The person most responsible for the Mets’ worst years was probably M. Donald Grant. He is best known for sending Tom Seaver away, but his influence in the organization was a detriment toward building a competitive team, or keeping one, and things didn’t get better until he was out of the picture when the Mets were sold to Wilpon and Doubleday.
Grant, a stockbroker, was Mrs. Payson’s close personal advisor when she became the original owner of the Mets. He probably had very little influence in player movement for the first several years, and in the days before free agency, no one could say that the Mets were particularly cheap. But unlike, say a George Steinbrenner who took full advantage of baseball’s free agent system from the start, Grant did not believe that a ballplayer deserved to be making as much money as a stockbroker or real estate magnate, and probably didn’t think they belonged at the same parties or meetings, either.
Grant could be described as a patrician, a snob, a man with a plantation mentality. He was known to bring his fellow Mets’ stockholders to the clubhouse, where he would introduce his players as a fine bunch of boys and single out the recent trade acquisitions and players up from the minors by calling out “new boys over here”. He, indeed, belonged to a different generation, but at a time when his fellow owners were prepared to face baseball’s new reality, he was lording over the Mets in a manner befitting Charles Comiskey and the 1919 White Sox.
Grant’s meddling, no doubt, played a part in driving Mets’ GM Bing Devine,who was doing a nice job of trying to build a winner, back to St. Louis. It was probably after Mets’ GM Johnny Murphy passed away in 1970 that Grant’s influence began to increase.
Whitey Herzog was Mets’ player development director and heir to the GM job, but Grant passed him by because he knew he wouldn’t stand for any interference from someone who in Whitey’s words “knew nothing about baseball”. The next two Mets’ GM’s Bob Scheffing and Joe McDonald probably had their hands tied by Grant, his frugality, and his belief that ballplayers should be quiet, sign their contracts, and just play ball. When a player became outspoken about salary issues such as Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman did, it was only a matter of time before they would be sent away. When Gil Hodges died just before the 1972 season began, Grant again chose to bypass the outspoken Herzog, driving him out of the organization, in favor of Yogi Berra.
Probably the best example of how out of touch M. Donald Grant was with the average fan was when he tried to explain the Tom Seaver negotiations and subsquent trade in terms of bluffing and playing tricks in a hand of bridge. How many Mets’ fans have any idea how to even play bridge ?
The above are my thoughts and recollections of Grant, but if you want more, check out this thread at Ultimate Mets.