The first all professional baseball team, that is, the first team to pay all of its players, was the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. The team was owned and operated by members of a Ohio Law firm. Since that time, the business of baseball has evolved in countless ways. Player unions, media revenue, sponsorships, advertising dollars, taxpayer funded ballparks, revenue sharing, and collective bargaining agreements are just a few of the many ways the business of baseball has changed since those Ohio lawyers decided to pay a group of ten players more than 140 years ago. However, there is one thing that was true for the 1869 Red Stockings and has remained a fact to this day. The person, or persons, writing the checks, have the final say on all decisions.
I remember when the Mets signed Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez before the 2005 season. Omar Minaya was praised for getting the big time stars that so often eluded the Mets. Adam Rubin even wrote a book titled, “Pedro, Carlos, and Omar”, about the rebirth of the Mets. Fans, myself included, heaped praise onto Minaya for getting these deals done. Without his negotiating skill, and his ability to sell the Mets as a big time franchise, we never would have landed these two players. This all made for a very nice story. The truth however, is that Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez signed with the Mets for one reason; they offered the most money. The credit for bringing these players to Queens ultimately belonged to Fred Wilpon. Because while it may have been Minayas’ idea to pursue those players, he still needed permission to spend.
This is an important fact to remember. While General Managers are seen as wielders of great power and responsibility, at the end of the day they are still employees, and they are only as powerful as their employers allow them to be.
Fans often focus on the baseball operations part of a GM’s job. Scouting, player development, roster decisions, and so on. But perhaps the most important job a G.M. has is to be the spokesperson for the team. To stand in front of the media and speak for the franchise. This was never more evident then last December right after Jose Reyes signed with the Miami Marlins.
Sandy Alderson does not control the Mets budget. He does not get to decide to raise payroll. And yet, there he was answering questions about why the Mets did not raise payroll to keep one of their most popular players. Taking responsibility for a decision that he never had the power to make. Sandy answered the questions to the best of his ability, trying admirably not to reveal the undeniable fact that accountability for the decision lies with the owners. The same way Jim Duqette tried to answer questions about the Scott Kazmir trade, or Minaya insisted that he always had full control of roster decisions. It’s employee rule #1. You don’t show up your employer. If Sandy came out and said the Wilpons had no intention of re-signing Reyes, without their permission, he would never work in baseball again, in any capacity. You do not publicly criticize your boss or former boss. Not if you plan on working again.
Throughout 2011, the decision as to what to do with Reyes became a huge debate among fans. Some argued an injury prone player wasn’t worth that much money. Others believed we should trade him for a package of players. Others thought we had too many holes to fill, and giving one player big money was not the answer. People suggested that we should sign him, but not to a long term deal. These and countless other ideas were debated. And there in lies the genius of Fred Wilpon and the inaction in locking up the Mets franchise players. The different arguments the fans were making was not important, it’s the fact that there was arguing and disagreement in the first place. Because big market teams, even some mid market teams, don’t let their franchise players just leave. They pay them and move on to other issues.
Joe Mauers’ on field production isn’t worth 180 million. But his value to that franchise is. In fact almost all super stars are overpaid in relation to their on field performance. It’s the ticket sales, the jersey sales, the fan interest, plus their on field production, which makes them worth it. There was never a debate to be had with Reyes. The Mets are a big market team. You keep your home grown players, especially the ones that become stars and fan favorites. Yet the owners in-action on his contract got fans to argue about it. Deflecting and displacing much of the anger that should have been directed at the Wilpons, onto other people such as the front office and the player himself.
It’s this strategy of non movement that will play out all over again in regards to our other home grown franchise player. Fans will begin to debate what we should do with David Wright, how much money he is worth, and what his imperfections are. And finally when he leaves, fans will call him disloyal, greedy, and not a true Met. They’ll say he never won anything, talk about all the other holes the team has. All the while never thinking to themselves, “It’s David freaking Wright! Just pay him what he wants. You’re a big market team, why are we even talking about this?”
And there again will be Sandy Alderson. Standing in front of the press, answering questions that are not his to answer. Being the good soldier and protecting his bosses. Taking responsibility for something that he never had the power to decide. Because the fact remains today, same as it did in 1869, the people writing the checks make the decisions. They always have, and they always will.
This Fan Shot was submitted by MMO reader, Noah Rainwater. Have something you want to say about the Mets? Share your opinions with over 12 thousand Mets fans who read this site daily. Send your Fan Shot to GetMetsmerized@aol.com. Or ask about being a regular contributor, and share your opinions with an engaging community that loves to debate