By: Michael Bernardo
Remember when I said way back last year how hard it was to be a fan of the orange and blue in New York? And how I said I’d get to the poor ownership of both teams at a later date?
Professional athletes across every sport dream to play in the concrete jungle of New York City. There’s nothing like it in all of sports. The food, the historical landmarks, and of course the seemingly never-ending night life which cannot be matched in any other city. Trust me, I’ve been to Boston. However, there is some downside to playing in the city that never sleeps: the media scrutiny that comes with every minimal mistake and not exactly the greatest team ownership. With all due respect to the Steinbrenner family, playing for Hal is a cakewalk compared to George so they’ll be excluded; as will the Johnsons, Maras, and Mikhail Prokhorov of the Jets, Giants, and Nets respectively. I’m talking about the cream of the crop of course: the Wilpons of the Mets and James Dolan of the Knicks.
If you recall back when I gave you all a glimpse of the misery of being a fan of the Knicks and Mets, ownership played a large part of it for a multitude of reasons. Now, the owners aren’t the ones going out there every day shooting threes or throwing curveballs. But everything starts and ends with how they run the franchise and man do I mean everything. It’s really a toss up over which of the two is worse and you can even make the case for both as the worst owners in all of sports.
Let’s start with the Amazin’s. While Sterling Equities technically own the Mets, its founder Fred Wilpon holds a 58% stake in the franchise while others, including Saul Katz and Bill Maher own the remaining 42%. Wilpon became the majority owner of the New York Mets in 2002 after owning a 50% share with Nelson Doubleday Jr from 1986-2002 and just a 1% in 1980. It is no coincidence that the team’s mediocre play and obscurity had begun at the start of that season. Yes, they reached the World Series in 2015, but can you name any serious consistency of success this century? Yeah, me either.
James Dolan had a bit of a more difficult to grasp path to the top of the NBA’s dumpster fire known as the Knicks; although the Lakers might be taking that title this offseason. (Editor Update: They’re still a dumpster fire.) He is the current owner of the Madison Square Company, which in return owns the Knicks, New York Rangers, and Madison Square Garden. Those were owned by Dolan founded media company Cablevision, which had then spun off the aforementioned entertainment assets as public companies which merged into one company: The Madison Square Garden Company. It makes sense once you read it 6 or 7 times. To put it simply, the owning control of the Knicks was acquired by a Charles Dolan controlled company in 1994 who proceeds to pass operating control to his son James in 1999. Would you look at that, another instance of a team fading into obscurity after new ownership takes over. The Knicks own the worst winning percentage this century.
In many instances, teams whose owners initiate a hands-on approach to the operations of the team generally have success. I said many…not all. The hands-on approach of these two owners have been done through different methods but met with the same results: ineffectiveness and disaster.
Let’s start with the Wilpon family. I say family because as Fred starts to rise up there in age, the day-to-day operations have been handled by his son and current team Chief Operating Officer, Jeff. Quite frankly, I don’t think this family even likes the Mets. Their ballpark resembles the old Ebbets Field , home of Fred’s boyhood team: the Brooklyn Dodgers. The only problem is that the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and have remained there for over 60 years. Citi Field is a very nice stadium don’t get me wrong. But when there’s more of a resemblance to another stadium and players from another team ie: The Jackie Robinson Rotunda, it makes you wonder just how emotionally invested an owner is in his team.
A reported example of just how little the Wilpons seem to care was back in 2008 at the end of the season. If you recall, that season was the last at Shea Stadium and had ended in heartbreak after being eliminated from playoff contention. Reportedly Fred Wilpon had agreed to a local media affiliate interview and had conducted it while drinking champagne. When asked what the celebration could be after a heartbreaking end to the season, the response was “We’re getting a new ballpark.” You know you’re bad at what you do when the lovable Pedro Martinez has something to say about it. A revelation in his autobiography Pedro shows just how careless the team can truly be. It was revealed that in 2005, Martinez was shut down for the season late in September due to a toe injury and the playoffs out of reach. However, Jeff Wilpon had other plans as he insisted and demanded Martinez pitch against the Marlins and Dontrelle Willis to make for a marque pitching match up to sell tickets. Martinez went out and pitched, thus pushing back recovery time and ultimately ruined Martinez the next season.
