By: Stache Staff

Throwback Thursday: 12 Years Ago Today; Wilpon Buys Out Doubleday


There have been many moments in Mets history that have shaped the franchise for years and years. The two World Titles, the Tom Seaver, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Mike Piazza and Johan Sanatna trades for example are moments fans have remembered for years.

One of the days that might be bigger than all of them happened 12 years ago today. It was on this date that Fred Wilpon completed his buyout of former partner Nelson Doubleday and took over full ownership of the New York Mets.

New York Times reporter Richard Sandomir has the details of a day, August 14th, 2002, that saw the Mets fortunes change forever.

Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon ended their public feud over how much the Mets were worth yesterday and agreed to a deal in which Wilpon would purchase Doubleday’s half share in the team.

When the deal is completed in about 30 days, Wilpon will be the team’s sole owner and Doubleday will be bought out for about $135 million — a sum that was reached by halving the team’s value of close to $400 million and subtracting debt.

Doubleday will receive $100 million of the $135 million at the closing, two people familiar with the terms said.

Doubleday will also receive $20 million to $40 million more if the Mets move into a new ballpark, some of which may be paid up front. The sooner a stadium is built, the more Doubleday will get.

The sale of the team by Doubleday to Wilpon did not exactly go smoothly which, considering the stormy relationship the two of them had, wasn’t exactly a stunning outcome.

The legal dispute between the two men erupted last month when Wilpon filed suit in United States District Court in Islip, N.Y., to force Doubleday to accept the payment terms set out in a $391 million valuation of the Mets. The lawsuit exposed the distrust and acrimony that had simmered between them for years.

They are different men: Doubleday a blustery scion of publishing wealth, and Wilpon a quieter, self-made real estate developer. They were rarely seen together on the field at Shea Stadium, sat in luxury suites far from each other and disagreed on wanting a new stadium (Wilpon’s preference) or a renovated one (Doubleday’s choice).

The court battle also provided Doubleday with a forum to assert that he had been ”double-crossed” by a ”sham process” that was orchestrated by Major League Baseball to depress franchise values.

Eventually Major League Baseball had to get involved which included Commissioner Bud Selig who as we all know is pretty good friends with Fred Wilpon and has always been more than happy to help out when Fred was in need.

Mediation by baseball officials had failed to produce an agreement. But as the claims and counterclaims grew more troubling and briefly clouded ongoing collective bargaining between baseball and the players association, Commissioner Bud Selig began a series of phone calls.

Selig sought to quell the fulminations and refocus the dispute on money, an executive involved in the negotiations said. ”They all knew it was embarrassing,” the executive said.

Simultaneously, a key element of the deal changed. When Doubleday triggered an option in his 1986 ownership agreement with Wilpon to be bought out last October, he was to get 20 percent of the sale price, or $27.6 million, up front, with the rest to be paid out over five years.

But in the most recent negotiations, the two sides agreed that Doubleday would get $100 million of the $135 million up front.

In a statement yesterday that said nothing about Wilpon or Starkey, Doubleday sounded contrite about his charges against baseball. ”While I was not happy with the results of the appraisal, I deeply regret and apologize for the conclusions many drew from the papers that were filed last week by my lawyers,” he said. ”I did not in any way mean to impugn the integrity of the commissioner, who has been a longtime friend and will continue to be one, or anyone from his office. Nor did I intend the counterclaim to get in the way of the ongoing collective bargaining process.”

Wilpon, in a statement, praised Selig’s end-game mediation. ”I am sorry the commissioner had to become involved, but I appreciate his help,” he said.

Two of the biggest stories when it comes to the former co-owners and things that they feuded about was about what to do with Shea Stadium and whether or not the Mets should re-sign Mike Piazza.

The part about Shea Stadium was mentioned in the article but basically Doubleday wanted to renovate Shea while Fred Wilpon had his heart set on building a new stadium that would look a lot like Ebbets Field.

In an earlier Throwback Thursday post we showed what the original Citi Field design, with a retractable roof, looked like back in the late 90’s. That mock up was done while Doubleday still owned the team but he would rather had never seen Citi Field built at all and some Mets fans I have talked to over the past few years would agree with that.

The other story of course is that, based on a rumor, Fred Wilpon was not keen on paying Mike Piazza the money that he was looking for and was willing to let him sign with another team. Doubleday was known to be more aggressive when it came to spending money and got his wish that the Mets keep Piazza as the team signed him to a 7 year deal worth 91 million dollars.

Piazza went on to a soon to be Hall of Fame career and Fred Wilpon cemented his status among the fans as being the cheaper owner of the two.

In the 12 years since the Mets have only had four winning seasons (2005-2008) with only one playoff appearance since Wilpon took over full control of the team. Citi Field was built in that time as well while the Mets have had four general managers, five managers and one Ponzi scheme thrown in there as well during the Wilpons run.

The value of the Franchise has also doubled according to Forbes as the Mets are now the 9th most valuable team in MLB, being worth an estimated 800 million dollars compared to the 391 it was valued at back in 2002.

Of course the Wilpon ownership, comprised now with Fred, his son Jeff and brother in law Saul Katz, has been under fire since the Madoff scandal cost them millions of dollars and the debt on Citi Field seems to be a burden that wont easily go away. The payroll has gone down considerably since the scandal was revealed and the team hasn’t had a winning team since.

Most fans, including myself, would love for Fred to take a page from Doubleday and sell the team completely, not just the small pieces they sold a few years back.

Of course Wilpon wants to see his son Jeff take over which will be a day that I believe will be the most infamous and quite possibly the worst day in franchise history.

But until that day officially comes, August 14th, 2002, will be as infamous as they come for the New York Mets and the ramifications of that day will continue for potentially decades to come.

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