Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 12, 2020

Awards Season Brings Irrational Exuberance To Queens

As always, the Great Game’s awards season led off last week with the colorful honors – Gold Gloves to those deemed the best fielders at all nine defensive positions in both leagues, followed by Silver Sluggers to the top offensive players by position. This year only one player took home both shades of hardware, as Mookie Betts of the Dodgers was recognized for both this glove and his bat for the fourth time in five seasons. Despite that, Betts finished a distant second in the voting by select members of the Baseball Writers Association of American for the Most Valuable Player in the National League. That award went to first-time winner Freddy Freeman of Atlanta, after a campaign in which he led the NL in runs scored and finished second in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage, with career highs in all three statistics.

The announcement of Freeman’s award was the last of the BBWAA honors, which as usual were parceled out over multiple days this week. The announcements started Monday, with Seattle’s Kyle Lewis and Milwaukee’s Devin Williams being named Rookies of the Year, followed the next day by top manager trophies going to the Rays’ Kevin Cash and the Marlins’ Don Mattingly. Then on Wednesday the BBWAA named Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer as the best pitchers in the big leagues, before Freeman’s name was called shortly after Jose Abreu of the White Sox was announced as AL MVP Thursday evening.

Of course, the pandemic-shortened regular season led to some unusual numbers in the statistical rundowns of each award winner’s 2020 performance. Freeman achieved his league-leading mark of runs scored by crossing the plate all of 51 times, a result that would have just barely kept him in the top 100 among National League hitters in 2019. Similarly, Bauer recorded exactly 100 strikeouts to finish third in the majors, behind Bieber and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom. But that was less than one-third of the punchouts amassed one campaign earlier by Gerrit Cole, the major’s 2019 strikeout king. And while Mattingly richly deserved the NL Manager of the Year honor after shepherding the young Marlins from a clubhouse-wide COVID-19 outbreak that upended Miami’s schedule almost as soon as the season’s first pitch was thrown, all the way to the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 17 years, he did so while his team won 31 games, a number that in any other campaign would look nice right around Memorial Day.

But based on reactions from fans and sportswriters, the big winner of this awards season wasn’t any of the individuals chosen by the writers, nor was it Betts or one of his fellow Gold Glove and Silver Slugger honorees. Clearly pride of place belongs to the Great Game’s MBO – baseball’s Most Beloved Owner. By something approaching acclamation, that award goes to the new boss at Citi Field, Steven A. Cohen.

The 64-year-old hedge fund manager, who is so fabulously wealthy that his personal art collection is worth as much as some major league teams, became the richest owner in the sport when he closed on his $2.4 billion purchase of the Mets from Sterling Equities, the investment vehicle controlled by Fred Wilpon. The sale brought four decades of Wilpon’s involvement with the Metropolitans full circle. It began when he purchased a one percent stake in the team in 1980, which expanded to fifty percent just a few years later and eventually to sole ownership in 2002. A decade later, in the wake of huge losses from participation in the Ponzi scheme run by Bernard Madoff, Wilpon, through Sterling Equities, sold off multiple minority stakes, including a small piece to Cohen, a lifelong Mets fan. Now, with Cohen assuming control, Wilpon is reduced to owning a five percent share in the franchise.

The Mets faithful will deny it, but there was a time when most of their number did not rise each morning thinking ill of Fred Wilpon and his family. That was before the Madoff debacle, which led the team’s ownership to start acting like the franchise was based in some small market with limited revenue potential, rather than in the second most populous borough of the media and entertainment capital of the world. Year after year of penny-pinching, coupled with the club’s history of general ineptitude punctuated by occasional flashes of improbable brilliance, long since turned the name Wilpon into an expletive for Mets fans.

Now along comes Cohen, not just a new owner, who would certainly be welcomed with enthusiasm, but also one with unfathomably deep pockets, thus instantly inspiring fantasies of top free agents clamoring for the chance to make the long ride on the number 7 train from their high-rise rentals in Midtown out to Flushing Meadows. Although at $25 or $30 million a year, they’d probably eschew the subway in favor of a car service. The ecstatic reaction to the team’s new owner has already led the New York Post’s seasoned writer Ken Davidoff to start referring to Cohen simply as “the savior.”

To be sure, Mets fans have earned the right to dream, and in his first forays in front of the press and on social media, Cohen has hit all the right notes. An owner who loves and respects the sport and who can readily fund his vision for a franchise is what every fan base deserves. Perhaps the Mets now have one. But the Great Game is still played on a field between two long white foul lines, and not on Twitter. Fans being fans, those who swear their allegiance to the Metropolitans will remember that soon enough, most likely no later than next Opening Day. That’s when the real test for Steve Cohen will come. It’s easy for a new owner to be loved because of who he is not. But in a year, or three, or five, will he be loved because of what his team has done? If the answer is yes, Cohen’s Mets and their fans will share in the Great Game’s ultimate award.

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