The Mets’ 50th anniversary outdoor advertising campaign has been a preseason highlight. Perhaps you’ve seen the theme in action, with an image on the left representing the good old days and a modern counterpart representing hopeful new days. Seaver and Santana. Hernandez and Davis. That sort of thing.
But one iteration I caught sight of on the LIRR platform at Woodside last week really startled me. The historical figures weren’t plucked from the playing field but rather the executive suite:
No, your eyes don’t deceive you. That’s longtime New York Mets chairman of the board M. Donald Grant on one side and longertime New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon on the other.
This is how they’re marketing the team?
The Wilpons and Saul Katz have apparently gotten a little cocky in the wake of avoiding trial by jury in the Madoff mess. This, I suppose, is Fred’s version of Eminem so eloquently declaring, “I just settled all my lawsuits — f*ck you Debbie!”
But maybe just a shade more understated.
As I took a picture of the ad (designed by talented New York agency CP+F) and contemplated its inherent message, I tried to wrap my mind around the Wilpon ownership and, since the image invoked him, too, Grant’s influence on Mets history. I came to a surprising conclusion, namely that we’ve been better off as Mets fans thanks to the presence in our lives of each of these titanic figures.
I know, neither is a popular character, and praise for Grant, in particular, has never been widespread, but let’s take a step back from the heat of moments like that of the Seaver trade in 1977 or the pyramid scheme fallout of the 2010s and consider the bigger pictures in time and context.
First, take Grant, the Mets chairman from their founding in 1962 until he was compelled to retire after 1978. His story in intertwined with that of the Mets, and we know the Mets were a great story from their beginnings. As one of the de facto primary authors of that story, respect must be paid Mr. Grant. Working in concert with the beloved Joan Payson, Grant oversaw the business side of a franchise that quickly became one of the most lovable baseball had ever seen (and one of its most profitable). If the Mets were to be warmed to, why not Grant? He was an admirable blend of efficiency and commitment, making sure the checks went out and that, eventually, every Met had a roof over his head.
Under Grant’s graceful guidance, the Mets rose through the ranks of the National League to win a World Series and another pennant besides before they turned twelve. It was only after an arbitrator arbitrarily (how else?) changed the rules and revoked the reserve clause — the glue that held teams together like families — that some of Grant’s magic began to wear off. The result wasn’t pretty, but he proved, in the end, not just a visionary, but a person of principle. M. Donald Grant believed in the Mets more than he did any one individual. With any justice, we’ll read words like that on his Mets Hall of Fame plaque someday.
In that sense, Fred Wilpon is a worthy heir to the Grant tradition, and it’s only appropriate they share the advertisement pictured above.
Wilpon, like Grant, has presided over a fairy tale-like epoch in Mets history, highlighted by a world championship and another pennant besides, to say nothing of the three other postseason appearances the Mets have made with Mr. Wilpon in some degree of charge. The Madoff settlement seems to guarantee that the Wilponian influence on Met affairs, soon to reach a third-of-a-century chronologically, will go on in something approaching perpetuity. Fred Wilpon has a son who is involved in ownership and there will likely be untold generations beyond Jeff.
Good news for Mets fans, I believe. Nothing like a steady hand gripping the wheel. And whose hand has been more steady than Fred Wilpon’s? In his first year at the helm of the Mets, in 1980, the club won 67 games. In his 32rd year, 2011, the Mets won 77 games. A strong, steady incremental approach will yield results like those. Chances are very good the Mets can maintain that range in the season ahead.
Citi Field stands as a shrine to the Wilponian vision, with prices set at an aspirational level, views obstructed only by what the fan chooses not to see and a sense of local National League history that avoided obvious cues for the Mets loyalist upon its opening. In taking such an unorthodox tack, Wilpon can be said to have challenged his patrons, building up our inner constitutions in the process. We are better people today because Fred Wilpon has made us so.
He has also turned us, the fans, into a rather exclusive society. Skip over Opening Day, for it will attract the poseurs and politicians. When they melt away, we will be left alone in Citi Field for the most part in 2012. We will have the space to quietly ruminate in our Promenade section of choice in a way we couldn’t have imagined in the final few years of crowded, noisy Shea Stadium. By dint of his clever direction of Met affairs, Fred Wilpon has almost guaranteed us a degree of tranquility that is rare to attain in a public space constructed with seating for more than 40,000. Let others make surfeits of sound and put aside funds for October. We are destined to watch baseball in peace, unbothered by consequence let alone the stress that accompanies an overly competitive standing.
Again, we can thank our enlightened ownership for putting us in a position few others might have the awareness to envy on this, the first Sunday of the Wilpons’ 33rd April as tenders to the Metropolitan legacy. And when you step back today of all days and ponder the juxtaposition of M. Donald Grant, Fred Wilpon and the Mets’ pitch for ticket sales, you’ll understand everything you’ve read and seen here makes all the sense in the world.