It is good to see that New York Mets owner Steven Cohen is ahead of schedule on his predestined journey from Team Savior to Reviled Billionaire Bastard, only because it is the natural progression ordained by nature and culture, and the sooner he completes his personal journey on that path, the sooner the rest of us can get on with our days.
As the guy who liberated the Mets from their lengthy stay in The Wilpons (which is like the Hamptons, only much poorer), Cohen was an immediate hero to Mets fans who wear the phrase “long-suffering” like a bright pink and highlighter-yellow disco shirt that alerts everyone at the club that it’s time to settle up at the bar and find a new place to drink. How he got the fortune he used to spend eight percent of it on a baseball team might have been problematic to some, but when it comes to sports owners, fans know that the new owner, being a billionaire and all, is just as much a corporate evildoer and weasel/accumulator as the old ones, only he’s got more money to splash around on their favorite team. Cohen got through the hero-to-everyfan part of the deal a year ago when he bought the club.
But that’s the fun part, which always ends quickly, and even quicker if the new owner forgets that his or her sole tasks are to spend the money to hire the people to fix the franchise’s shortcomings, buy a round for the house every now and then, and have the good sense not to call attention to oneself. When the owner forgets that and acts out like he’s just another fan playing hooky from the job, as Cohen likes to do and just did Tuesday by tweet-shaming his employees for not having better slash lines when the Mets were losing a night game at San Francisco, well, he is now well along the way to RBB status, and frankly, he’s ahead of schedule.
People have an unrealistic view of what an owner ought to be, because the only reason to lay out 10 figures for a sports franchise is so that people will notice you and, worse, like you. The problem is that what people want from their sports owners is much different from what the owner thinks they want. They want the checks to clear and be numerous and ink-heavy, they want not to have to pay for stadiums or see the price of beer doubled at the first sign of team competence, and they definitely want silence except in emergencies. What they actually want is a guy like Walter Haas, the guy who used to own Levi Strauss and the Oakland Athletics, who bought the team to keep it from moving to Denver and never fumed about poor performances or came down to the clubhouse except when the team was going bad, and then only to ask if there was anything he could do to help.
He’s been dead for years now, and so has his ownership archetype. Indeed, most owners were never that kind of owner, so the Haas mold is quite effectively shattered.
But what fans definitely don’t want is for the owner to pretend he is still one of them, which Cohen learned to his cost when he tweeted out this little analytical gem after the Mets lost, 3-2:
Here Cohen breaks three rules in 26 words and 167 characters. 1. He castigates the players publicly. 2. He lectures them on how to do their jobs. 3. He uses stats that everyone can easily see and probably even heard on the game broadcast to perform feats 1 and 2.
Those are three things fans are allowed to do in our phony customer-pandering world. They get to complain to each other until they become too annoying to associate with—that’s the deal. Owners are supposed to fix those things with their money and hiring skills, and be patiently silent until those fixes can be implemented. (Oh, and lower beer prices until the team improves.) The last thing an owner gets to be is That Fan, and the reaction to Cohen’s I Read Bill James A Month Ago And I’m The Smartest Guy In The Room tweet reflects that very truth.
And now he is about enter Phase Three, in which he realizes that his money buys him obligations, not camaraderie, and instead of comprehending that change in status, he will come to resent the public and their social media toys. Presumably he hoped his customers would view him as the citizen-truthteller he fancies himself, when in fact he has to be either the head of customer relations or send his underlings to do it for him. Customer relations is usually the shittiest job in the building because it, yes, deals with customers, and who other than a megalomaniac or sadist would volunteer for that?
Anyway, Cohen’s not going to, but hopefully he now understands his true place in the Mets family, which is to fix the problems rather than rail against them, and wait for his more knowledgeable aides to show him how to spend more money than he wants to spend to affect the required repairs. Oh, and if it all goes well, to avoid taking credit for doing so while making the profit those repairs will ultimately provide. Quiet, modest enrichment—now where’s the fun in that?
But this is how Cohen becomes a real boy—a full-fledged sports franchise owner and member of the reflexively hated establishment rather than the successful wrong-righter he portrayed himself as when he rid the town of the Wilponic scourge. It’s taken only a year to get this far, and a bad offseason with contentious CBA negotiations will surely finish the job, so if nothing else he is a quick study on the subject of ownership life cycles. On the other hand, that painful realization is still better than another SEC investigation.
So Cohen probably won’t be tweeting again any time soon, and may have had his phone taken away by a brave adjutant who said, “Steve, I’m saving you from you.” Well, we say “brave adjutant” when what we probably mean in such a circumstance is “brave former adjutant.” He’ll hate knowing that he wants to tweet but will be yelled at if he does by strangers worth six fewer figures than he is. He will then view them not as people he wants to please but as people he wants to strangle, and the only thing left for him to do to extract revenge for their mocking disapproval is to take more of their money in exchange for shoddier goods in the time-honored American way.