“I’ve come in here to be a hands-off owner. My baseball people will be making all the decisions and I will listen to them on every baseball matter. We have a great tradition here with the New York Mets and I plan on continuing it.”
George Steinbrenner – 1973
Ok, so he said this about the Yankees and we all know what kind of boss Steinbrenner became. And the Mets, well, they had to deal with Steinbrenner-light with the Wilpons, while trying to balance winning with coming into a budget, and the budget usually winning.
But what if the Wilpons were more like Steinbrenner or for that matter Steinbrenner bought the Mets instead of the Yankees back in 1973.
Of course things would have been different, especially with the Boss being the Boss. There would be more free agency and the dark ages of the late 1970s would not have happened. Rather, you would have seen a very different Met team and in turn, you may have had different Met fans.
Winning does that.
And some of the familiar names in the Bronx would of course be in Queens, like Reggie, Billy and even Catfish.
The 1970s would have been entirely different.
So let’s take a closer look at What If George Steinbrenner purchased the Mets from Joan Payson back in 1973 instead of the Yankees.
Unlike the Yankees, the Mets were a good team back in 1973. Yogi Berra was the manager and there were a number of star players on the club. And much like he did with the Yankees in the beginning, he would have let the Mets run themselves for the first few seasons.
But that all would have changed when he had to fire Berra, but unlike the one that actually happened in 1985, this time, Berra wouldn’t have objected. He would have stayed with the organization, making him a Met for life.
And he would have replaced him with Billy Martin, since he was Steinbrenner’s favorite player growing up, Martin would have come in and ignited the Mets with Billy Ball, making the playoffs in 1975 and ’76, but still losing to the Big Red Machine.
And when free agency came about, Steinbrenner would have dove right in, signing Catfish Hunter, Goose Gossage and Reggie Jackson. He would have made sure Tom Seaver was a Met for life and Jerry Koosman would not have been traded to Minnesota for young Jesse Orosco.
The relationship with Martin would have been the same and he would have hired some of the same baseball people. Bob Lemon would have replaced Martin and then re-replaced him and Tampa would have been the Mets home, so there would have been no move to Port St. Lucie.
You could also figure, the Mets would have won a World Series or two in the 1970s, moving the Bronx Zoo to the Queens Carnival.
Even with all of that, Steinbrenner would have made the fans proud to be a Met fan. He would have retired numbers, with Willie Mays 24 sitting on the wall. No. 36 would have been retired, as would have 44.
He would have also collected some ex-Yankees just to tweak the cross-town rivals with Bobby Murcer ending up in Queens at the end of his career.
And the back pages would have been all Mets. There would have been calculated blowups to make sure the Mets would have gotten the headlines.
He would have given the Yankees a hard time about using Shea during the renovation. Yankee Stadium was going to be renovated before Steinbrenner bought, so that would have went through anyway.
However, as Shea got older, he would have held the city’s feet to the fire for a new Stadium, complaining about the area in Corona. He also would have objected to the Jets using the stadium and complained about the two weeks the US Open came across the street.
Then there would have been the dark days of the 1980s, when he would have traded various Met prospects for over the hill players. Steve Trout would have been a Met for someone like Lenny Dykstra or Rick Aguilera.
And besides Martin five times as a manger, there would have been the litany of Met managers over the years, which each averaging one year. And forget about a guy like Davey Johnson, he would have been gone when he went to criticize Steinbrenner. You can see it now, with one quote Davey would have been on the unemployment line.
Steinbrenner would have signed Dave Winfield for the Mets – and also fought with Jackson – and he would have been suspended for having Howie Spira follow Winfield in the late 1980s. That would have allowed a good baseball man like Gene Michael a chance to rebuild the organization and create a renaissance in the 1990s.
There also would have been Shea Stadium. Steinbrenner may have moved the fences in to help some of his power hitters. Instead of a symmetrical park, there would have been different dimensions.
Let’s also not forget about when Yankee Stadium had it collapse in 1998. He may not have been as open to allow the Yankees to use Shea.
All-in-all, Yankee history would have become Met history and the Yankees would have been an after-thought.
So think about that the next time you wish the Mets were more like the Yankees. Instead of the people’s team, you would have a bunch of corporate fans and those who root for the team because they win.
And you would have had the controversy going with it. The Mets for better or worse have a very different fan base than the Yankees and frankly when they win it’s special. When the Yankees win, it’s expected and anything less than a World Series is considered failure.
So even though the Mets are going through another tough season, think about that the next time you wish they were more like the Yankees. It could be better, but more than likely, it would have been worse.