As the presumptive new owner of the Mets last week, Steven A. Cohen spent days answering fans’ questions on Twitter. The Mets’ loyalists, he wrote, are the “most knowledgeable fans around” — and Cohen has always been one of them.
On Friday, when he closed on a record $2.475 billion purchase of his favorite team, Cohen started his tenure with precisely the kind of move a frustrated Mets fan would make, clearing out a front office that had failed to take the Mets back to the postseason. Cohen fired five members of the baseball operations staff, including General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen, three assistants and the player development director, Jared Banner.
Sandy Alderson, the Mets’ former general manager and new team president, will hire a fresh front-office team supported by not just Cohen’s billions, but also his drive. At a time when other owners will show caution after a season without ticket sales, the Mets are positioned to spend the way they rarely did after the Bernard L. Madoff scandal ravaged the Wilpon family finances.
The Cohen developments were part of an impressive news dump around Major League Baseball on Friday, joining the league’s decision not to punish Justin Turner for celebrating the World Series title last week with his Dodgers teammates, despite having just tested positive for the coronavirus, and the return of Alex Cora to manage the Boston Red Sox. All three stories, in a way, were underscored by a quality too often missing these days: mercy.
This is an era of outrage, in and out of sports, in which every transgression seems to mean eternal condemnation, or at least stern scolding and moralizing. After a while, punishment often feels like shame for the sake of shame.
Cohen, for his part, was approved by league owners on Oct. 30 — with four dissenting votes — despite baggage that includes several discrimination claims filed by women against his firm, Point72 Asset Management, and the insider-trading finding against his former company, SAC Capital Partners, in 2013. Cohen has never been charged with a crime, but SAC Capital Partners paid $1.8 billion in fines.
But with Cohen’s deep pockets, and abiding love for the team, now controlling the Mets, the options in free agency are dizzying: Catcher J.T. Realmuto, outfielder George Springer, starter Trevor Bauer and infielder D.J. LeMahieu headline a sneaky-deep class of available players, and the Mets also have flexibility to trade for contracts their rivals want to unload. Cohen’s respect for the power of analytics — a field Alderson helped pioneer with the Oakland A’s — should help keep the team from making rash decisions.
This is the moment when everything seems possible, before any moves of the Cohen era backfire because of underperformance, injury or bad luck. The Mets, of course, will not be immune to those forces. It took the current owners of the Dodgers — the model big-market franchise — eight consecutive division titles before they finally won the World Series.
Like Cohen, whose past was ultimately not held against him, Cora was allowed to return after serving a penalty for his role in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal of 2017, when he was their bench coach. The Red Sox fired him last winter — sparing him a season with their wretched roster, yes, but also costing him his paycheck. A.J. Hinch, the Astros’ manager in 2017, was suspended for a year and subsequently fired. He was hired last week as manager of the Detroit Tigers.
Managers with championship rings are hard to find, and it is no surprise that Cora and Hinch are back. Two others who lost their jobs after the Astros’ scandal are still out of baseball — their former general manager, Jeff Luhnow, who was suspended for a year and fired, and their former designated hitter, Carlos Beltran, who was fired as Mets manager. Both have plenty to offer, wherever their next opportunities arise.
The point is not to excuse bad behavior, but to let talented people have another chance after serving their time. Fans and historians have long memories, and high-profile transgressions never disappear from the record. But not every story has to finish that way.
In Turner’s case, what would baseball have proved by punishing him for poor judgment? Turner has been roundly vilified for thoughtless exuberance, and he acknowledged in a statement that he had “unwisely” removed his mask while taking a team photo with the trophy. But M.L.B. would have been disingenuous to hold him solely responsible for heading back to the field.
“Major League Baseball could have handled the situation more effectively,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement on Friday. “For example, in retrospect, a security person should have been assigned to monitor Mr. Turner when he was asked to isolate, and Mr. Turner should have been transported from the stadium to the hotel more promptly.”
Manfred also explained that at least two Dodgers employees had said nothing to Turner as he was on his way to the field, and that, in Turner’s recollection, at least one Dodgers official had given him permission. To his credit, Manfred also understood the emotional pull of Turner’s decision, which no teammate has publicly opposed.
“Turner’s teammates actively encouraged him to leave the isolation room and return to the field for a photograph,” Manfred wrote. “Many teammates felt they had already been exposed to Mr. Turner and were prepared to tolerate the additional risk.”
The risk of showing mercy to Turner — and letting Cohen, Cora and Hinch hold leadership roles in the industry — seems minimal. The value of dialing back outrage, especially now, is considerable.