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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Can Don Draper Save the Mets?

On a Sunday night in late August, viewers of Mad Men (whose season finale airs tonight at 10 on AMC) discovered Lane Pryce, British financial maven for ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, had tacked on his office wall a New York Mets pennant, the period-appropriate kind he might have bought at Shea Stadium or maybe a 30 Rock gift shop proximate to SCDP’s Time & Life Building headquarters.

Pete Campbell, hoping the 1965 Mets can turn it around.

I hold a theory that Lane and account man Kenneth Cosgrove attended a win over the Phillies in early May of ’65; 2-1, Al Jackson striking out eleven. They were, by my calculations, using the Birds Eye seats on Field Level (third base side); Kenny, who’s been going to Mets games since 1962, procured them so he could smooth out the details of his imminent return to the agency/show. Lane and Ken probably sealed the deal over drinks in the Charcoal Room, which, Leonard Koppett wrote in The New York Mets: The Whole Story, was “a nightspot in its own right. After a night game, it became the scene of an impromptu party” for season box holders.

At the center of the high-roller festivities? None other than Shea’s own Queen of Melody, Jane Jarvis. There was an organ “at the end of the long bar,” Koppett recounted, “and Jane would play that for a while after the game. The sing-alongs would echo far into the night sometimes, and why not?”

Yes, why not?

I’m pretty certain the sight of that pennant was the highlight of 2010 for me — I know it took a show set in 1965 to get me to squeal with Met delight by late August.

Lane Pryce, deciding Al Jackson deserves a raise.

Kudos to the fictional Lane and the actual Mad Men creator Matt Wiener for deciding that a firm and a show aching to place its finger on the pulse of mid-‘60s Manhattan should have a character whose unformed affinity for baseball would logically flow to the Mets. The Mets were fresh and vivid and all too human. Those Mets were prefect for their times. They were perfect for Lane Pryce. They were perfect for Mad Men.

But could Mad Men — specifically the creative services rendered by Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce — be perfect for the Mets?

***

The 1965 New York Mets needed plenty of help on the field, compiling a record 29 games worse than the benighted 2010 club, but they were plenty popular, all 50-112 things considered. Met attendance 45 years ago totaled 1,768,389, a phenomenal figure considering Shea was no longer brand new and the Mets remained in tenth place. Casey Stengel’s final (and Wes Westrum’s first) club outdrew every other team in the majors except the eventual world champion Los Angeles Dodgers and the novelty-riding Houston Astros, who had the world’s first indoor stadium/Eighth Wonder as a selling point.

The Mets sold themselves in 1965, despite all the losing, and they kept the turnstiles clicking more frequently than almost anybody else in baseball, no matter the staggering regularity of their defeats:

• Second to only the Dodgers in 1966 (66-95; ninth place)

• Fourth only to the Cardinals, Red Sox and Dodgers in 1967 (61-101; tenth place)

• Fourth only to the Tigers, Cardinals and Red Sox in 1968 (73-89; ninth place)

Every one of those teams that outdrew the Mets from ’66 to ’68 was either winning or defending a pennant. The Mets weren’t doing more than reaching ninth place. Yet relative to the rest of the sport, in terms of attracting customers, the Mets qualified as one of the elites.

So, no, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce did not need to be called into pump up Mets attendance as the mid-‘60s became the late ’60s. Then 1969 came along — the Mets led the majors in attendance and world championships. They were now a solid brand and an unsurpassed product…they were their own best advertisement.

Not really the case these days, is it?

***

As evidenced by the essentially unprecedented dual removal of their general manager and manager and the in-progress search to replace the former (and eventually the latter), the Mets are at an obvious crossroads. The quality of the on-field product spoke sadly for itself in 2010. And the brand couldn’t be sagging much more if Linda de Roulet herself were steering it into the ground.

Attendance isn’t everything, but it’s a pretty decent indicator of how far the Metly have fallen.

