Like a newfound, priceless piece of art in his collection, New York Mets owner Steve Cohen has dug the history and tradition of his franchise — now celebrating its 60th season — out from the dark depths of the proverbial storage locker that it was thrown into the back of by the previous ownership regime, restored it, and hung it front and center for all to see.
In typical fashion, though, 1986 World Series MVP Ray Knight didn’t need to put things so nicely — which is on brand for one of the greatest teams in franchise history.
“I love the New York Mets. I don’t like the Wilpons. I don’t like any of that,” Knight said, who was tossed aside by previous ownership shortly after helping win the franchise’s second-ever title. “It truly broke my heart. It’s a special thing for me to be here and feel like maybe I’m back as a part of this organization because Mr. Cohen came up and spoke to me today. I haven’t spoken to Jeff Wilpon in over 30 years.
“I wasn’t even invited back to throw out a first pitch. That hurts because you gave everything you had.”
For the first time in 28 years, the Mets rolled the red carpet out for Knight along with young and not-so-young alumni for Old Timer’s Day — an afternoon of nostalgia and appreciation for a franchise that has long turned the corner as a National League institution but is now finally acting like one.
Much of that has to do with the efforts of Cohen, who kept the surprises coming on Sunday with the surprise announcement of Willie Mays’ No. 24 being retired.
“There was the Steve Cohen factor,” Mets president Sandy Alderson said. “As somebody who has some influence, he felt that it was important for many reasons… Given all the other considerations [by the Mets Hall of Fame committee], that honestly shouldn’t have been a determining factor, but it was certainly important to Steve.
“This was a great way to re-introduce Willie Mays to an entirely new set of Mets fans, in a way. And also remind our alumni as well as the organization itself of our roots.”
No longer do they have to invite former Yankees and Dodgers and Giants to bulk up the festivities as they did during the first half of their existence. No longer do they have to comprise a team of former MLB stars who never played for the Mets, or played when they never even existed.
Though Hall of Famer and former Mets pitcher from 2005-2008 Pedro Martinez wouldn’t mind seeing some Yankees around.
“Next time, you make sure to bring the old timers from the other side [the Bronx] to this side,” he joked. “That’s what we wanted to do. Not precisely to play against each other.”
Sixty-five players in total, all Mets, all back in Flushing.
“Today is just a different thing,” Mets third baseman from 1999-2001 Robin Ventura said. “To have us all together is special. You feel it in the room… I have a lot of respect for everybody that’s in this uniform today because of what they’ve accomplished, knowing what it takes, and knowing what they mean here to the fans. That’s the part that’s nice that they’re doing this. You feel humbled.”
How far this franchise has come.
“These are simple things I can do where the fans just want to know you care and want to know that ownership is listening,” Cohen said. “That’s all I’m trying to do. I’m doing this for the fans.”