What If Doubleday Bought Out Wilpon?

“I am would like to thank Fred Wilpon for all his years of service to the New York Mets. We may not always have agreed, but we made this partnership work. Now it’s time for a new era, one where I hope to get this team back to its glory years.”

  • Nelson Doubleday, 2002

After the last few years, this is something many Mets fans hoped would have happened back in 2002. At the time, Fred Wilpon wanted to buy out Nelson Doubleday, but Doubleday also wanted to buy out Wilpon. We all know what happened and the team has been controlled by the Wilpon family ever since.

But it came with a price, as Wilpon didn’t have the cash on hand to buy out his partner, so he needed to leverage the team, which was the start of the mounting debt that ultimately almost cost the family the team last year after the Madoff scandal broke.

Furthermore, Wilpon only had the capital to buy the Mets due to the money in the Madoff accounts, so if the Ponzi scheme was discovered 10 years sooner, Doubleday could have very well bought out Wilpon and took majority control of the team back from his long-time partner.

And Mets history over the last 12 years would have been greatly different.

So What If Doubleday bought out Wilpon back in the early 2000s?

Doubleday probably would have shown more patience with Bobby Valentine back in 2002. He wouldn’t have fired him after one bad season. You see, Valentine became closer to Doubleday during his last years as owner, which is one reason why Fred showed him the door.

And if Bobby stayed, that meant Art Howe would have been not an unwelcomed blip on the Mets radar. Instead, there may have been a more stay-the-course direction with the Mets. There would have been no Tom Glavine or Cliff Floyd, two players who made it known they signed in New York because Valentine was gone.

But Doubleday liked the idea of having the big name stars on the Mets. Remember he pushed for Mike Piazza in 1998 and was instrumental in re-signing him that off-season. So he would have opened the check book and gave Steve Phillips – or whomever replaced him – carte blanch in signings. Doubleday would not have meddled and from all accounts none of his children would have wanted to run the team.

Speaking of Phillips, he probably wouldn’t have survived. Doubleday would have probably gotten rid of him and may have promoted Jim Duquette or brought back Omar Minaya. But something tells me he would have gone out and recruited a “name” general manager to run the Mets and changed the culture if things went south.

The same holds true for Valentine when he was shown the door. Eventually Bobby V would have wore out his welcome and a new manager would have been selected. It could have been Willie Randolph, but more likely Doubleday would have opted for Jim Leyland, who was his choice to run the Mets when Valentine was hired.

With Leyland running the show and baseball men running with an open checkbook, the Mets resurgence on the late 2000s would probably have lasted more than one year and a couple of collapses.

There was also a common man aspect with Doubleday, who was known to wait on lines with fans for a hot dog at Shea Stadium. He probably would have kept costs down in the stadium, ensuring there would have been a number of reasonably priced seats.

He also wouldn’t have started his own cable television network. Rather he probably would have had Jim Dolan pay a king’s ransom to keep the Mets on the MSG Network. Although very profitable, SNY probably wouldn’t be in his plans.

On the field, since the Mets had success under Frank Cashen, Doubleday would have probably made sure the Mets had a strong farm system. That meant there may not have been a number of bad deadline trades, stripping the system bare and he would have sent extra money into scouting and development.

And last but certainly not least, there would have been no Citi Field.

Doubleday went on record saying he preferred renovating Shea Stadium rather than building a modern Ebbets Field. That may be true, but he may have said that to tweak Wilpon who was pushing for a new stadium.

Since the Yankees wanted a new ballpark and the Mets actually had first right to get one from the city, he may have been talked into a new park.

But it was also known Doubleday looked at other locations for a ballpark in the past and may not have kept the team in Queens, rather he may have built a new park on Long Island (Belmont Park was where he was looking). And he also probably wouldn’t have built a retro park, but one more like Cleveland’ Jacobs Field, with a lot of Shea sprinkled in.

That new park wouldn’t have forgotten the Mets either after it was built and didn’t need to have a few makeovers. It probably wouldn’t have been a Grand Canyon for hitters either, as his baseball people would have gotten it right.

The Mets would have been solvent during this whole time. Doubleday was from “old money” (you do own a number of Doubleday Publishing books in your “library,” don’t you?) and didn’t have it all invested with one shady money manager. When it came time to spend, he would have done it. In fact, he may have built the new stadium with less leverage on the team. Instead, if it was a good investment, he could have written check. Or it would have gone back in his pocket until needed.

Now all of this is conjecture, but Doubleday did have a very good track record during his seven years as principle owner in the 1980s. He built a powerhouse team while keeping his distance and not interfering with the baseball people running the club.

It would have at least made the Mets different over the last few seasons and frankly, they need a little “different.”

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