Then of course, we’re all familiar with the Wilpon’s involvement with the Bernie Madoff scandal at the start of this decade. The Mets are still paying for it both directly and indirectly. The unwillingness to shell out a few extra dollars for top free agents ie: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this past winter, and the example after example of old and past their prime players most recently Robinson Cano, shows just how far they’d go to save even the fewest of dollars. While neither of those marque free agents are representatives of the 2019 National League All Star team, one can safely assume that they are better than the current options in the outfield and third base of J.D. Davis and Todd Frazier. If these examples don’t explain the unawareness and ineptitude of ownership that has plagued fans since the time I wasn’t allowed to walk home from school by myself, then I’m not sure what will.
Speaking of walking home from school by myself, at least there was a time in my life where the Mets weren’t a total joke. Can’t say the same as much for James Dolan and the Knicks. James Dolan has been a train wreck for this team since my 22 year old sister was in diapers. Year after year there has been a problem surrounding the Knicks both on and off the basketball court since James Dolan took over control in 1999. I can write a 12 volume analytical thesis paper based on the ineptitude that James Dolan has shown but I’ll stick to the basics, which still covers a lot.
We’ll start with the inability to hire a decent front office. For as long as I can remember, the Knicks have struggled to find someone with three quarters of a functioning brain to run this organization, most notably Phil Jackson (2013-2017) and Isiah Thomas (2003-2008) That in itself can be another article of who was worse. When Thomas, the Hall of Fame point guard of the Bad Boys history lesson) and Jackson, the man with more Finals rings than fingers were running the helm of the Knicks, it was anything but Hall of Fame worthy. Their tenures were interchangeable as trading future draft picks that would later become All Stars and giving mediocre at best level caliber players significant contracts were the two priorities of these gentleman, who of course had to get the okay from none other than Guitar Jimmy (don’t even bother looking that up)
That’s just half of first volume. Terrible representation off of the basketball court has been a staple of Dolan’s tenure. Fans have been banned for expressing their opinion towards Dolan to sell the team. Former players have been banned as well. The great Charles Oakley can only watch games from home thanks to a 2017 dispute at MSG that led to his arrest while maintaining innocence. Then of course, we can’t speak of Dolan’s involvement being too hands on without mentioning the trade of 2011 that brought Carmelo Anthony to the Garden for four players in the starting lineup and more draft picks simply because he said so, thus ultimately setting the team chemistry back and disrupting the future for my entire college life.
For the longest time I was going to wrap up this drawn article with a brief summary until of course I was given new material within the course of about 24 hours for both teams. Over the weekend of June 28-30, the 1969 World Series Champion Mets were honored commemorating the team’s 50th anniversary. In a brief period of remembrance, the team listed two players as deceased when in fact they were still alive. A fact check or two might have saved you from the utter embarrassment and disrespect don’t you think Jeff? And finally, this one hurts, the Knicks have lost out on the Kevin Durant/Kyrie Irving sweepstakes to none other than the Brooklyn Nets. It hurts extra because of Dolan’s confidence all season that big time players were joining the team in free agency. It only led to him and management to have cold feet at the end because of their unwillingness to offer a max deal to Durant who is coming off of an Achilles injury. You mean to tell me that signing injury riddled Joakim Noah for $72 million and the walking garbage disposal Eddy Curry for $60 million were okay, but giving Durant the max $161 million wasn’t? The guy’s better than anybody on your team even without playing this upcoming year. It just doesn’t make any sense.
Unfortunate events such as these have effected one group of people the most: the fans. The players can count their money until the cows come home as will the owners. But it’s the fan base of both teams that have to sit and watch with no control over what partakes year after year. The MLB and NBA have been fully aware of the incompetence for years and have done nothing about it with no sale of either team in sight. Sadly for us fans, all we could do is sit on the sidelines and hope.