The Mets sell more tickets as a rule than they did in the 1960s — everybody does — but they pale in comparison to other ballclubs, which was never the case when the Mets were still fully establishing themselves. In 2010, the second year of Citi Field, another losing year when, à la 1965 at Shea, sheer novelty could no longer be depended upon to get folks through the door, the Mets were twelfth in the major leagues in paid attendance. The 1965 Mets actually improved on their attendance by 2.1% over 1964. The 2010 Mets sold 2,559,738 tickets, which sounds great compared to 1965, but let’s remember a couple of things:

1) Tickets sold wasn’t the National League attendance metric until 1993. A paid attendance of 20,000 in 1965 meant 20,000 people showed up, made noise, bought hot dogs and (in a few cases) partook of the hospitality of the Charcoal Room. Anybody who showed up at Citi in September amid gatherings that were listed in the neighborhood of 24,000 or 27,000 or 30,000 knows that neighborhood was as authentic as Don Draper’s identity…which, for the uninitiated, was snatched from a dead army officer in Korea.

2) Single-admission doubleheaders were a staple for every team in the 1960s. They were scheduled regularly and nobody around here was day-nighting makeup doubleheaders. The 2010 Mets actually hosted 79 dates at Citi Field. The 1965 Mets hosted 68.

The average per-date attendance at Shea Stadium in its second year for a 50-win, last-place team coming off a 53-win, last-place season was 26,006.

The average per-date tickets sold figure (hard to call it attendance when so many weren’t attending) at Citi Field in its second year for a 79-win, next-to-last place team coming off a 70-win, next-to-last place season was 32,402.

The 2010 Mets weren’t really competing with the 1965 Mets, but given that we’re in an era when (despite the economy of the past two years) attendance routinely dwarfs what was reported throughout the majors four-and-a-half decades ago, it seems the spread should be better than approximately 6,400 a game.

Those Mets of yore may have been held to a lower competitive standard, but that was because they had no on-field equity of which to speak. They didn’t have a Johan Santana or a David Wright, which the modern-day Mets do; they didn’t maintain a winning record as late as the 147th game of the season, which the most recent Mets did; they weren’t reasonably considered legitimate contenders in midseason, which the 2010 Mets certainly were — they were tied for first in the National League Wild Card race as late as July 8.

Those Mets of 1965 merely had to pull up the gates at Shea Stadium, and people would stream through convinced there was something worth being a part of. The Mets of 2010 could not do that. They weren’t nearly as depressing as the Mets of 2009 (at least until August kicked in), yet they could only retain four of every five ticket buyers from Citi Field’s inaugural year. The Mets’ 2010 paid attendance was 80.8% of what it had been in 2009.

They pulled up the gates at Citi Field, and even the crickets couldn’t be bothered after a while…not even the crickets holding tickets.

***

Too many seat bottoms lacked fan bottoms: that was the “bottoms” line these past two seasons. It doesn’t describe every malady that ails the Mets’ brand as we make the turn toward 2011 and the naming of a new chief miracle worker, but it’s a leading indicator, every bit as much as 79-83 and anecdotal observations like that which John Coppinger filed at Metstradamus in September. John visited an Old Navy store in Queens and found no Mets t-shirts amid shelves chock full of Yankee, Giant, Jet, Cowboy, Red Sock, Cub, Phillie and Marlin apparel.

The Mets want casual fans. Well, people who shop at Old Navy are as casual as they get. And they’re not going to wear Mets shirts because they’re not here to be sold.  They’re not here to be sold probably because Old Navy forgot that there’s another team in New York. They forgot there was another team in New York because that other team in New York has run itself into the ground with meticulous and well-crafted stupidity.

I reiterate: Queens, NY.

More proof that the Mets are losing this city one t-shirt at a time.

John revisited the store six days later and did find a small pile of Mets shirts were now available “on a fairly prominent shelf,” though all were small or extra-small.

So much for cultivating big fans.

***

The Mets do seem fully aware, at last, that the brand isn’t doing great, not at Old Navy, not at new Citi. The careful hunt for the right GM is great news for us. Put that guy in place and go after the right manager. When the Mets start winning, there’ll be no better embellishment for their faded image. There is no greater advertisement in baseball than winning consistently.

