I first became a fan of the New York Mets in 1970, too late to be a part of their Miracle run of 1969, but easily swept up by its magical aftermath that placed the Mets at the heart of the New York baseball scene.
Almost from the start, I was well aware of who the Mets owner was. Joan Payson was always visible to us Mets fans, be it riding around in a golf cart with Casey Stengel every Old Timers Day, or on the page dedicated to her every year in the Mets Yearbook. She oozed class, wealth and sophistication, even if I’m hard pressed to remember her ever saying a single word. It never occurred to five-year-old me that our owner had anything to do with the games being played on the field. She was simply our number one fan.
Fast forward fifty years and I have to admit I don’t recall ever hearing new Mets owner Steve Cohen utter a single word either. But the similarities to Mrs. Payson end there. We’ve got ourselves a new owner, folks, and this one brings with him instant credibility and enthusiasm.
Hope always springs eternal, but also now anew for Mets fans, as we welcome Mr. Cohen to the fold as our new owner. He’s already tweeting us asking for input, subtly suggesting he will be a player signing free agents, and generally allowing Mets fans to feel like big hitters (pun intended) for the first time since the days of Darryl, Doc and Davey back in the mid-’80’s.
Now there are a few realities still to be overcome for us Mets fans, most significantly that we are still the Mets. Add to that the fact that a big checkbook doesn’t guarantee results (last I checked James Dolan has plenty of money, yet take a look at the Knicks — check that, don’t look). But as the old saying goes, “money can’t buy you happiness, but it sure will pay the mortgage.”
For the past several off-seasons, like all also-ran fans, we would experience optimism, but it was the type where we had to hope absolutely everything went right in the coming season, and then pray for a healthy dose of luck on top of that. Put all that together, and the Mets might contend.
Such an unlikely formula even managed to play out for the Mets back in 2015. But now? Now we have real hope, in the form of an above-average Mets nucleus returning to Queens in 2021, and deep ownership pockets ready to add some real star power, filling out our roster at a time when the rest of the league is sucking financial wind courtesy of COVID-19.
In other words, it’s finally ours to lose, Mets fans. Welcome Steve Cohen, and Let’s Go Mets!
Other random thoughts for a Sunday afternoon around the world of sports:
*For the second year in a row I’m offering a public “my bad” to the winning World Series manager. Not that Dave Roberts distinguished himself as any kind of master tactician in leading his incredibly talented Dodgers to the championship, but he was smart enough to stay out of the way. And try as Roberts did to keep the Rays in it, Kevin Cash was bound and determined to be the manager most remembered for blowing a World Series in 2020. Congrats, Dave Roberts and the Dodgers. One and done? You betcha.
*I’m overjoyed that Yankees GM Brian Cashman finally enters an offseason with a bunch of shitty decisions to preside over. Keep catcher Gary Sanchez and let his decline continue with the bat in his hand, while butchering his duties behind the plate? Or move him and run the risk of seeing Sanchez hitting 50 dingers for some team like the Reds in 2021? Overpay D.J. Lemahieu following two career years and keep him in the Bronx on a multi-year deal? Or let him move across town and be part of the Mets renaissance? Roll the dice and trade Luke Voigt, selling high and assuming he can’t repeat his career 2020 (accomplished during a 60-game season)? Or keep him and watch him hit .230 with 18 dingers and 53 RBI in 2021? Masahiro Tanaka? How many contracts will Cashman get away with giving this guy before the hurler’s partially torn elbow explodes and ends his career? And these are just the tip of the Yankees iceberg, when it comes to sticky offseason calls. Cashman is among the game’s very best, but he’s painted himself into a corner with a high payroll, brittle, feast or famine sluggers locked into the middle of the lineup, and a dearth of starting pitchers behind Gerrit Cole.
*Over to the gridiron, the NFL season feels real now, with baseball, hoops and the NHL behind us while the weather turns cold back east. Are the Steelers really as good as their 7-0 record says they are? Can we finally write off the Patriots, or is Belichick rope-a-doping us once again? Should we just hand the Lombardi Trophy to Patrick Mahomes and pencil in the Chiefs as the AFC’s Super Bowl participant into the 2030’s? Will the Seahawks be this year’s NFC West Super Bowl loser? Will 6-10 actually win the NFC East? The Packers look really good. Was lighting a fire under Aaron Rogers the real reason Green Bay drafted a QB in the first round back in April? Anyone know how the expanded playoff format works? Me either, but I know more teams get into an expanded tournament this year. Here’s hoping the season can continue uninterrupted.
