beltran watched that curve ball fall in during the '06 NLCS, it seems like this team put it's tail between it's legs and has been heading in the opposite direction since. I'll be fair and take last year off Omar's docket. Injuries crippled the team. But from 2005 to 2008 the team is a plus six. The '08 team was six games better than the '05 edition. So you decide. The book is still open with Omar. We're all watching. I wouldn't be telling you anything you don't already know.
But if Fred Wilpon fires Omar Minaya because he can't turn the S.S. Wilpon around, this team will be in a world of hurt, more-so moving forward than at the present time, and we'll head into the uncharted depths of Tartaros. I mean it. Duquette didn't leave any hand picked executives behind. He was here for a cup of coffee really. He was like a front office version of Stump Merrill. SO, who else is there?
One of Omar Minaya's closest lieutenants, Tony Bernazard sizzled in a blaze of Binghampton MMA Bravado. Then there was Omar's own Blubbering Flushing Meltdown at the press conference announcing the termination of said Tony Bernazard. It truly was BIZARRO WORLD scene. Another Minaya guy, Manny Acta took a managers job with the Nationals. So who do the Wilpons look to if they relieve Omar?
Here's another concurrent problem folks. Our minor league system has come to a grinding halt pretty much for the first time since 1965. For 9 years now, I've watched my graduating Brooklyn Cyclones of NYPL sent to Binghampton AA and get stuck in the mud. Additionally, there are no more prospective Front Office executives the Wilpons can tap into anymore. They are all done. Cashen started a line of executive hires that were all in-house. At present they've all been exhausted by the Wilpons.
And now, Fred Wilpon is at a crucible. This is the most important year of his entire time owning the Metropolitan BBC.
If he fires Omar Minaya, the next decision he makes could have cataclysmic and far reaching ramifications. The dark ages are looming for this franchise. I am a little thin on confidence the Wilpons will get this right. I fear ICEBERG DEAD AHEAD. There is still time to save this however. There's plenty of time to prevent panic. This operation is very salvageable. Fred is not an imbecile. Mawkish? Perhaps. Ignorant and dumb? Certainly not. Lacking baseball acumen, timid and paranoid? You betcha.
Finally, I'd like to bring Joe McDonald back into the conversation. Even though the Mets were miserable on the field between '77-'79 under Joe, the farm system was busy. Get your knife and forks Met fans and dig into this.
Wally Backman, Jesse Oroscoe, Neil Allen, Mookie Wilson, Hubie Brooks, *Mike Scott, *Jeff Reardon were all getting farmed-up during that time. Hubie Brooks allowed us to acquire Gary Carter. Neil Allen allowed us to acquire Kieth Hernandez and Lee Mazzilli got us Ron Darling in return. And then we reacquired Mazzilli.
It's fair to say that Joe McDonald directly and indirectly deserves credit for..oh...28% of the World Champion New York Mets of 1986. Am I way off on that? The only reason I point that out is if we're going to truly assess the body of work of this ownership group, it's imperative we know how they got to this very moment, attribute the credit where it's due, and examine what needs our attention.
Joe McDonald has truly been the gem of the Mets organization. He gets a bad rap for those late 70's teams. What was closer to the truth of the Mets demise back then was the dynamic between Joan Payson's husband and daughters, and the infamous Boris Kolaff of an executive, Board Chairman, M. Donald Grant. He was the real reason Tom Seaver got traded. He is where my childhood rage should have been directed towards back then. He was the Mets' true Phantom Menace of that ERA. But that's for another day.
Today, I'm worried for the future of the Mets franchise under Wilpon/Katz control moving forward. If the last 6 years of Wilponianism UNPLUGGED is any indication, I wanna get put back in the Matrix.
This is the way I see it. I'm not saying I'm right or wrong. It's just how I see life going into Met Year 8 A.D. "After Doubleday"
Thank you for your time tonight.