But that will probably take a little while. The diehards among us will be patient to a point if we are convinced a plan is coming together and steps are being taken to implement it in earnest. It takes a lot to kill off the diehard Mets fan.

The casual fan is a different story. The casual fan, or, more pressingly, the lapsed diehard will need convincing. He or she will need attracting. That drifting soul will have to be given a reason to come back to the Mets in 2011 and to keep coming back to Citi Field. Somebody will have to make a truly compelling case to that person.

This is where we need Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. This is where we need Don Draper.

Don is creative director for SCDP, one of the most admired minds in all of advertising. His agency has been going through some tough sledding — Lucky Strike bolted for BBDO, you may have heard — but he’s still the man who won the Clio for his innovative work on Glo-Coat. He’s still the man who lured Honda away from Cutler, Gleason & Chaough.

He’s still The Man.

I don’t know who should be the next general manager of the New York Mets, but I do know who should handle their advertising. Never mind that he exists only on AMC. Judging by actual attendance at Citi Field, most Mets fans have come to believe the Mets exist only on SNY. Never mind that he’s from 1965. If the Mets can be seriously considering a GM candidate who hasn’t run a team since 1997, what does that matter? Never mind that he’s really Dick Whitman and has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal the way he morphed into Don Draper. If ever a team need to think about transforming its identity, it’s these Mets.

The powers that be at 120-01 Roosevelt Avenue are quite busy these days, so I thought I’d do them a favor. I arranged a meeting with Don Draper to discuss how he might fix the Mets’ image in 2011. Though I told Don up front that I’m just a fan and a chronicler of the team, I suggested for the purpose of our chat, he consider me as representing the Mets’ interests. Whatever he might say to Met brass, he could say to me.

We set the meeting, I took care to fully stock my office wet bar and I welcomed Don Draper to what could be the most important hypothetical interview the Mets ever conduct.

***

Hello Don, good to see you. I was expecting you a little earlier, actually.

Maybe I’m late because I was spending time with my family reading the Bible.

That’s fine, Don. We believe in “faith” here, but we’re also filled these days with a little too much “fear”.

It’s your life. You don’t know how long it’s gonna be but you know it’s got a bad ending.

See, that’s exactly the kind of honest assessment I was hoping to get regarding the New York Mets organization from an objective outside source.

You have to move forward. As soon as you can figure out what that is.

That’s what this meeting is about. We definitely want to put this current troubled era of Mets baseball behind us.

This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.

Well, we sure do want our fans to forget 2010, though we felt we had made genuine progress in certain areas.

When you try to forget something, you have to forget everything.

So you’re counseling more of an overhaul, perhaps, than we anticipated.

If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.

To be honest, we didn’t see the situation as completely dire. We’re pretty satisfied with certain aspects of our operation.

No one thinks you’re happy. They think you’re foolish.

We do all right here.

You need to decide what kind of company you want to be. Comfortable and dead, or risky and possibly rich.

Laying it on the line for us, I see. Fair enough. Still, it’s not like we’ve been a total disaster since moving into Citi Field.

Maybe I’m not as comfortable being powerless as you are.

Listen, we don’t feel that way at all. We understand we have an image problem…

This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal.

That’s why we called you in, but you should keep in mind that we do know a few things. We did sell 2,559,738 tickets last year.

The unpleasant truth is, you don’t have anything. Your customers cannot be depended on anymore.

That seems a little harsh, Don, but we asked you here to be the truth-teller. So tell us: how would you describe the New York Mets as a product when it comes to the customers we can depend on?

A product for which good work is irrelevant, because people can’t stop themselves from buying it. A product that never improves, that causes illness, and makes people unhappy.

If our hardcore fan base isn’t the issue, what about the people who used to come to Mets games but now want no part of us?

There are people out there who buy things, people like you and me. And something happened. Something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that.

Don, I’m not sure I follow. The Mets have been around a long time and just two years ago we drew more than 4 million fans.

You can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved.

But we’re the scrappy underdog. People have always loved the scrappy underdog.

Is that what you want, or is that what people expect of you?

