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Friday, October 1, 2010

Mets' Two-Decade Decline Continues

The New York Mets are reportedly going to relieve both their manager and general manager of their duties after the 2010 regular season ends Sunday.
The Mets are currently choked financially by debt on their new stadium (Citi Field) and by a generation's worth of management and ownership mistakes.   Make no mistake about it, the decline of the Mets franchise on the field and its failure to reach its potential off the field (that is, financially) is not a recent phenomenon but has been in the works since the late 1980s.
The on-field product has too often reflected mistaken investments, such as grossly overpaying for or overappraising the value of certain players whose actual performance did not fulfill the prior assessments of their talent (e.g., Butch Huskey, Oliver Perez), or paying for the past performance for other teams of players who simply did not repeat those performances in a Met uniform (e.g., Juan Samuel, Robin Ventura, Todd Zeile, Pedro Martinez, Luis Castillo). 
In other cases, good or even great players were retained even after their individual performance had declined, their trade value had diminished, and their value to a moribund Mets franchise that was several good players away from contention was further diminished (e.g., John Franco, circa 2003, and Al Leiter and Mike Piazza, circa 2004).   Going back two decades, the Mets have acquired (either by trade or free agency) very few players who have left a positive mark on the franchise, other than the aforementioned Piazza (a sure Hall-of-Famer), Franco and Leiter, current Mt Johan Santana and Carlos Beltran. 
More damning, the Mets have produced and chosen to retain even fewer prospects who became high-end major league ballplayers.  Since losing Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden in 1990 and 1994, respectively, the Mets have drafted and retained only two young players who became All-Stars while still playing for the Mets:  David Wright and Jose Reyes.   
As for off-field decisions, Mets ownership may have performed even worse.  it seems like Mets ownership has made one mistake after another, all of which share one apparent flaw:  the failure (or refusal) to have done basic due diligence to test bedrock assumptions on which momentous decisions were made.  Ownership -- meaning the Wilpon family -- believed that the millions of Mets fans would adore the new ballpark, which was designed to pay homage to the adored Ebbets Field of the memories of one man, Fred Wilpon.  Most Mets fans, being born after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles more than 50 years ago and having never seen Ebbets Field, have found the new ballpark to be a better facility but not necessarily a "home" for their team. 
It should not be surprising that Mets attendance is down significantly from their last Shea Stadium season.  The reasons for the attendance decline go beyond the team's poor on-field performance; they include the widespread perception that ownership is either tone-deaf to Mets fans or openly contemptuous of them.  Most of all, Mets attendance is down because the majority of Mets fans feel little emotional connection to the current crop of mercenaries wearing the Mets uniform. 
Think about one difference.  With the legendary 1969, 1973 and 1986 teams -- or even the lovably horrid early-1960s teams of Choo Choo Coleman and the plainly horrid late 1970s teams of Lee Mazzilli and Craig Swan -- fans could always associate those teams and the franchise in general with an identifiable core of players.  That is different from today's Mets.  With the exception of long-time, homegrown Mets David Wright and Jose Reyes (who came up to the big club in 2004 and 2003, respectively), there is no one with whom most fans will associate the Mets in five years time. 
 It is shocking, not just to Mets fans but to many businesspeople and management experts and business advisors like myself, that an apparently successful man could make such a colossal blunder.   It is as if Wilpon spent as much time questioning the wisdom of that decision as he did (or didn't, as the case may be) questioning whether Bernard Madoff was running a legitimate investment fund.
The Mets have had glimpses and occasional flashes of overachievement since they last won the World Series in 1986.  These moments have been the exception and not the rule.   They also have not adequately represented the true acumen of ownership.  In this observer's opinion, the Mets will not be a consistently successful baseball team, and will not capitalize on their placement in the nation's number one media and fan market, until its ownership learns to have patience drafting, developing and retaining its homegrown talent, the type of players to which a new generation of Mets fans will become attached. 
Eric Dixon is a New York small business lawyer who represents businesses, entrepreneurs and freelancers in litigation, negotiations and government investigations, and engages in business due diligence and investigative matters on behalf of clients.   Mr. Dixon is a long-suffering Mets fan.  Mr. Dixon is available for comment or consultation -- or to be retained by clients -- at 917-696-2442 and via e-mail at

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