In a weeklong series, The Post is looking at alternate realities in New York sports. We are examining “what if” scenarios for our teams, reversals of fortune that would have radically changed not only the franchises themselves but dramatically altered their leagues, too. There are two rules: The scenario must be grounded in reality and have taken place within the last 30 years.
This no longer constitutes a debate, right?
Surely no one still believes the Mets did the right thing by passing, nearly 20 years ago, on the greatest, most dynamic baseball player of his time … who badly wanted to join them!
The Mets, Major League Baseball and very likely the entire planet Earth would be in far better shape right now if only the Mets hadn’t freaked out like medical students seeing their first cadaver when they heard Scott Boras’ asks to sign Alex Rodriguez.
“Stars make television,” Michael Weisman, the former executive producer for NBC Sports, said in a recent telephone interview. “A guy like A-Rod, it doesn’t matter whether you like him or don’t like him. You can’t take your eyes off him.
“He was one of those players who, even when it was a one-sided game, if you knew he was coming up in two or three innings, you stayed tuned, whether you wanted him to hit a home run or strike out.”
In November 2000, a 25-year-old A-Rod reached free agency. Despite beginning his career with baseball’s remotest team in the Seattle Mariners, despite not reaching a World Series or winning a Most Valuable Player award while based in the Pacific Northwest, the shortstop stood as not only one of the game’s best players, but also one of the most famous, thanks in no small part to his shared position and friendship with his Yankees counterpart Derek Jeter.
A New York City native who grew up in South Florida watching Mets games and “Kiner’s Korner” on WOR, Rodriguez clearly loved the idea of taking his talents to Queens. Of challenging the Yankees and Jeter for Big Apple superiority. He didn’t love the notion so much, however, that he would accept any sort of discount to formalize it. So when Boras worked his magic to land a historic, 10-year, $252 million offer from the Texas Rangers, A-Rod’s Mets dream died.
How the Mets didn’t possess an equally vibrant dream about nabbing A-Rod still haunts them to this day.
Imagine if they had followed up their Subway World Series loss to the Yankees in 2000, a thrilling season in which they tallied their largest regular-season attendance (2,820,530) since 1989, by giving A-Rod his $252 million over 10 years. Imagine easing the burden, baseball-wise and media-wise, on Mike Piazza as he entered his age-32 season in 2001. Imagine how many more tickets they would’ve sold before pitchers and catchers even reported to spring training.
Imagine having A-Rod very much still in his prime, regardless of what chemicals he used to stay there, as they prepared to launch SNY in 2006.
“That would’ve given the Mets and SNY a tremendous advantage over YES,” Weisman said.
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Imagine if A-Rod, having found his nirvana with the Mets, never left the Rangers (who sunk themselves not on the A-Rod signing, but rather on ripoffs like Chan Ho Park and Todd Van Poppel ) for the Yankees and brought another championship to The Bronx in 2009 — the year both the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field opened, remember — as well as steady eyeballs and ticket sales.
Imagine how baseball would have benefited with two of its jewel franchises employing a dueling pair of jewel shortstops both well-known enough to host “Saturday Night Live.”
“Clearly, when the New York teams are attractive, going back to the Knicks and what they meant to the NBA, [it helps the whole sport],” said Weisman, who produced baseball telecasts for FOX in the 1990s and 2000s.
Go ahead, haters: “He would’ve ruined the Mets with his illegal performance-enhancing drugs drama!” While it wouldn’t have been great if he still got caught and exposed, the Yankees survived that. “His demands were outrageous!” He would’ve bent on the spring-training merchandise tent and Shea Stadium office as long as he got paid. “He would’ve blocked Jose Reyes!” Just a hunch: Reyes might have enjoyed winning a ring or two as a second baseman, as opposed to the zero rings the Mets have earned since 1986.
No, it would have been glorious, the perfect marriage of person and team. As meaningful for the Mets brand as if they were purchased by gazillionaire Mets fan Steve Cohen.
Hey, I just thought of a “What if?” for 2040 …
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