What we mostly want is whatever will work. Whatever identity you can help us come up with has to make a statement. Doesn’t it?

It’s a label on a can. And it will be true because it will promise the quality of the product that’s inside.

So you’re saying it’s all about communications? We sent out an e-mail the other day telling our fans about how our search for a new head of baseball operations is going. How do you suppose we should follow up on that when we make the actual decision?

Everything’s going to be okay. We have a new president, and we’re all going to be sad for a little bit.

Not raising expectations too high the first year, huh? Sounds reasonable in theory, though I don’t know if even a great Madison Avenue mind like yours is going to be able to sell that.

Who the hell is in charge, a bunch of accountants trying to make a dollar into a dollar ten?

Please, Don, let’s leave ticket prices out of this for the time being. We still have to be seen as a viable contender entering 2011, not some kind of also-ran.

A man is shamed by being openly ridiculed and rejected. It requires an audience.

So you’re saying we shouldn’t worry about attendance too much until we have a team that people will want to pay to see?

Limit your exposure.

That’s easy to say now, but the whole idea is to fill Citi Field as soon as possible, isn’t it?

There will be fat years, and there will be lean years. But it is going to rain.

The weather in April does present a problem. So maybe you’re telling us if we’re going to lose some games, we should get it out of the way early in the season, and then when it gets warmer, we put a better product on the field and people will be more likely to come.

I told you to stop talking.

Technically, Don, you didn’t, but I don’t want to get in the way of your creative thought process. Would it help if you jotted down some ideas on an iPad and I came around later to look at them?

My mind is a jumble. I can’t organize my thoughts. And typing feels like work.

Let’s keep this nice and casual then. Let me freshen your drink and maybe go over some of our personnel with you. I have to start with our poster boy, David Wright. What do you see when you look at him?

I think he’s a winner. Square jaw, false modesty, it’s like he just took off his letterman jacket.

We’re agreed there. You might have heard the press conference where a reporter asked if we’d ever consider trading him. I think the question was baiting us. We had to say everything’s an option, but we didn’t mean we’d trade our biggest star. We put a lot on that young man’s shoulders.

I think I’m glad I’m not that kid.

What about some other names on the roster. Any thoughts on Jenrry Mejia? We used him as a reliever. Then we sent him down. Then he got hurt. Then he pitched well. Then we called him back up and started him. He got hurt again.

He’s only a baby, and we don’t know who he is yet, or who he’s going to be. And that is a wonderful thing.

So maybe we don’t include him in our 2011 marketing. Let’s see who else we’re thinking about… What are your impressions of Hisanori Takahashi?

People tell you who they are but we ignore it, because we want them to be who we want them to be.

We definitely see him as a reliever, but he wants to try starting again. He’s a free agent, you know.

Negotiating is a bore.

I know what you mean, but we do have some decisions to make in that area. Pedro Feliciano will be on the open market this winter. We’ve sure used him a lot the last few years.

Get out of here and move forward.

We do have our concerns about his arm being ready to fall off. Just curious, as long as we’re talking about Felicianos, what about the other one — the outfielder?

Listen, I’m not here to tell you about Jesus. You already know about Jesus. Either he lives in your heart or he doesn’t.

Yeah, I agree. If you’re not committed to a guy off the bench, you should be prepared to cut bait.

I’ll say whatever you think I should say, but I’m not going to fight with you.

We’ve really strayed from the whole point of our meeting, which is advertising. It’s just that I’m so interested in your opinions of every facet of what the Mets do.

Does it make you feel better to think that I’m like you?

Humor me, just for a sec. Let me ask you about a potential double-steal attempt. The other team has runners on first and third with less than two out. You see the runner from first breaking for second. If you’re pitching, do you try to pick him off and risk the runner breaking from third?

I will always come home.

I’ll get word passed through to the new pitching coach, if we have one.

Believe me, I will ruin him.

You’re too modest. I’d really like your input, informally of course, on the GM thing. We really don’t know who we’re hiring. Any ideas about how we might bring in the best possible person for the job?

You need to charm him. I need you to be shiny and bright.

