Today, I’m going to stray from my usual 3 Up & 3 Down to write an entry that has been kicking around in my head for quite sometime now. This entry is about the first owner of the New York Mets, Mrs. Joan Whitney Payson.
One SNY feature, the only one I consider to be worth watching, is Mets Yearbook. In one particular episode, the year was 1963, they showed the final game at the old Polo Grounds, with Mrs. Payson and Casey Stengel on the field. As I watched, I thought of how remarkable a woman Mrs. Payson was – a woman clearly ahead of her time – and how the Mets will never have another owner as good and as wonderful as she was. Just watching all the video clips of her it was so apparent that Mrs. Payson truly loved her Mets, and it was just as apparent that Met fans loved her back.
When was the last time we saw a Mets owner sitting in the stands with the fans, rooting for our team? Whether eating a hotdog or enjoying a box of Cracker Jacks, there she was sitting with the rest of us and rooting for the team. She wasn’t isolated in an “owners box”, but instead enjoyed being with her people, Mets fans, and enjoying the game with them.
Before taking ownership of the Mets, Mrs. Payson was a shareholder of the New York Giants. In fact, Mrs. Payson tried all she could to talk Horace Stoneham out of moving the Giants to San Francisco. Mrs. Payson, and M. Donald Grant both voted against the Giant’s move. When the National League finally agreed to expansion and awarded a baseball team to New York, Mrs.Payson become the first woman ever to own a baseball team, and they couldn’t have made a better choice.
Mrs. Payson then went about the business of hiring the best baseball people available at the time. She also didn’t meddle and always allowed all of them to do their job. With 50 years of hindsight, the early Mets were a stroke of genius. New York was starving for National League baseball and Mrs. Payson and some other key people brought it back to us.
The Mets also brought back as many former Giants and Dodgers as they could to bring a hometown feel and familiarity to the team. They scooped up the most successful manager in the game in Casey Stengel. They then let the stars of the past play, while beginning the work of assembling an awesome farm system.
The 1969 Mets were amazing for several reasons. First off, before 1969 they never finished in the top of the standings and in fact were perennial cellar dwellars. Second, and even more amazing is that seven years after inception, the Mets were champions. In the pre free agency era, this truly was a miracle.
I became a Met fan in 1973. Sadly Mrs. Payson died in October of 1975, so I have very few memories of her. But to me, the thing that was so striking about her was her genuine, heartfelt love for all the Mets players, coaches and fans. I doubt we’ll ever see anything like it, or anyone like her, ever again. That my friends, is too bad.
Happy Mothers Day to all the remarkable women in your lives.