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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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Not As Easy As It Looks

“In ‘reel’ life,” Jeff Merron noted in an ESPN critique of Bull Durham’s depiction of how baseball actually works, “[Nuke] LaLoosh is promoted from A ball to the majors in the span of a few months.” But in reality, “It’s almost unheard of — especially for a pitcher who struggled part of the season in A ball — to make such a jump.”

Nuke LaLoosh was portrayed by Tim Robbins, a real-life Mets fan and the closest I could come up with as a precedent for what 22-year-old Akeel Morris tried to do Wednesday night in Toronto. The differences in their tales, beyond fiction and what actually happened, were stark. For example, LaLoosh walked 18 and struck out 18 in his Bulls debut, the cinematic Carolina League being notorious for its disregard of pitch counts. Morris, meanwhile, wasn’t having such control problems down at St. Lucie. He was having a whale of a season when the bullpen-stressed Mets reached down and called him up for what seemed like the hell of it.

The Mets, trailing by three in the eighth, gave Morris a chance at Rogers Centre. Everybody deserves a chance. The view to Akeel, however, obliterated any chance the Mets had of coming back on the Blue Jays. The kid faced eight batters and retired two. Five of his runners scored. His earned run average, a spiffy 1.69 in 24 Single-A appearances, sits at 997.

Sorry, that’s his chronological rank in the countup toward One Thousand Mets. Morris’s MLB ERA is impolite to mention in public. Hopefully when he comes back — he was dispatched to Double-A Binghamton after the 8-0 loss went final — he’ll cash in on the chance to lower it. (If it goes any higher, he ain’t getting too many more chances.)

The lesson to be derived from the two-thirds of an inning Akeel Morris pitched in the bigs may be pitching in the bigs isn’t as easy as it looks. He’s a young man with good stuff and it got lit up by batters who knew what they were doing against a pitcher who had every reason to develop nervous knots, let alone heebie-jeebies. Perhaps Ron Shelton should have been brought on to consult.

Yes, the movies can make narratives flow with ease. Perhaps a screenwriter as accomplished as Shelton would have a simple time portraying the Met tenure of former chairman of the board Nelson Doubleday, who died yesterday at 81.

The treatment wouldn’t be a problem. We’d pitch as our leading character a rich guy. GWM — Guy With Money, as the joke went in Kiss Me Guido. The hook is he has a famous last name, maybe the most famous last name in baseball. The most mythic, at any rate. The catch is he’s generations removed from his great, great, however many great uncles it was who made the name famous. Our affably clubby leading man is running a company that’s very successful, but he gets involved in baseball despite not having much obvious inclination toward it.

“This is New York,” he declares, “and New York is a bigger deal than any other city. This is a National League city just waiting to be tapped. We feel we are going to do very well with it.”

So he decides to buy a team. To buy the team, he needs a partner. The partner is his diametric opposite. Didn’t come from money, made his own. One has the wealth and bearing. The other fancies himself a scrapper, a hustler. Together they have just enough to take over this team, which is a real fixer-upper. Our protagonist is the front man, the man with most of the scratch, but his partner keeps his hands on the wheel, too. They don’t always get along, but they get things done. They not only begin to fix up their depressed property, but they start to get the goat of their rival across town.

Did I mention there was a rival? There has to be. The antagonist also has money — you need a lot to play at their level — but he’s full of bluster. Our guy doesn’t operate that way. Our guy stays out of the spotlight, but he knows how to write the checks. He hires a sharp fellow to improve his product, he lets his partner do whatever it is he does and he proves to whoever doubted him that he’s a worthy heir to his legendary baseball ancestor.

In the climactic scene, Our Hero has accomplished what he set out to do. His blustery rival has been vanquished. His depressed property has been beautified. His product is the best in the land. He and his partner raise a trophy in unison. They have indeed, as promised at the beginning of the movie, done very well with it. Crowds cheer, confetti falls…roll credits.

If you’re not one for details, that’s more or less how it worked for Nelson Doubleday, who was the lead man in buying the Mets in 1980 and oversaw a complete turnaround of the franchise that culminated in a world championship in his seventh season at the helm. If he did anything wrong prior to that magic moment in October of 1986, we never heard about it. He and Fred Wilpon were, to the rest of us, polite presences who gave Frank Cashen the resources he needed to build a winner, and otherwise won our affection by not doing anything to lose it. Together they weren’t George Steinbrenner, which was considered an enormous asset in those days.