I wonder if we need a really strong presence whom everybody in the industry recognizes, somebody like Sandy Alderson.

You want some respect, go out there and get it for yourself.

Geez, you don’t sound that enthusiastic about the guy. Everybody speaks so highly about him.

He hated me and I hated him: That’s the memory.

Well, if we give your agency our account, I’ll see to it you don’t have to deal directly with Alderson.

I’d like that in writing.

Isn’t that a little premature, considering we’re just talking at this stage of the game?

I can’t make any mistakes right now.

That makes two of us — you and the Mets. Maybe we should have you on the search committee to help us choose the new general manager.

I’m usually part of the meeting before the meeting.

No, you’re right. It wouldn’t be fair to drag you into this mess when the process is this far along. Besides, your bailiwick is advertising. If we agree to work together, we’ll want you to think about not just making the team look better, but all of Citi Field. For example, we want to burnish the reputation of our clubs: the Delta 360, the Acela, the Caesars…you’ve been in all of them. What was your experience?

Fancy people would go there, they’d get loud, they’d get drunk.

Well, we did have a slightly more upscale demographic in mind when we opened the clubs. It may not have worked out as we hoped. I guess we have to admit 2009 and 2010 didn’t live up to all the expectations we set.

You manage people’s expectations.

We try, but after 2006, we thought we had a dynasty in the making. We came so close that year. It still hurts.

Mourning is just extended self-pity. In New Guinea, pygmies grind up their ancestors and drink the powder in a beer.

Hmmm…imagine how much we could get for that at the Beers of the World stand.

Bringing in business is the key to your salary, your status, and your self-worth.

We do get bonuses based on producing the most unique ideas.

Just think about it. Deeply. Then forget it. And an idea will jump up in your face.

That’s good advice, Don. Let me freshen your drink…say, can I order in lunch or anything for you? We’ve had a few since we sat down and I thought maybe some food would help clear our heads.

I eat a lot of apples.

That’s good to know — we have a couple of really big ones around here.

You know what? There’s a way out of this room we don’t know about.

Sorry, bad joke. I know your time is valuable.

I just want to see the city disappearing behind me.

I hear that. Let’s wrap this up so we can knock off already. But I’ve gotta ask some big questions before we’re done here. Let’s say you’re in charge of the whole ball of wax. What do you do with the Mets?

We don’t know what’s really going on. You know that.

The Madoff issue? I think we have to take ownership’s word on that. By the same token, we’re probably not looking at the payroll getting any bigger.

You have a great fortune, and that’s not just money, it’s the future.

You mean like our minor leaguers? ’Cause I gotta tell ya, having already brought up Davis and Mejia and Thole and Tejada last year, I don’t know how much we have left down there.

There is no system.

So what’s so great about our future?

There is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.

Yeah, but how much is that worth after these past few years? How can we use that kind of pull to draw in fans who’ve lost their zeal for the Mets? How do we get that customer from, say, Astoria back to Flushing?

In Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.

So our future is our past?

This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. Goes backwards, forwards, and takes us to a place where we ache to go again.

We’ve only won the two championships, Don. Sometimes it feels like the Mets brand is hollow, like we don’t have all that much to offer our potential public.

You are the product. You, feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them.

So we shouldn’t be afraid to be the Mets? The Mets haven’t exactly been synonymous with success lately. We were talking upstairs about maybe taking out a full-page ad in all the papers saying we’re sorry for screwing up as badly as we have.

It’s not about apologies for what happened.

Then is it about just capturing people’s imaginations with something clever? You can come up with something like that, right? Something better than “Your Season Has Come”?

There has to be advertising for people who don’t have a sense of humor.

“We Believe In Home Field Advantage” wasn’t particularly amusing, but we did win a lot of games at home in 2010. Not that we drew a lot of fans…

I keep going places and ending up somewhere I’ve already been.

I know, Don, I know. It’s like going in circles dealing with the Mets. You said we should avoid apologies, but the whole thing…

Goes backwards, forwards, and takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called “The Wheel,” it’s called “The Carousel.” It lets us travel the way a child travels, round and around and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.

