In the midst of a wild double-header sweep of the Yankees on Friday night, news quickly spread that billionaire Steven A. Cohen is in exclusive negotiations with Fred Wilpon to buy the team. Fans have already started celebrating this news. Let’s slow things down and take a look.
Let’s be honest, most Mets fans would be perfectly fine with anybody other than Fred Wilpon owning the Mets. It could be Steve Cohen, actor Sacha Baron Cohen, the late musician Leonard Cohen, or even Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s fame. Heck, it could be an ice cream cone for that matter. Since Wilpon took majority control of the Mets in 2002, the franchise has been mired in one cringe-worthy situation after another. And while it hasn’t been all bad, the last couple months of 2015 were a great time after all, the disconnect between the Mets owner and the team’s fan base seems impossible to bridge at this point. So when word got around that Cohen, a billionaire hedge fund manager, was on the verge of buying a controlling stake in the team, it became hard not to picture him riding in on a white horse, presumably a thoroughbred, to save the day.
And there’s good reason for that. Upon buying the Mets, Cohen would instantly become the richest owner in baseball. You know when you’re driving past one of those lottery billboards that electronically displays the current grand prize and you start imagining what you would do with that money, ranging from benevolent to frivolous? Yeah, Mets fans are doing something similar to that right now.
It is important to keep in mind that this isn’t the first time that Cohen, who actually does currently own 8% of the team, tried to rescue the Mets from the Wilpons. In fact, it’s not even the first time in the last 10 months. In early December, it was revealed that Cohen was in negotiations with the Wilpons, only to have that fall through by early February, presumably because of a clause that would keep Jeff Wilpon involved in team decisions for the next 5 years. Now, after a reality TV-like search for new owners, it looks like Cohen is the front-runner and the inevitable future owner. I mean, it’s kind of like the Mets being up by 5 runs with 2 outs in the last inning of a game. Uh-oh.
Yeah, anyone who has been following the Mets closely enough to be genuinely excited by this news should be equally cautious not to count these faberge eggs before they hatch, so to speak. Until I see a picture of Fred Wilpon handing over the keys to Citi Field (in a sense), and the Wilpons’ parking spots painted over, I won’t believe that it’s happening. I have seen too many blown saves and Luis Castillo-dropped pop-ups to start thinking about which free agents the Mets will get to overpay for in the future.
As for Cohen, he’s not without his own baggage. In 2013, federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against his company, S.A.C. Capital Advisors, for questionable trading practices that began in the mid-80’s. Cohen agreed not to manage other people’s money for a couple years while also paying $1.8 billion to settle the charges. More recently, less than two years after Cohen reopened a London office under the company’s new name, Point72 Asset Management, two women filed separate discrimination claims against the company. To be fair to Cohen, he was not personally named in the claims, just his company. Then again, to be fair to Wilpon, he didn’t give up the game-tying home run to Aaron Hicks on Sunday, just someone from the team he owns. Still, for a team whose fans have had to watch the Steinbrenner Yankees spend their way into the postseason year after year, there appears to be some room to exchange Cohen’s past transgressions for future championships.
Now, to clarify, when I say that the Steinbrenners bought the Yankees to success, it’s actually not as sour grape-y as it sounds. Money doesn’t automatically equate success. There have been many terrible Yankees free agent signings over the years: Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Jacoby Ellsbury, A.J. Burnett, just to name a few. However, the fact that the Yankees had the cash to take these chances and not let it destroy them is a comfort that few teams have. Sometimes it seems that the Mets will be hurting from the Jason Bay signing all the way until they’re done paying Bobby Bonilla to not be on the team. Also, it’s not all about spending the money to get other teams’ players. Some of the best Yankees signings were of Yankees players. Being able to keep homegrown talent can be just as important as picking up stars from other cities.
First though, the biggest deal to get done is for Cohen to actually complete the purchase of the Mets. This could end up being the best move for the Mets that Wilpon ever made. Now let’s see if they can actually make it happen.
Unrelated to the above: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the events of Thursday night. I watched the pregame festivities of Thursday’s Mets-Marlins game with more intrigue than any game in the last few seasons. In a calendar year in which the word “unprecedented” has been used an unprecedented number of times, it’s hard to imagine what went through these players’ heads in that moment. And, at the same time, it’s also not, as the players all seemed to be unified in an experience that’s so much larger than a game, or an enormous contract, or even a life-threatening pandemic disease. There are myriad opinions as to sports involvement in political statements, and it’s a worthwhile debate. However, Thursday’s events in Flushing, and throughout the sports world, were about more than politics, and I only hope that they have inspired the conversations that they were meant to inspire. I know they have in my world.