Perhaps nothing defined the Wilpons’ failed Mets ownership like their obsession to win the press conference — and their incredible losing record nevertheless.
They could never see beyond tomorrow, beyond the next day’s headlines, beyond what might be screeched in drive time on WFAN. They so badly wanted to be loved now and to convince their fans that they really did know what they were doing that they tended to fall from 20,000 feet, never view an issue from that perspective.
At a Mets press conference, you could see the perspiration and desperation, the inadequacy and the incompetence, the con over the commitment. You could feel the angst in the room; Jeff Wilpon tripping over his words and others tortured in their language trying not to trigger Jeff Wilpon.
So, Steve Cohen had an extremely low bar to surpass Tuesday when he introduced himself via Zoom press conference. Yet, he also had a high bar. For Mets fans already had created an image of Cohen as savior, Santa and saint.
That Cohen cleared all hurdles was so overt that an executive from a rival team unsolicited texted: “I just watched that whole thing and if I were a Met fan right now I would be dancing in the street.”
Dance away, even knowing that this is the easy part. Press conferences are not real life, the questions can be generally prepared for beforehand. The accountability is minimal. George Steinbrenner famously said he would be a hands-off owner nearly a half-century ago upon taking over the Yankees. Cohen made a similar pledge that he is going to let his baseball people make the decisions. So we will see if this new boss is like the old Boss.
But the key here was not to be like the now old Mets bosses. Cohen avoided critique on what existed under the previous regime, yet commented on it definitively with each answer about what he expects. As an example, when he talked about wanting to emulate the Dodgers, it was not nostalgia from Brooklyn and the 1950s, it was in the relentless efficiency and modernity in every phase of the now champion Los Angeles version.
When he spoke about embracing and enhancing the organization’s analytics, it was not because he had heard that was what the cool kids in the game were doing — again think of the con over conviction from the Wilpons — it was because he was using the best of the best now in his flourishing hedge fund.
The money shot from Cohen’s session will be his expectation to win a World Series within 3-5 years. But the real money shot came from team president Sandy Alderson in his Zoom session when he delineated between yesterday and today by saying of how the Mets will pursue talent, “We now can emphasize the acquisition rather than the cost.”
Like Cohen, Alderson did not invoke the previous ownership by name. It wasn’t needed. Alderson came in as the Wilpons’ GM when ownership’s penurious ways were put on steroids by its losses in the Madoff fiasco. In the Wilpons’ real estate business maybe it was location, location, location, but in baseball it was cost, cost, cost.
Cohen made clear that the Mets are not his piggy bank. He said he had no expectations of making money with the team; Point72 is his income generator. He would not specify a payroll, but promised, “This is a major market team and should have a budget commensurate with that.” Again, a shot at the past without ever mouthing a Fred, Saul or Jeff.
Cohen, speaking from his home, did have an unimpressive outset reading bland prepared remarks from a teleprompter. What followed, though, defied a public image of social awkwardness and reticence. Cohen was extemporaneous and excellent in summing up his Mets past as a fan and his vision for a Mets present and future as an owner.
He hopes to shape the Mets similarly to Point72. He is willing to splurge when necessary, but that the backbone of both companies has to be the development of talent from within. He promised to ask hard questions of his baseball people, hold them to high standards, create a pathway to sustained excellence.
“I am not in this to be mediocre,” Cohen said. “I want something great.”
Alderson said this was why he returned, because of the vision and possibilities of Cohen. Again, he never did have to say as compared to the previous administration. A Mets press conference for the first time in decades was not laced with eggshells and landmines to avoid. Without Big Son looming over the proceedings, Alderson unplugged was illuminating and elaborative.
In the short run, “There is a foundation there if we can add the right pieces this year — and Steve has indicated that we will have the opportunity to do that — we can be pretty good, pretty quickly. That is my goal in 2021.” And in the long run, if the resources in all areas are deployed well, “we have a chance to be an iconic franchise … We have a chance to write an epic story.”
Maybe it is a fairy tale. We would be unwise not to look for the Cohen whose company was fined $1.8 billion for insider trading or has a reputation for being an overbearing boss. But all we have now as Mets owners is the beginning of the first chapter in which Cohen and Alderson provided a verbal oasis for Met fans after years in the desert. A sense of solid direction, bountiful resources and great hope percolated from Mets ownership. So for the first time in a long time:
The Mets won the press conference.