Sunday, August 8, 2010

Perhaps Elena Kagan Can Rule Fred Wilpon Unconstitutional

Some of you might have heard that the high court got a little bit of a makeover this week when Elena Kagan was confirmed and sworn in as the 112th Justice in the history of the United States Supreme Court. No one really knows just what kind of judge Kagan will wind up being -- her scant track record was probably one of the reasons the Obama administration thought she was a fit choice for easy confirmation and eventually sitting on the bench -- but I already like her. No this is not just because she noted when asked about the underwear bomber that, like most Jews, she was probably at a Chinese restaurant at the time.

Nuh-uh. I like Elena Kagan because, as I've mentioned before, we finally have someone to balance out Sonia Sotomayor and bring some Mets fandom to the highest court in all the land. In general, it's just nice to know that people have succeeded to great heights when they've suffered just like you have. I wonder if she, too, has cringed at nearly every back-breaking loss the Amazins have suffered this season, or been perturbed by the front office's inaction at the trade deadline that has rendered the team all but irrelevant this season.

And if she has, I have one request. Use your power.

Use your power to lean on the Supreme Court to rule Fred Wilpon's ownership of the Mets unconstitutional somehow. Please. I'm no legal scholar, but I'm sure there's a way to get the team back into the arms of either Nelson Doubleday or the Payson Family. Better yet, tell Mike Piazza and Tom Seaver to pool some resources and rescue the franchise, because it just might be in dire straights.

Need evidence? Here you go.

No, I don't think Omar Minaya has really done that poor of a job. This franchise doesn't get to within a game of the 2006 World Series without his orchestration and there have been some phenomenal finds he has made among other teams' discarded scrap piles. Finds like Endy Chavez, Angel Pagan, Damion Easely or R.A. Dickey. But for each of these great pickups there are just as many mediocre moves that simply waste space on the roster. People like Brian Schneider, Frank Catalanotto or Ambiorix Burgos. And then there are the huge financial disasters -- signings that haven't panned out like he'd hope, with millions being lost in the offing -- such as the wholly unnecessary extension given to Luis Castillo or the catastrophic decision to give Oliver Perez $36 million with no one bidding against you.

In fact, at this weekend's annual Sabermetrics Convention in Atlanta, it was determined that the franchise with the worst overall performance in the last decade relative to its payroll was, yup, you guessed it, the Mets.

So, with that kind of mediocrity given the resources poured into the team, to say nothing of the apparent lack of class displayed by moves such as firing Willie Randolph in the middle of the night, why is this man being brought back for another shaky season at the wheel of the ship? What could be the cause? The only reason that rationally comes to mind is that the Wilpons, ever mindful of their money, were not interested in continuing to pay Minaya while paying someone else to do the job. This has been one of the curses of the Wilpon ownership -- not that they refuse to spend frivolously, but that they refuse to make the sometimes necessary and expensive moves to improve the product on the field when they have the resources to do it.

And they do. This is a team that plays in the media capital of the world, has a brand new stadium where some tickets run up to $400 each for a regular season game, and that owns a highly profitable cable channel that allows it to appropriately price its broadcast rights. Yes, attendance is down this year and tickets have been easier to have than the Wilpons might have anticipated in their second season in Citi Field, but that is less a sign of disinterest than it is a symptom of the now fading recession and growing dissatisfaction within the fanbase over ownership that refuses to funnel money into areas of need.

The most obvious sign of this, recently, was the immediate acknowledgment that the Mets would not be in the hunt for Roy Oswalt simply because he was too expensive at an average of $16 million a year over the next two seasons. Instead, the perspective should have been, "We have a chance to control one of the best pitchers in the game through 2013, giving us a top two (Oswalt and Johan Santana), which would rival any in the game." Add into this that Oswalt's superb isolated pitching statistics have come in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball, and that he would be moving to one of the biggest pitchers parks in the Majors, and the pursuit seems like a no-brainer.

Instead, the Wilpons pulled tighter the reins on Minaya, and Oswalt will spend the next three seasons dominating the National League for the Philadelphia Phillies. Seeing him and Roy Halladay for the next half decade is just what the doctor ordered right?

And so, Justice Kagan, I beg of you -- plead of you -- please allow some test case to reach the bench that lets you use your jurisprudence to re-energize the millions of Mets fans who suffer with this ineffective and apparently indifferent ownership.

When you're not making Jews everywhere proud by chowing down on some Pekking Duck on December 25th, you can do something to bring joy to half the city of New York. And maybe, just maybe, that ship will right itself.

(Ed note: I am well aware that Elena Kagan does not have the power, nor is it appropriate for her to use her position to change the ownership and front office of the New York Mets. But a Man can dream, damnit.)

Lastly, I've spent most of this morning watching Emmitt Smith's induction speech to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Mets' horrid debacle in Philadelphia. Add in the nonstop barrage of drums from the Dominican Pride Parade on Sixth Avenue right now, and you might not be too far off by assuming I'm stuck in my personal hell at the moment.

It has, however, given me the time to ponder two notes, which should probably have their own entries altogether, but, you know, I've got things to do, so I'll just point them out right now. First of all: Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith are, probably, the two greatest players of the 1990s. I don't think it's outlandish at all to make that statement. And they may just be the greatest to play their position. While Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher could face competition for the title from the likes of Jim Brown, Walter Payton or Barry Sanders, Jerry Rice is almost certainly the greatest wide receiver that has or, quite possibly, will ever play the game. Period. And they're going into the Hall together. Now, I can't remember every other Hall of Fame class off the top of my head, but I find it hard to believe any rivals this one in prestige, to say nothing of the other inductees, Floyd Little, Russ Grimm, John Randle, Rickey Jackson and possibly the greatest defensive mind of the game's modern era, Dick LeBeau.

The last thing I noticed, while watching the nonstop coverage on NFL Network this weekend was this: Emmitt Smith is the last of the Cowboys' star trio from their three-time Super Bowl Champion teams of the 1990s to be inducted in Canton. The others, Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman, were equally deserving of enshrinement. What was most remarkable to me about this, aside from how difficult it was, as a Giants fan, to choke down the vitriol during a three-way discussion the three held at Cowboys Stadium this weekend, was that they were all first-round picks in successive years. That means that in 1988 (Irvin), 1989 (Aikman) and 1990 (Smith) the Dallas Cowboys drafted a Hall of Famer, not just at all, but with their first round pick.

When has that ever happened for any other franchise in any sport? I'm willing to bet the answer is that it hasn't, and while there were many other pieces to that Cowboys dynasty in the 1990s, those were the big ones. And that they all arrived in Dallas the way they did is remarkable.

You don't need to be a Supreme Court Justice to figure that out.

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