So we find a way to improve, but at the same time we remind people why they loved Mets baseball in the first place? That’s brilliant, Don! Brilliant! But what about changing the conversation and the label on the can and all that other stuff you were saying?

And let’s also say that change is neither good or bad, it simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy. A tantrum that says “I want it the way it was,” or a dance that says “Look, something new.”

Don, this has been a fantastic meeting. You brought so much to the table today, and I feel like this could be the beginning of an incredible partnership between Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and the New York Mets. It’s like we’ve had some kind of breakthrough. I hope you feel the same way toward our organization. You do agree we’ve reached some kind of tipping point here, don’t you?

Now that I can finally understand you, I am less impressed with what you have to say.

***

Each of Don’s answers is actually an excerpt of dialogue from Mad Men’s first four seasons, and for the accurate transcription of such, a sincere tip of the fedora to Basket of Kisses, THE blog for Mad Men obsessives.

Not that I would know what one of those is like.

21 comments to Can Don Draper Save the Mets?

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Great article! What’s also amazing about those mid 60’s attendance figures (in addition to the fact that it was actual fannies in the seats, I’ll bet they actually outdrew the 2010 Mets on a per game basis when that is taken into account)is that the “Dodgers/Giants effect” which had inflated the ’62-’64 totals, was largely wearing off. The Mets were drawing all those mid 60’s fans on thier own account. It was routine for a Sunday doubleheader to draw in excess of 30,000 no matter who they were playing. Much to the consternation of the Yankee brass, I might add.

  • Meanwhile back at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce…

    Harry Crane: So how what’s the billing with the Mets?

    Lane Pryce: Who can say? They haven’t had a budget since Frank Cashen was there.

    Pete Campbell: Let’s hope we can take them for even more than we did with jai-alai. Neither client has a foot in reality.

    Peggy Olson: We just have to make sure the checks keep coming.

    Roger Sterling: (Walks by, cigarette in mouth and a copy of Sterling’s Gold in hand) Everyone’s giving us six months to live. I give them a year.

    (Yucks followed by grim smiles. Seagrams all around.)

  • This coming year the Mets road uniform MUST have “New York” spelled out on ALL road games “Mets” on road Games is Bush. ALSO. Home uniform games should have N Y over the left breast. With Metropolitans spelled out underneath. “METS” should continue to be used on all advertising.

  • Andee

    You read BoK? Why didn’t you say so?

    I’m Meowser on that site.

  • Dave LaDue

    Greg:

    I can offer a little bit of supporting evidence to your post. My father was a real Mad Man – he worked for J. Walter Thompson in the 1960s, writing copy, and from what I can recollect from my childhood, living that office lifestyle that the AMC series shows in such rich detail.
    And Dad was, completely, a Mets fan.

    He was grew up (like James Tiberious Kirk) in Iowa. As a boy in the late 1920s and early 30s – the geographically closest Major League baseball team was the St Louis Cardinals – and he – like much of the mid west – rooted for them.

    As an advertising man with a young family in the 1960s – my dad – despite now living in the Riverdale section of the Bronx – was never going to root for the New York Yankees. He was a national league fan and, like much of the non-New York USA, he was raised to dislike that perennial American League powerhouse.

    So from 1962 on he rooted hard for the New York Metropolitans. And by 1969 he had recruited the 9-year old me as a lifetime fan as well. In my few visits to Dad’s office I don’t recall ever seeing a Mets banner on the walls of J. Walter Thompson – but I do remember it being what I eventually came to realize was a loose atmosphere for a corporate office. I remember that the execs had made a make-shift set of darts out of cigarettes and thumb tacks – using their cork bulletin board as a target. If that was permitted on the wall – I’m sure a Mets banner would have fit right in.

    Dad passed away in 8 years ago this October – a good man with whom I shared some wonderful times – a nice portion of that rooting together for the baseball team from Queens. Today my 12 year old son and I carry on the proud tradition: we are Mets fans in the Bronx.

    Long live the resistance!

    (I loved your book by the way)

    • Wonderful recollections, Dave. Good value he instilled in you, too. (My sister interned at JWT in college; I’ll have to ask if she ducked flying darts.)