In the popular imagination, it was Doubleday’s team. Doubleday was the name that drew attention in 1980. Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball, but since when did baseball care to separate myth from history? The fact that somebody named Doubleday rode in and rescued the Mets made his participation just that much juicier. The fact that he and Wilpon, however they divided their responsibilities, succeeded ensured we’d always view the two of them as heroic.

Always doesn’t always last. The sequel to the Doubleday story didn’t yield a plot so easily followed. The Mets fell apart in the early 1990s. If it wasn’t necessarily Doubleday’s fault, it’s not like he didn’t own half the team when it happened. It’s also not like there weren’t rather unsavory statements attributed to him behind the scenes. “Behind the scenes” was a compliment in the context of not being Steinbrenner. It also allowed his alleged impolitic words to be sort of wished away. Oh, that’s just Nelson after a cocktail or two, his partner was willing to rationalize. And by then, his partner couldn’t stand him, so how bad could what was said to have been said been?

Doubleday and Wilpon stayed together even as it became well known they wanted no part of one another. They attempted to sell the team to an outside entity, Cablevision, in the late 1990s, but it didn’t happen. Nelson also made improving the team while he owned it a priority. It is the stuff of Abner-ian legend that it was Doubleday, not Wilpon, who demanded every effort be made to acquire a suddenly available Mike Piazza in 1998. Mike was acquired, the Mets moved up accordingly and the next we saw of Nelson Doubleday, he was hoisting a league championship trophy in 2000.

Soon thereafter, the tension between partners became too much to bear. Nelson didn’t want to hang in there. Fred had no intention of going away. Nelson sold to Fred in 2002. Nelson said some more memorable things a little later. These were fun to repeat in mixed company, the best of them being, “Run for the hills, boys,” as his way of warning that his former partner’s son’s increased role in operating the New York Mets might not be good news for all concerned.

Doubleday’s stature grew in proportion to the length of his absence from the club he left. Nobody viewed Wilpon as heroic by the 2010s. If only Doubleday still owned the team was the collective wishful thinking of Mets fans. If was an understandable impulse. Nelson didn’t have to go to a Bernie Madoff. Nelson didn’t seem to place his childhood Dodgers in front of the team he actually owned. Nelson saved the day twice, once by buying the team, once by securing Piazza. Once he was gone, Nelson Doubleday could do no wrong.

I’m not sure how accurate that was in real life, but for today, I’m willing to go with that story.

20 comments to Not As Easy As It Looks

  • Tim Donner

    Above all else, Mr. Doubleday was a class act. The anti-Wilpon. Great memories of all he did to make the Mets relevant again. The Mets were awful but lovable from their inception up to ’68. But when they became awful again in the late 70’s, they were anything but lovable (similar to the early 90’s), so his rescue from the hapless Ms. DeRoulet is arguably the most important thing ever to happen to this franchise off the field. RIP, Mr. Doubleday

  • Brian S. Sokoloff

    There is a lot we don’t know, as you recognize and as those who lionize him as the owner we should have had do not. The latter group fault Wilpon for losing a lot of money to Madoff (as did some of the most sophisticated investors in the land.) Today’s New York Times obituary reports:

    “As the Mets’ fortunes waxed, Doubleday’s waned. At the time Mr. Doubleday took over the team, his publishing company reported sales of $350.9 million, up 7 percent from the previous year, and net earnings of $16.6 million, up 10 percent. By 1985, however, Doubleday was in dire straits. In the fiscal year that ended April 30, it earned only $300,000 on sales of more than $400 million.

    Galvanized, Mr. Doubleday enlisted the help of John R. McLaughlin, the head of Dell, a Doubleday subsidiary, to streamline and downsize. He named Mr. McLaughlin chief executive of the publishing company and became its chairman.

    The next year, he stunned the publishing industry by selling the family business for a reported $500 million to the German company Bertelsmann.”

    If he was so poor in managing the company THAT BORE HIS NAME and had such little loyalty to it that he flipped it to an overseas company for a personal profit, what makes people think the Mets would have stayed in the pink if he was the owner instead of Wilpon? Because he wanted Piazza? I love Piazza and am glad they got him. Were there other players he wanted to get who would have been busts? We don’t have a clue.

    Perhaps my comments will be dismissed as merely coming from one of the Jewboys Doubleday railed against, but I needed to blow off some steam.

    • Tim Donner

      Fair enough, I suppose. But I also think it’s fair to say that Mets fans did not much care what he did apart from his ownership of the team. He may have been a flawed guy, but he was our flawed guy who oversaw the best run in the team’s history. That’s really all I care about, just as I would not care what happened with Wilpon and Madoff had it not affected the franchise.