*In case you missed it, they played the French Open last month. I barely woke up in time to see Rafa Nadal absolutely obliterate Novak Djokovic in the men’s final. Awww, poor Novak. Everyone picking on him, when all he ever did was ignore coronavirus protocols and party in one of the virus’s first “super-spreaders,” back in the spring, then be unapologetic about it, antagonizing many of his fellow tour pros. Then he bitches loud and long about the inconvenience of having to play the U.S. Open in New York City without the luxury of being able to dine and party and enjoy the city’s nightlife, thanks again to those party-poopers from the USTA putting protocols in place to constrain his fun while keeping players safe. Then he makes an early exit from the tournament, DQ’d after pegging a linesman with a wayward line drive struck in anger. Like I said, awwww…
*Who won the Stanley Cup? Tampa? Oh, that’s right. Wait, Tampa has a hockey team? Boy, have I been away from the ice for too long. Next thing you’ll tell me there’s NHL teams in Tennessee and the Carolinas. Wait, what?
*I’d really like to root for the Lakers as my “west coast team” again before I die. I could have loved the ’70’s version with Wilt, Baylor, Goodrich and West, if not for the fact that they were my Knicks’ arch-rivals in three separate NBA Finals that decade. I did get on board the Showtime Lakers bandwagon in the ’80’s, and took great joy in seeing Magic, Kareem and Jammin’ James get the better of the hated Celtics more often than not. But then the Lakers figured out how to steal Kobe in the draft and next thing you know Big Chief Triangle moved his front-running act to Tinsel Town. It soon became an unfair fight, with Shaq at his most dominant, and they became even more unbearable when Kobe snagged a couple of titles of his own toward the end of the decade. And now LeBron makes it impossible to conjure any affection for the purple and gold. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day LeBron clues us in on who he actually is? The guy is so busy trying to create this really cool, superstar persona, that in the end he just ends up appearing tragically lame. He was only the second-best player on this year’s Lakers title team (a fact acknowledged by nearly everyone but LBJ himself), and his insecurity over his inability to secure his place as the NBA’s GOAT was on full display during the Lakers title celebration. One second we see LeBron trying to be MJ, collapsed on the ground, overcome with emotion. We can’t help but wonder how many times he’s replayed the tape of MJ doing just that back in the ’90’s. Then we see LBJ proudly puffing on a big old cigar, Michael Jordan-style. Hell, how did he not think to stick out his tongue on a soaring dunk and then smile and shrug his shoulders at the TV cameras on his way back up the court? And just when the MJ impersonation was running out of juice, there he was invoking Kobe as his spiritual blood brother and partner in the Lakers championship legacy. He practically pleaded for us to understand that as beloved as Kobe was throughout the NBA, we must recognize that LeBron was always Kobe’s one and only BFF. As sad as all those public insecurities on display come across, they pale in comparison to his lame attempts at positioning himself as the NBA’s champion of social justice. Unless by “champion” he’s referring to hiding in the shadows, silent and non-committal, until a lesser known player is lauded for courageous and thoughtful commentary on an important issue in the news. Only then does LeBron emerge, deftly paraphrasing the comments as his own, on his way to grabbing the baton at the front of the day’s protest parade. Enough already. Your legacy as a Top 10 All Time NBA-er is secure, King James, stop trying so damn hard to be something you’re not.
*Isn’t Mike Tyson fighting Roy Jones, Jr. this month? Now that I can get excited about. Conjures up memories of Big George Foreman taking on Gerry Cooney years back, in the bout affectionately billed as The Geezers at Caesars. And yes, I bought the Pay-Per-View for that one, and I’ll be watching Iron Mike climb into the ring again later this month, too.
*Tough year for MLB Hall of Famers — Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan. I’m sure I’ve missed a few more, but what a list. Morgan spent the final years of his life in the same town as I, and I’m sorry to say we never crossed paths. Any baseball fan my age emulated that left-handed elbow pump of his back in the ’70’s. You had no choice, because Joe Morgan was bad ass. With two months to go in this God-forsaken year, I sure hope Hammerin’ Hank and the Say Hey Kid stay healthy and safe.