One of the earliest mass media PR gaffes was made in 1883 by railroad baron William Henry Vanderbilt when he supposedly uttered “the public be damned” to a Chicago reporter who questioned him about his passenger trains.
The first mass media PR slip also spawned the first mass media PR spin. After those remarks appeared in black and white, Vanderbilt back tracked somewhat, claiming first that he was taken out of context and then further stated that “”Railroads are not run for the public benefit, but to pay. Incidentally, we may benefit humanity, but the aim is to earn a dividend.”
Take that last paragraph and substitute “Wilpon” for “Vanderbilt” and “The Mets” for “Railroads” and I believe you have an accurate assessment of how this modern-day Vanderbilt family views the Mets. As a firm believer in free markets and private property, I grudgingly support their right to do whatever they want with their property. The problem for me and I suppose for all Mets fans, is that this in direct conflict with what we want: a pennant-winning baseball team again.
The fact of the matter is that the Mets generate cash for the Wilpons via TV and MLB licensing deals, which are in sufficient force to overcome depressed gate receipts. This cash allows them to develop other money-making schemes (also their right). They are rich enough to shut out the howling of their fans and are laughing their way to the proverbial bank. They don’t care what we think. And they are under zero pressure from anyone who can force them to do anything to change the way the team is operated.
I believe that they shrewdly picked the right front man in Sandy Alderson. He certainly has the street cred: a commendable military service record, past GM experience that includes a championship and a stint in the Commissioner’s office. Like a good soldier, he has followed orders: cutting operational costs, while maintaining at least a veneer of respectability (read: hope via hyping prospects) around those operations.
This is probably the year that the pressure begins to mount on Alderson, as it has become apparent that he just isn’t that good, but the Wilpons don’t really care for after all, Alderson has done his job. Their major liability, payroll costs, are under control and they can safely project them for the next 4-5 years as being among the lowest in baseball; merely a fraction of what other major market teams pony up each year. In fairness to Alderson, his team currently has a better record than other franchises with much higher payrolls, but at the same time, he is approaching a five-year losing streak, whereas other GMs with similar payroll constraints have assembled winning teams during Alderson’s time here.
The Mets of past years reacted against losing, firing GMs and managers, making splashy trades and signing Free Agents. It didn’t always work, but at least they tried. These post-Madoff Mets merely shrug their shoulders and count their money.
What can any of us do about this? Not too much unfortunately. There is just too much other money coming to counter the blow of a stadium being 75% empty. They can merely ignore the empty seats and the barbs from blow-hards like me and others in the media and the blogosphere, while most likely using the perks that are associated with owning a major league team to keep a few key media figures quiet.
I believe that deep down they would love to be a playoff team, but this would have to be more of a happy accident than a result of a concentrated effort to get there. And for all of their PR mis-steps, no one in the inner circle is clumsy enough to let slip that profits trump pennants.
And here’s the thing: that equation isn’t anything new to baseball either. For every Murder’s Row, every Big Red Machine, every Yankees Dynasty, every Bleeding Dodger Blue, every The Giants Win The Pennant, every We Are Family, in other words every big or consistent winner, there needs to be big or consistent losers. Space constraints prohibit the listing of teams that went decades (centuries?) as losing franchises, but they are out there.
For example, I grew up under the shadow of the Philadelphia media and was well-acquainted with that city’s then-dreadful baseball history. It certainly influenced my choice of the Mets as my favorite team in 1971. There is much to suggest that the Mets are heading in that same direction. We’re lamenting a potential seventh-straight losing season, but recent events may be a foreshadowing of a far longer stretch ahead.
Not much to do but settle in and accept it. This is hard for someone like me, as Mets fandom has spanned parts of three family generations. I have been able to let go of other bad habits over my life, but I admit that this one is hard to break. I believe in miracles and think we certainly need one here; but I wonder if The Almighty doesn’t have other ideas.
Oh well–we’ll always have April of 2015.