  • SkillSets

    Precisely what we were looking for. Doubleday did like a drink like most men of his age and background and said some odd things, like many in his Locust Valley Lockjaw set, but he never worked any Ponzi schemes, associated with those who ran them, nor fronted dubious real estate ventures. ND was glad to get out of publishing before the Internet, Barnes and Noble and Amazon changed the trade forever. and glad to get out of baseball before Allan Huber Selig and the Wilpons ruined the Mets forever.

    • Rob E

      I’m not a Wilpon sympathizer, but I don’t understand what fans want or expect. The biggest complaint is that they don’t spend…well, the Wilpons spent HUNDREDS of millions of dollars on players from the time Doubleday sold until the Madoff scandal hit (which as Mr. Sokoloff points out they were certainly not the only victims). And you know what? Despite all that spending, they still sucked most of that time. Money does NOT = winning (just ask the Red Sox or the current Yankees). But fans don’t ever want to hear that for some reason.

      So then the Wilpons, with their backs against the wall and a gun to their head, finally do the right thing and bring in a long-term thinker like Sandy Alderson, who proceeds to clear the debris and build from the ground up and now has them sitting in first place, with minimal long-term debt, a fairly loaded minor league system and a legitimately bright future…and that somehow equates to “ruined forever.” I don’t get that AT ALL.

      If people want to hate the Wilpons, fine, they have certainly not endeared themselves to fans in any kind of personal or remotely likeable way. But the days of killing them for what they have done to the team on the field or the organization as a whole are pretty much behind us. So if you want to keep hating, that’s your right, but pick another reason because the better the Mets get the harder it’s going to be to accuse them of ruining the team.

      • Rob D.

        OMG A well thought reasoned response on the interweb. Doesn’t surprise me as it is coming from a reader of this blog, and I certainly have no love for the Wilponzis, but it gets to the point where as a life long fan, you want to say to some of these mouthbreathers “What do you want these guys to do?” (besides sell the team).

      • Tim Donner

        Indeed, there is a big difference between being cheap and being broke. I’ve been saying what you just said for the longest time – the issue with Wilpon is not whether he WILL spend money – he did that for years – but whether he CAN spend money…which he can’t if he doesn’t have it.

        • Rob E

          Fair point. To that I would say that in the last two years they’ve given Wright $140 million, Colon, Cuddyer, and Granderson a combined $100 million, and Lagares another $20 million. I have no idea what their REAL financial situation is, but clearly there is some room to spend in there even if they haven’t been in on the Canos and Lesters and Scherzers. You would also think that a better team will lead to more attendance, which will lead to more money. Plus, they were just valued at $1.3 billion, so I would guess SOMEONE will loan them money if they needed it.

          A lot of people already have Harvey leaving and going to the Yankees. This regime has shown me that they know what they’re doing regardless of what the money situation is….I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll figure out the NEXT step.

        • Brian Krysz

          To say the Wilpons have money problems, is to simply say you don’t understand finances. Money is the last problem the Wilpons have. The Mets value which is near 2 billion. If indeed they had a cash flow problem they would have at least 750 million in equity to borrow against for a 20 million dollar loan for a player. They are cheap and foolish and don’t care about the fans. If they would invest in a big hitter , the money that would come back to them would be several fold in food, beverage, tickets sales, tv ratings, merch and attendance. Stop with the Folly of the Wilpons being broke.

  • Dave

    I figure when 2 uber-rich guys hate each other, they’re probably both wrong (or maybe that means they’re both right), so I’ll stay out of that fray.

    As for young Akeel, his ERA still beats Garrett Olson’s. At least there aren’t 3 digits to the left of the decimal point. But if they shipped him off to AA right after the game and brought up Logan Verrett, it begs the question, why didn’t they just do that in the first place? So let’s hope that Verrett’s ERA isn’t 998.

    Time to start the #1000 pool. Everybody’s going to say Matz, maybe some will say Reynolds, but maybe you can get really good odds on someone like Duane Below or Travis Taijeron.

  • Steve D

    Good debate on the merits of hating the Wilpons…for me it’s a lot of little things, but then the elephants in the room. The Wilpons

    1) Positioned the team to be spending less on salary this year than the Milwaukee Brewers. In the New York market, that is epic incompetence. I don’t care the reasons. EPIC.

    2) Want to build a Walmart on the grounds of Shea. That will ruin their ball park for however many years it stands.

    3) Messed with our uniforms and logos for years…and still can’t get them right.

    Nelson was totally right about Jeff…he will never be a good owner.

