New York, New York: A Financial History of Two Baseball Teams

By Haupert, Michael | Nine, Spring 2014 | Go to article overview

New York, New York: A Financial History of Two Baseball Teams


Haupert, Michael, Nine


In 2012, the New York Mets turned fifty. In March of that year, Forbes magazine published their annual valuations of Major League Baseball (MLB) franchises. They estimated the New York Mets to be worth $719 million and the Yankees $1.85 billion. The value of the Yankees franchise is second only to that of the Dallas Cowboys ($2.1 billion) among North American team sports franchises. (1)

In 2011, the Yankees, boasting a roster studded with All-Stars earning a collective $210 million, won the American League Eastern Division title with a record of 97-65. The Mets, meanwhile, finished in fourth place, twenty-five games behind the Phillies. The billion-dollar difference in franchise value between the teams is the greatest it has ever been in the fifty-year existence of the Mets.

This is a story about the value of these two franchises. How do they compare over time, and why do they differ by so much? Why do two teams, both located in the biggest baseball market in the country, seem to have experienced such different fates?

THE METS AND YANKEES IN NEW YORK

On April 11, 1962, the New York Mets made their inauspicious debut, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals, 11-4. Twelve days later, after an 0-9 start, they earned their first victory. Meanwhile, across town the defending World Series champion Yankees opened the season with a victory. The Mets went on to one of the worst seasons in MLB history in 1962, while the Yankees went on to win another World Series title. (2)

The history of the New York Mets really begins with the departure of the Giants and Dodgers after the 1957 season. The void left by the transfer of these two NL squads to California begged to be filled. In fact, it was almost filled by another league altogether--the Continental League. The Mets and the Houston Astros were expansion franchises awarded in an effort to thwart the realization of that league.

The early Mets were a reflection of the crosstown Yankees, in no small part due to the hiring of disgruntled former Yankee general manager George Weiss as club president. Weiss's hiring was a result of the reluctance of principal owner Joan Payson to meet the demands of first choice Branch Rickey. Ironically, Rickey was the mastermind behind the Continental League that spawned the Mets. Other Yankee personnel to join the Mets included Johnny Murphy, Gil McDougald, Whitey Herzog, and the coup de grace, manager Casey Stengel, the man who came to personify the early Mets. (3)

As an expansion franchise, the Mets were certain not to challenge the defending National League champion Cincinnati Reds, so they had to attract fans in some other way. The hiring of the eccentric Stengel was one such move. The Mets stocked their early roster with recognizable names as another way to draw fans to the park. They had aging stars Gil Hodges, Richie Ashburn, Gus Bell, and Gene Woodling, as well as former Brooklyn favorites Charlie Neal, Don Zimmer, Roger Craig, and Clem Labine. Unfortunately, they had to play their first two seasons in the crumbling Polo Grounds, until Shea Stadium could be completed in time for the 1964 season.

The 1962 Mets are legendary for their incompetence. They set an MLB record for losses, with a 40-120 record, and en route endured performances from legendary players such as Rod Kanehl, who could play every position but none of them well, and catcher Choo Choo Coleman, whose main skill was chasing passed balls. Shortstop Elio Chacon's lack of English extended to "I've got it," resulting in frequent collisions with other players. And then there was Mary Throneberry, the first baseman whose fielding and base-running faux pas became the most enduring emblem of the early Mets. (4)

The Mets lost more than one hundred games in five of their first six seasons. Despite this level of futility, however, attendance at Mets games rose dramatically beginning in 1964, when they abandoned the Polo Grounds and started playing at Shea Stadium. …

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