      Long live, indeed. And thanks about the book.

  • Bobby F.

    As always, terrific, insightful piece.

    I am reminded of Lindsey Nelson’s comment in his biography about how the Mets made a great deal of cash before they ever re-opened the Polo Ground gates for a game.

    The Wilpons have received good press on their performance at their post season conference. I tried to make myself as pleased as most Mets’ fans I encountered on the Flushing blososphere. But, in my heart of hearts, I didn’t like to hear from both father and son that a savior was on his way, that a ‘new GM and his style would take care of changing the culture.’

    Your posting highlights many things missing, including fans at games. I think of that “vision thing” the elder Bush frankly admitted not understanding. Mets’ fans — diehards, casuals, all of us — want to be part of something unique, tinged with a reasonable amount of anticipation & excitement. Most of us understand that doesn’t mean winning every game nor every season. That the deliciousness of winning is that more yummy when some pain and disappointment has been encountered along the way.

    Regardless the attendance, it’s fair to conclude we need (desperately perhaps) direction. And we’ve been here before. I wonder if Fred Wilpon’s memory is as sharp as it should be. I can almost swear I’ve heard him say previously “I’ve never been this embarrased” about his team. The stubborn, reactive pattern repeats. Change comes, but we have to reach rock bottom, or be very close to being irrelelvant.

    We can sure use some dose of that vision thing, if you prefer. Whatever we call it, is it possible to attain and sustain without change happening in the offices of Mr Wilpon and Mr Wilpon?

    Okay, perhaps I’m too jaded, and I should buy more readily the message that has been the core of the campaign at that news conference and afterwards: “All Omar’s fault. We’ll replace him, and everything will be right.”

    Another thing struck me a few weeks ago as I downloaded and watched that event on my laptop. It stunk of a funeral. The beginning, middle and end. Worse, actually. A funeral play with an apology lurking at every act.

    Genuine leaders, with a feel for their audience or market, understand that, at minimum, a streak of optimisim and hope is as required as apologies (although I couldn’t care less about a bunch of sorrys) at such gatherings. They understand that the look and feel of gloom that hovered over that entire press conference — a look of near-death that Fred’s and Jeff’s body language portrayed — is acceptable for a few minutes at most.

    At the end of the day, I am left wondering if important lessons have indeed been learned in the top two offices. I am left hoping against hope — as the Murph accurately described the state of Mets’ fans at the start of the inning of Mookie’s trickler down first.

    Lessons learned, most needed in the offices of the CEO & COO, should spin a narrative that some of the answers — or problems –lie in failing to link the whole, unique package that is being a Mets’ fan. The brand.

    How can that be? Is it possible that these men who say they love this franchise, are really not Mets fans, down deep. I am sure Fred Wilpon is being earnest when he says he loves this team. But saying those words and truly being a fan are different things.

    Sadly, this is the organization which opened our new home by naming the joint after a corporate mega bank. and its main entrance, much celebrated, after a former player — a great player, no doubt — without any real link to Mets’ fans, diehards or casual or whatever.

    These are the men who opened the joint essentially bare of the unique nostalgia that is being a fan of the Mets. Nostalgia is one key element, as you point out, Greg, that’s part of all long-standing, successful brands.

    This is the organization that required a concerted new media campaign to create space for the team’s past in a Hall of Fame area. Not to menion at least a decade of the lead team announcer wondering on air what the hell had happened to honoring the Mets’ past.

    “This is the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at CitiField in Queens, NY.” Well, I suppose the Queens part of that sentence might hint of the Metropolitans. And perhaps one day the term Citi will be synonymous with the unique nickname Mets, as Shea quickly became. I’m hoping. Hoping against hope.

    • Great insights, Bobby. I have to admit I was so happy the owners admitted something was wrong that I didn’t notice how unhappy everybody looked and sounded. I guess a big smile would have been inappropriate given the task at hand, but yeah…”hope against hope”. Press conferences announcing dismissals and taking blame are one thing, but generally speaking, the joie de vivre has oozed out of the brand.

