BY: ERIC MOLLO, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — As a member of the New York Mets in the 1980s, team legend Darryl Strawberry watched the franchise go through a change they are once again experiencing: new ownership.
Strawberry played for the Mets from 1983-90, during which the franchise’s ownership was shifting. Real estate developer Fred Wilpon bought a small stake in the Mets in 1980, eventually becoming an equal partner in owning the team. The Wilpon family went on to become the sole owner with Saul Katz, and Fred served as Mets team president for more than two decades.
In 2020, the Mets underwent a less protracted ownership change: hedge fund manager Steve Cohen purchased the team from the Wilpons and Katz, with Cohen immediately becoming the majority owner.
The team has since made the biggest offseason splash in baseball, trading for superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco. Fans are hopeful the Mets will acquire a big name free agent, and with an increased payroll, make a World Series run in 2021.
Strawberry, who played for the Mets the last time they won a championship in 1986, spoke to ABC News about his new book, “Turn Your Season Around,” and the state of the franchise prior to their acquisition of Lindor. He believes adding talent through free agency or trade is helpful, but that the best way new ownership can build a championship team is through effective player development:
“We had a great general manager [Frank Cashen] and he had people underneath him. They went through the process of player development… and I think that is so, so critical to be able to develop your younger core players so they can play at the major league level. I think over the years, the Mets have gotten away from that kind of development. I think that’s important to get back to and I think they will get back to it.”
The Mets made several front office changes this offseason, first bringing Sandy Alderson back to the franchise and hiring him as team president. The Mets then hired former Arizona Diamondbacks executive Jared Porter as general manager and former Red Sox executive Zack Scott as their new senior vice president and assistant general manager.
The Mets have developed young talent in recent years, such as outfielder Michael Conforto and pitcher Jacob deGrom. Strawberry hopes that trend will continue. He views new ownership and the front office overhaul as promising:
“I think new ownership is very excited… That can make a whole difference about ideas and about putting the people in the right places and understanding that if we’re going to get better, our minor league system has to get better.”
Strawberry recounted his experience coming up through the minor leagues. He believes with homegrown talent like himself, Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, and others, the team developed strong chemistry, learned how to win consistently, and came to believe that they could rely on one another. From there, they added pieces via free agency or trade, such as Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter. He believes the Mets in the 1980s needed years to develop chemistry and never got “used to losing,” something he thinks can happen if players do not have time together as a team.
Strawberry points to the Mets’ crosstown rivals as a model for effective player development:
“When you think about the Yankees and why the Yankees have been so good for so many years, it’s because their minor league system has been great. If you keep development in your mind and put your minor league system in a place, you’ll be great. You can bring in young players who could play and could come to the big leagues at a younger age and stick around for a long time. So, I think that’s what they [the Mets] need to really focus on.”
MLB.com ranked the Mets’ minor league system in the bottom half of MLB last summer, and they already traded away one of their top prospects, Andres Gimenez, in the deal for Lindor. The Yankees were ranked 19th, just one spot ahead of the Mets.
Strawberry did not contend that there is one set formula that would make the Mets World Series champs, but believes that drafting young talent and expanding their skills in the minor leagues is a good place to start building a championship club.
Strawberry also discussed the challenges so many people have faced amid the COVID-19 pandemic and how baseball provided a sense of relief for many last summer. He hopes with new ownership, Mets fans will feel renewed excited about their club. He also wants people to think about hope as they face more challenges in the coming year, and why his personal experience with faith and battle with addiction during his playing days reminds him there will be better days ahead.
“We’ve had a real poor half of the year in 2020 and are going into a new year. We’re going to have to get up for it… We have to be strong. We’re going to have to believe you can’t quit. You can’t give up… I could easily have quit in the second half and not gone on to have a strong season. You know what? You can easily quit in the second half of your life here after the pandemic and not get up and say, ‘I’m giving up, I’m quitting.’ And that’s happening to a lot of people. They don’t see hope. There’s hope. There’s light.”
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