May 31, 2020

How Long Will Mets Fans Wait?

“This town is big enough for two baseball teams and I’m not even ready to concede the Bronx.”

He started with those words.

With that sentence, it was easy to tell that John Francis Cashen on that winter afternoon of 1980 wasn’t planning on being shy.

The Mets’ new ownership group, headed by publishing magnate Nelson Doubleday, had hired Cashen as their new executive vice president and general manager from MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s staff.  Doubleday, who wanted no role in the day-to-day running of his club (his team president, Fred Wilpon, who owned about 5 percent share in the club, did), picked the 53-year old father of seven as team GM because of his past accomplishments, rather than his most recent employment.

Cashen’s impressive run as an executive with the Baltimore Orioles from 1965-75 (VP of Baseball Operations until 1971, then as GM from 75) promised great things for a Mets organization that was still reeling from the exile of Tom Seaver and the tenure of M. Donald Grant.  What better way to win back a fan base than to hire a guy whose  last organization terrorized baseball from late 60’s and through the early 70s.

Except for 1969, of course.

“This team presented me with my worst hour in baseball….I brought what I thought was one heck of a club into Shea Stadium in 1969.  The Mets beat us and maybe that’s why I respect them so much”.

As Mets fans, we were paranoid in those days.  Did this bespectacled man who had a fondness for bow-ties, made good by going to law school at night while he was a sportswriter during the day, really want to take on the task of turning the Mets around or was it going to be his own sweet revenge?

In 1980 New York, there was no internet and no all-sports radio station. There was more patience, it seemed.  So the guy with the bow tie asked for it.

“We are going to turn this club around.  I can’t tell you how long it’s gonna take to win a pennant but we’re going to win a pennant.  I’m not planning any wholesale changes at this time, but I do reserve the right to make changes that I feel necessary in the future.”

The Mets have a new GM in Sandy Alderson, hired from the Commissioner’s office, and a former GM with another AL club that was a standout club during his tenure (and afterwards as well). Alderson’s Oakland A’s club won three AL pennants from 1988-1990, and whose eventual transformation into protégé’ Billy Beane’s Moneyballers is a direct result of Alderson’s decision-making.

There are many Mets fans that think Alderson and his hand picked front office of Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi can save the franchise, which had floundered for much of the last eight years.

One very big difference though does exist.

The Mets’ ownership dynamic is vastly changed from 31 years ago when Cashen took over the club.  Doubleday, who owned 80% of the team, was adamant ownership’s role in baseball operations, is retired and living in near-seclusion.  He sold his interest in the Mets to the Wilpons after a nasty public legal battle in 2002, and the franchise is now owned by team CEO Fred Wilpon., Jeff Wilpon is the COO and the elder Wilpon’s brother in law, Saul Katz, is team president.

The Wilpons have told the media and their fans repeatedly that they do not meddle in baseball operations.  The perception by many media and fans is that they do. A lot.

By hiring Alderson, a former Marine whose baseball and business resume speaks for itself; many feel the Wilpons have made a dramatic first step to addressing that perception.

Whether the fans start to believe that things are going to be different is another matter.

Despite a brand new ballpark that is hailed by many as a tremendous facility, fans are not filling it as hoped.  The image and the lack of structure from their baseball team has caused a lot of apathy among one of the most passionate and knowledgeable fan bases in the country.

Truly the 2001-2010 period has had many brutal episodes – and some pretty brutal teams, it’s seems a cakewalk for the generation of Mets fans that lived through June of 1977 until June of 1983.

The Met fans seem to believe Sandy Alderson is the baseball man that will lead the franchise out of the wilderness and take it to the next level. Others wonder of he’ll be allowed to do whatever it takes to do so.

Cashen had the luxury of a five-year plan, and he needed just about every one of those years to transform the club from top to bottom.  Asking today’s fans of the instant gratification generation is a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

While Tommy Tutone was telling us about Jenny and her phone number in the summer of 1982, Italy was winning the World Cup, and Cashen’s Mets were losing 97 games.

The late George Bamberger, Cashen’s hand-picked manager, was the skipper.  Craig Swan, Pat Zachry and Randy Jones anchored the pitching staff, and April trade of fan favorite Lee Mazzilli to Texas for two minor leaguers (one of them named Ron Darling) had many fans began to wonder if Don Grant was still running this club.

Things were happening under the radar; Cashen’s scouting staff drafted Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra. Dwight Gooden and Roger McDowell.  Even the loss of Bamberger, who quit in the middle of the 1983 season, proved to be another blessing in disguise.  Davey Johnson, the former O’s second baseman who drove Cashen crazy during contract negotiations as player, was given the job to run the club.

Remember 1984.

No, we’re not about to quote George Orwell, but it took four years for the fruits of Frank Cashen’s labors to come together.  Sandy Alderson has a lot more to work with, but he’s got a fan base that one can safely say is not going to wait four years for results.

Opening Day is right around the corner, and for the moment Mets fans seem to be willing to give Alderson the benefit of the doubt.  If you are a Mets fan, do you really have any choice but to wait and see what happens?  No, says this writer.  Nobody telling you to run about and buy season tickets, D. J. Carrasco jerseys or even a Mr. Met doll.  But try to remember neither Rome nor Flushing was built in a day; there will be some growing pains.

A littler patience goes a long way, just ask Frank Cashen.