      I also wonder about the fanship of ownership. Not from a “Fred loves the Dodgers” standpoint, but from a “isn’t this great, I own the Mets, gosh, remember Mookie” perspective. I don’t know how important that is, but one is left wondering if it’s important to these guys if the Mets win because it’s important the Mets win — not because it will bring in more business.

      Here’s something scary I just came across, courtesy of Ed Leyro at Studious Metsimus: the Mets were LAST in road attendance in 2010. When you think about them being from New York, and having a pretty substantial traveling party of fans throughout the summer (at least anecdotally), that’s pretty damning.

      Less damning, more thrilling. Let that be the goal in 2011.

  • Great post, Greg, from one Mad Men-obsessing Mets fan to another. I touched on this on my blog earlier this summer, but I think the ’60s Mets would’ve fit right in with the ad men’s sensibility and personality of that era — though perhaps not Don’s, who I believe would’ve rooted for the Yankees, at least while he lived in Ossining. Though I certainly think Draper would be up to the challenge of the Mets (plus, SDCP needs the work, new Topaz pantyhose account aside). Even “Meet the Mets” was initiated in part by an effort by JWT (at least according to the NY Times earlier this year).

    • Great piece, ‘pick. Don strikes me as the type who only watched baseball when it was necessary to accompany a client to Shea or other stadiums. Betty’s father told him he must take Bobby to YS plenty and Don insincerely answered, “all the time.”

      How could Don not like an expansion franchise, creating an identity out of thin air — actually an identity from the remnants of two old franchises?

      Pete’s family, on the Dyckman side, probably aligned with the Giants in Muggsy McGraw’s day. Roger Sterling I could see gravitating to the dark side. Peggy hates sports but her dad (who keeled over watching a ballgame) was no doubt a Dodger rooter.

      Having lost jai-alai, hopefully SCDP can hang in there and maybe get the ABA in a couple of years.

      • Agree on the fan-leanings, particularly Pete’s Dyckman side and the old Giants and, of course, Peggy’s dad. Possibly for business purposes, but a Dodgers game was on Don’s California itinerary in the final episode. Still think Don’s upward mobility would have trended him toward the Yankees in those days (like the fall of the Yankee dynasty circa 1964, Don’s ’50s-made world has been fading away over the course of 4 seasons). Though, yes, I can also see the appeal to him in creating a new identity for the Mets, even today — heck, after your awesome interview, bring him on for 2011! (assuming the Lucky Strikes and Canadian Club haven’t done him in by now at, what, age 84ish?)

        I also can completely see SDCP taking a flier on the ABA. Does Conrad Hilton know Pat Boone, and could he arrange an introduction? Would it be a stretch to envision a latter-season episode with the ad firm having a hand in hiring announcers, thus leading Harry (perhaps) to recommend a young Bobby Costas out of Syracuse and sending him to the Midwest to call the Spirits of St. Louis games on the radio?

  • Bobby F.

    Greg, The feeling of 2005-2006 — exciting, talented youth blending with the Pedros and Delgados — had me feeling almost like 1984 again, maybe exactly like 1999 and that great infield again. I really thought it was going to last a bit longer. I don’t mean a WS win necessarily, simply the feeling of being part of something fun and special. But as you say, the joy was snuffed out suprisingly fast, crash landing somewhere in the summer of ’09, as Shea was swept away.

    By the by, I too loved your book, and should have dropped a note by now thanking you. So many things rang familiar. I grew up at that same time with an odd (well, it seemed odd to a family packed with Yankees) Mets’ obsession. I was on the other side of the Hudson, in Jersey. I too will mark non-baseball life events by a Mets’ clock, linking them forever with my “really” important dates, such as the day we traded for Rusty … or, a bit worse, the day we traded Rusty for that chubby lefty from Detroit. Anyway, thanks!

  • Appreciate it Bobby. And at least the Rusty to Detroit trade netted us Billy Baldwin.

  • […] To read about whether Don Draper can save the Mets, check out Greg Prince’s post on Faith and Fear in Flushing. […]

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