When the news broke that the Wilpons were indeed selling the New York Mets, the idea of Alex Rodriguez being part of an ownership consortium was quickly floated. For some, it was a joke. For others, it was wishful thinking. However, given his financial wherewithal, love of the spotlight, long-held interest in being an owner and his boyhood affinity for the Mets, it made sense for A-Rod to make a bid.
The price tag of nearly $2 billion was exorbitant, with few individuals capable of getting their hands on the cash and credit to make a viable bid on their own. Steve Cohen could do it, but disagreements over control and the structure of the sale torpedoed an apparent agreement for him to be the principal owner.
Now, A-Rod and his fiancé Jennifer Lopez are reportedly trying to put a group together to buy the team. Until a buyer is concretely identified and the ink is dry on the deal, this type of glossy speculation will be common. The seriousness of A-Rod’s bid is difficult to classify. With the lack of sports news due to COVID-19, it was unavoidable that the mere mention of A-Rod as a potential buyer for the Mets would be explosive.
Despite the apparent urgency for the Wilpons to sell, it’s difficult to envision them jumping at an offer just to get it done. Exacerbating this point is the pandemic placing the 2020 season in jeopardy and the decline in revenue due to canceled games. Regardless, judging by the latest franchise valuations, the Mets are worth around $2.4 billion. Presumably, even with the Wilpons’ loans estate planning concerns exacerbating the need to sell, they will receive some leeway with the banks to maximize the value and not take a penny less than the Cohen offer of $2.6 billion.
A-Rod owning the Mets would certainly be tabloid fodder. His checkered past with suspensions, lies, performance enhancing drugs and more is problematic, but Cohen and most people who have the wealth to even consider buying a sports franchise have skeletons large, small and perhaps still alive in their closets. A-Rod can navigate around those.
That said, there are fundamental factors with A-Rod owning the Mets.
Any gratuitous comparison between Jeter and A-Rod is coincidental. It’s difficult to mention one without the other and it is relevant.
The dichotomy between Jeter and A-Rod is exemplified by how The Last Dance portrays Dennis Rodman and Michael Jordan and how each went about their business on and off the court. Rodman and A-Rod had relationships with Madonna and learned valuable lessons – for their ends – from her. Jeter learned from Jordan. A-Rod was awkward. Taking advice from Madonna was the opposite of anything Jeter had interest in. Their career trajectories in sports and the business world has mirrored that.
A-Rod’s relationship with Madonna was classified as a romance. Maybe it was. But it may have been closer to a master/apprentice-type agreement with him learning how to stay in the public eye regardless of whether it was good or bad publicity. Rodman learned the same thing and, to paraphrase, understood one key lesson from her that a person must control his or her image. Few in history have been as successful as cultivating an image of her own making as Madonna. Rodman was good at it. A-Rod slipped up, but reinvented himself to largely return to the public’s good graces and put himself in the position where his past is not an insurmountable obstacle to team ownership.
A-Rod’s frenemy Jeter never indulged in similar overt attempts to get his name out there. His strategy was understated and his status as New York’s bon vivant happened naturally. He liked it; he fostered it, but he did so skillfully. Like Jordan, Jeter wanted to win above all else, but he also wanted to secure a foothold in corporate America and the world by being intriguing enough to be of interest – not willfully vanilla like Mike Trout – and to avoid controversial stances on social issues even when asked to take part and comment on them.
The respective ways in which Jeter runs the Miami Marlins and A-Rod’s blueprint for the Mets would be similarly divergent. Ironically, Jeter received an A-Rod-level series of attacks for his missteps as Marlins CEO, but still emerged largely unscathed as his restructuring of the club is showing signs of improvement.
The easy characterization is A-Rod again copying Jeter. That might be realistic if it was something less time-consuming and expensive as buying into a baseball team and agreeing to run it. Jeter’s position as CEO of the Marlins is more of a business decision and for his brand than A-Rod owning the Mets would be. A-Rod certainly likes the attention and the money such an investment creates, but he also loves baseball in all its aspects. The same has never been said of Jeter, who loved playing it, but appeared bored and indifferent watching it.
As for running the team, A-Rod will not be a figurehead. Whereas Jeter imported people he trusted to implement his preferred strategies and is the same somewhat aloof and guarded public figure he was as a player, A-Rod is a baseball rat who simply loves the game. He’ll be all in on running the team. Available, affable, in love with himself and the limelight – he’ll be seen at the winter meetings, during spring training, at the games and everywhere else related to the organization not just to maximize his investment, but to build it his way.
What that means for the current organizational structure is an open question. Just like any new boss, he’ll have his own ideas as to who he wants as his subordinates, but that does not necessarily mean current general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and his staff are on the way out. A-Rod won’t want to be the day-to-day GM and deal with the media, travel with the team and put out fires that could easily be handled by an underling. A-Rod as team president with final say on player moves is more likely. Without knowing the relationship between A-Rod and Van Wagenen, it is possible that if A-Rod likes what he sees and hears from the GM, he’ll be retained.
A-Rod will be in the trenches working with youngsters, providing tips to veterans and discussing strategies with his coaches and managers. There is a probability of micromanagement that is not evident in Miami with Jeter. Still, for anyone who uses an owner’s lack of athletic experience to say, “Who are you?” if that owner makes demands and suggestions – as if being the owner is not good enough – what can anyone say to A-Rod?
PEDs aside and whether he is ever elected to the Hall of Fame, he’s a Hall of Fame-caliber player whose natural ability was buttressed by a multilevel obsession with the sport itself. Other owners calling the GM or manager into the office to interrogate them as to why they used X pitcher in the seventh inning of a tie game instead of Y pitcher in that same situation can elicit a respectful, ingratiating or even supplicating response without legitimate substance for that reaction. For A-Rod, there had better be an explanation because he’s A-Rod and not some guy who thinks he knows the game better than the professionals. A-Rod does know the game better than most professionals.
A key question is whether A-Rod would resort to a big spending spree or would prefer to build the team organically. The gutting rebuild is necessary in some cases, but in others, it’s a vanity play from a baseball executive who is trying to be the next Billy Beane, Andrew Friedman or Jeff Luhnow and is seeking transcendental fame through a preposterously one-sided and agenda-laden book about the process.
But A-Rod already has transcendental fame.
Hiring, firing, analyzing players, restructuring the blueprint, making decisions based on finances and player ability – he’s qualified to do the job as more than a former player with delusions of grandeur. Amid the controversies that pockmarked his career, his keen baseball intelligence is unfairly buried. Known to predict what would happen, spot tiny nuance and take advantage of it, and set traps for opponents by intentionally looking bad on one pitch so he’d get that same pitch and hammer it later were all hallmarks of his career. This is transferrable to the ownership suite.
A polarizing figure like A-Rod with a worldwide star fiancée like J.Lo will undoubtedly seem superficial and gauche in theory and practice. But, like Rodman, there is substance to what A-Rod does and knows: baseball. If he gets the financing and takes charge of the team, his lessons in life from every angle will create a landscape that sells tickets due to star power and wins because of his love and knowledge of the game itself.