As we near the end of the 2009 Mets season, the team is “pulling out all the stops” to put fans in the seats and say thanks for what can only be described as the single most disappointing season in team history.
It’s as if the team is borrowing from the book of Bill Veeck, the legendary baseball owner who was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1991.
Bill Veeck was an absolute master at putting fans in the seats. He owned the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, and Chicago White Sox at various times in his life, and he had one goal: to make the fan experience fun.
As Mike Brewster wrote in his great article for Business Week, Veeck was a baseball renaissance man:
He was born on Feb. 9, 1914, in Chicago. His father, Bill Veeck Sr., was a Chicago Cubs beat writer for years before being hired as a team employee and eventually becoming Cubs president. By the time he was 13, Bill Jr. was selling popcorn, showing patrons to their seats, and checking turnstile numbers. He even had the idea, as a teenager, to plant ivy on the walls at Wrigley Field.
Here are some of Veeck's contributions to the game:
- Fan appreciation night
- Player names on uniforms
- Fireworks displays
- Electronic scoreboards
- Improved food choices at the park
Veeck lost his right leg in the South Pacific during World War II to the recoil of an anti-aircraft gun. Veeck wore the wooden leg he had for the rest of his life and actually had an ashtray built into the bottom of it.
Fred Wilpon lost an arm and leg to the Bernie Madoff scandal. Wilpon won’t disclose how much he lost to anyone other than longtime friend Larry King.
Veeck bought the troubled St Louis Browns and desperately needed help getting men on base. To solve that problem he enlisted the help of a midget—Eddie Gaedel, who walked in his only appearance in the big leagues. The commissioner’s office frowned upon Gaedel and instituted a minimum height limit on the diminutive one, effectively ending a promising career.
Fred Wilpon’s team was decimated with injury in 2009, and they also badly needed baserunners. To help fix this they brought up the super slender Wilson Valdez and his career .264 OBP earned over parts of 6 big league seasons.
Bill Veeck did a lot for the game, including signing the first African-American player in the American League, the great Larry Doby. He also signed 41-year old Satchel Paige in 1948. Paige went 6-1 that year, and Larry Doby went to six all-star games during a Hall of Fame career.
Fred Wilpon signed 34-year old Livan Hernandez, who went 7-8 with a 5.47 ERA prior to being released. He also brought in 40-year old Gary Sheffield, who had some success during those times he was able to stay on the field. When the opportunity came to move Sheffield by trade or waiver wire, the Mets held on, negating any opportunity to get younger players for the National League's DH/DL leader.
In 1941, Veeck bought a minor league franchise and began a series of giveaways designed to get more absurd as the season went on. Early in the year, orchids were given to all the women attending one game. Then, a customer went home with three live pigeons. A midsummer night's 200-pound cake of ice followed for one lucky fan, only to be topped later in the season by the gift of a horse.
Fred Wilpon gave away a hot dog.
Here are some other ideas the Mets have on the drawing board to help the Wilpon’s raise money and put fans in the seats:
New Tidy-Bowl pay toilets at Citi Field. 50 cents for a #1, $1.00 for a #2 or get the combo pack for a buck and a quarter. (Toilet paper not included)
Add A Met to Your Health Insurance Night. Hey fans, here is your chance to adopt a Mets player and add them to your Blue Cross/Blue Shield GHI AFLAC or whatever health insurance policy you have. (Optional rider not included)
Jeff Wilpon's Valet Parking Lot. Let Jeff or David Howard or Uncle Saul Katz park your car for you at Citi Field. $25 per car and a 3% off coupon good for one item at any Mets Team Store. (minimum purchase of $100 required)
Education assistance week. The New York Mets, in conjunction with Queens College, are proud to offer a course in public speaking by the great orator Omar Minaya. At the end of one semester you will be able to answer any question with "At the end of the day" and "you know what I mean." Confuse your friends, Family and Co-workers. (successful completion of the course entitles you to go on to graduate school at Professor Reyes University)
Somehow I think Bill Veeck would actually appreciate those efforts.
As a final note, Bill Veeck was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 shortly after his death. His plaque reads: "A Champion of the Little Guy."
Fred Wilpon plans to visit Cooperstown during the month of December for half off wings at Teddy’s Bite O’ Buffalo.