    • Rob E

      Looking at the team they are fielding this season, where do you think they should have spent money and didn’t to the point that you could call it “epic incompetence”? They could have a higher payroll if they signed Brian McCann instead of going with the cheaper d’Arnaud. They could have a higher payroll if they signed Mike Napoli instead of going with the cheaper Duda. They would have had a higher payroll if they gave R.A. Dickey his $25 million and passed on d’Arnaud & Syndergaard. Would any of those moves mean they are more competent? Milwaukee is paying K-Rod 10 times what the Mets are paying Familia, by the way.

      People like to jump on the payroll bandwagon, but it’s meaningless. It’s something Scott Boras throws out there to get his clients more money from stupid owners. And it works. But it’s meaningless.

      • Dennis

        Once again Rob, you make excellent points. The Mets are finally getting out of several years of bad contracts, while building with young players, and some fans want them to spend money like drunken sailors.

        • Steve D

          Whose fault was it that they had bad contracts? (Themselves) They should be spending more as a result of having previously acquired better players that warrant higher payroll or by making smart choices and getting better players for this year. You have forgotten what good management might look like because it has been so long.

          By your reasoning the Mets shouldn’t spend $20 Million more this year, as much as the Seattle Mariners, because they are so stupid they would blow it on bad players or spend too much like drunken sailors. The fact is they don’t have the money due to their own mismanagement. But you are probably right…if they had the money they would spend it stupidly.

          I rest my case on epic incompetence.

          • Rob E

            It doesn’t matter what they SHOULD have done years ago; they did what they did and had to deal with the repercussions. If everything didn’t go south like it did five years ago, then yes, the nickel & diming would be harder to justify.

            But it went VERY south, and that changed the operating environment for the guy who had to clean up the mess (Alderson).

            It’s not fair to say “they should spend more money” and then offer as a reason “they should be spending more as a result of having previously acquired better players that warrant higher payroll or by making smart choices and getting better players for this year.”

            Those are mistakes of the past, and they are part of history now, and if you want to criticize THAT that’s one thing. But it’s another thing to say they’re terrible owners for not spending the money they don’t have now because of those mistakes of the past.

            At some point you just have to pick up the pieces and move on, and to their credit they have done that.

  • open the gates

    I just hope that they didn’t fatally mess with Akeel Morris’s head. Way to go, taking a kid who’s having a nice season in A ball and throwing him against a bunch of major league hitters who ate him for lunch. And as you said, just because. Dumb decision.

  • Brian S. Sokoloff

    Greg: Thanks to you for a literate essay, which inspired literate responses. What a refreshing change from the Twitter 140-character name calling with which I’m quickly losing patience. None of the Doubleday-should-have-been-our-sole-owner partisans touch on the ballpark issue. Putting aside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which I like, can any sentient human being maintain that Shea Stadium was a nicer ballpark than Citi Field? (If you have trouble deciding, think of just two things: (a) rain delays and (b) exiting the parking lot.) All reports indicate the Wilpons wanted a new ballpark and Doubleday wanted to fix up Shea Stadium in some limited way. Who was the cheapskate there? How much money would Doubleday have had to spend had he been the sole owner from 1986 on? It appears his family business — bearing his name — tanked badly in those years. So, as far as I’m concerned, it was nice we had had Nelson Doubleday to pull the team out of the cesspool when he did (even though with all the talent they amassed in the 1980s, they underperformed–barely winning a World Series on a freak error), but I don’t think his continued ownership would have put us in a better position than the one we are in now.

  • open the gates

    Brian – I agreed with most of what you said, until you mentioned winning the ’86 Series on a “freak error”. Here’s why:

    1) The error capped off the most incredible rally in Mets history, with three Mets getting back to back hits with 2 out and the season on the line.

    2) The game had already been tied before Buckner’s error. If Mookie is out at first, we merely continue with extra innings, and the Mets could have still won.

    3) Even if Buckner had fielded the ball cleanly, the speedy Mookie could have still beaten him out for an infield hit.

    4) The Mets still had to go out the next day and face the Sox ace in Game Seven, whom they beat convincingly.

    Now I’m not disagreeing that the ’86 Series was a nail-biter which could have gone either way. And yes, those Mets teams should have had more than one ring. But to boil down the entire Series to a “freak error” detracts from the wonderful Series that it was.

    • Rob E

      It’s not really fair to say they “underperformed.” They won 90 games and finished 2nd in ’84 (pre-Carter), won 98 games and finished 2nd in ’85, and won 92 games and finished 2nd in an injury-riddled ’87. As they faded, they won 87 and finished second in ’89. That’s pretty good 6-year run….they could just as easily won four in a row. Still a failure if you’re using making the playoffs as the yardstick, but not quite the same “failure” as 2007-8.