Hey, Big Spender

It’s looking like Mets’ fans will get what they asked Santa for this Christmas: new ownership.

According to Bloomberg News, the Wilpons, notoriously ball-on-a-budget owners of the Mets, are preparing to sell 80% of their stake in the team to lower-level part-owner, hedge-fund billionaire Steve Cohen. The Wilpons have had controlling ownership of the team since 2002, and the Mets have reached the postseason three times since the Wilpons took over, including representing the National League in the 2015 World Series. But the Wilpons’ ownership has been mired in legal issues, including havig to sell and buy back shares in the club and take loans from MLB to pay settlements related to their involvement in Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. The Mets were valued at $391 million in 2002; the Bloomberg News piece says that this transaction “would value the team at a baseball-record $2.6 billion.”

Mets fans, understandably sick of their ownership letting great players pass them by, have been celebrating on social media all day. But I wouldn’t throw yourselves a parade just yet, New York.

Negotiations are still ongoing, and the current arrangement has CEO Fred Wilpon and COO Jeff Wilpon keeping their current roles for the next five years. Only after that will Cohen take control.

More to the point, this news has ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ written all over it.

Yes, Steve Cohen would be the richest owner in MLB. He’s reportedly the inspiration for the show “Billions.” Forbes lists his net worth at $13.6 billion, while Bloomberg Billionaires Index (yes, that’s a real thing. Must be nice.) values him at $9.2 billion. Either way, he’s set. And he’s a lifelong Mets fan, so he’s probably actually going to care about winning. Mike Puma reported that a close friend of Cohen’s “will play the game at the highest level,” meaning he’s ready to open his checkbook.

Cohen’s financial past isn’t exactly squeaky clean; in 2013, the hedge fund he started in 1992 pled guilty to securities fraud and paid “a record fine.” But he is also known to spend big as a philanthropist. He and his wife have given $40 million towards curing Lyme Disease. According to Fortune, after his son served in the marines, Cohen “founded the Cohen Veterans Network, a chain of free mental healthcare clinics for vets, as well as Cohen Veterans Bioscience, a research institute dedicated to PTSD and traumatic brain injury diagnosis and treatment.” Then, in 2016, Cohen pledged $325 million to helping veterans, particularly focusing on mental health, PTSD, and suicide prevention. In a funnier financial moment, he once purchased a Picasso for almost twice its value, outbidding… himself by $16 million. Luckily for him and the Mets, it seems he’s able to afford to overspend.

At the end of the day, purely from the baseball fan’s perspective, Steve Cohen seems like a better choice. Sure, he might throw so much money around he’ll puts Marie Antoinette to shame, but when the alternative is an ownership so tightfisted they’re costing their team and its fans their sanity, I say, let him. Some of the players he overpays might not work out, but it’s better than not buying any at all. And after all, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.


Photo: Gillian Laub

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