Tyler Kepner is a national baseball writer for the New York Times. Over the last two decades, Kepner served as a beat writer for the Mets (2000-2001) and Yankees (2002-2009) and the last decade as a national baseball writer for the Times.
Kepner also authored the book K: A History of Baseball in 10 Pitches and it’s available at your favorite bookseller.
He joins the MetsRewind podcast to talk about his impressions of the New York Mets press conference, introducing new owner Steve Cohen and team president Sand Alderson. We also talk about the latest off-season news and his thoughts on some of baseball’s new rules.
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TRANSCRIPT: HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE INTERVIEW
What were your takeaways of yesterday’s press conference?
TYLER KEPNER: We’re all supposed to be, uh, skeptical and jaded and all that, but, um, I don’t know. I, I watching that yesterday, um, And having covered, you know, so many Mets events and press conferences over the last 20 years, 21 years. It was shocking. It was like, it was like shockingly smooth, just pitch perfect in tone and in message. It really had the feeling of a new day for the franchise, um, in which they will have more options than ever.
I’m sure the rays would love to, you know, would want to go out and get the very best player to create. They, they don’t, they can’t, right? N ow everything’s kind of open to the Mets. If they want to trade for this player, they want to take on this contract, if they want to build up this part of their front office or this part of their scouting effort, they can do whatever they want.
So, you know, to have someone who is in it for the baseball, like Steve Cohen, who’s a fan who was ridiculously rich from another business … He’s like, that’s where I make my money. This is where I want to make people happy, including foremost, himself because he’s a Mets fan and he wants the Mets to win. So if I’m a Met fan, I am elated right now. I’m really excited, just not as a fan, but just as a reporter. I’m really excited to see to see where this all leads.
The issue with him is going to come when they don’t get someone the fans want, and it would seem to be an obvious fit, you know? Well, wait a minute, how did you let the Yankees get that guy? How did you let the Angels get him or her or whoever?
They’re not gonna spend like drunken sailors. That’s not really the best way to win. I mean, the model team right now is the Dodgers … all of their starters in a World Series … they’re all homegrown.
Sandy Alderson is coming in at a much better time in terms of where the product is right now. I think the timeline grows much shorter. That three-to-five-year period that Cohen talked about. That’s a pretty brave statement.
TYLER KEPNER: I thought he would punt on that, but he was saying he was pretty honest about it … that’s a high bar. That’s what he expects and what the fans expect. They’ve got a really good foundation and not a lot of bad contracts weighing them down.
Within hours of the sale of the Mets becoming official, they wasted no time cleaning house at the front office level. Were you surprised how quickly they moved on that?
TYLER KEPNER: Not really … He already had Sandy in place, so there was really no reason to wait. I guess, symbolically, it looks very swift, but if he were to get the team on Friday and what’s the use waiting around to Monday, if you know, you’re going to do it anyways.
There were four owners who voted against Cohen: Reinsdorf, Arte Mareno, Bob Castellini of the Reds and Ken Kendrick of the D-Backs. Do you have any insight or reason why they voted against Cohen?
TYLER KEPNER: Some of it, you know, Reinsdorf seems to vote against everything … But, I think part of it could be just, they worry about a disruptor coming in and throwing the salary scale out of whack. It raises the level of competition for all the owners. So, naturally they’re not going to like that. Jerry has a faction of owners who are in lock step with him.
How would you characterize, in hindsight, the Wilpon era?
TYLER KEPNER: You know, obviously a disappointment. The fact that they had sole control of the team since the end of the ’02 season — so 18 seasons — and they made it to the postseason three times … a lot of follies along the way … frustrated and sort of embarrassed that the team sort of continually shot itself in the foot and made unforced errors … they were ravaged by the Madoff scandal. That was something that they did not obviously anticipate and, and weren’t able to really fully shake off the effects.
They signed Pedro Martinez and they brought in Beltran and Delgado … So it wasn’t like they did nothing. They did have a World Series team almost in spite of them because they were sort of forced to stay away from a lot of the bad contracts that could have, it could have tripped them up … it was smart to hire Sandy. Terry Collins was a good manager for a while … David wright, keeping him his entire career … Santana didn’t totally work out, but he had some big moments here. It’s a mixed bag as you’d expect over 18 years. But I think the bottom line is that it was a little disappointing, um, because they, uh, you know, they, they finished out of the mix 15 out of 18 years.
I’m not asking you to throw someone under the bus, but you had been around the Mets for 20 years. Was there really that much influence or power with Jeff Wilpon that stunted potential moves or growth or clubhouse culture and attitude?
TYLER KEPNER: Yeah, I don’t think that was understated. That was pretty accurately reflected and reported. They definitely wanted to win and they were very sensitive to perception.
I find that peculiar, you said they’re so sensitive to perception when in fact, what happened is all that perception backfired on them over a long period of time. I’m not, I’m not piling on any more than is necessary. From what you’re telling me and what, what came out on paper, some of the deals they made and some of the way they handled certain situations, it just seemed like they made it worse instead of better. By being over-sensitive to perception.
TYLER KEPNER: I guess I think that’s fair.
Two decades in New York, you covered both New York teams. What’s the difference between a Yankees and a Mets fan?
TYLER KEPNER:I think the Mets fan is a little more fatalistic. They’ve just been trained to expect that things are or are not going to work. But there’s a scrappiness to the Mets fan … the Yankees are always sort of have that aura in how they carry themselves … the Yankees are proudly apart from the pack. They do things differently right down to the little decorative flourishes, the facial hair, the no names on the uniform. They rebel in that and they let everybody else do all this silly stuff. All the bells and whistles … they don’t have a mascot, like that sort of thing. There are the Yankees, they’re a little bit set apart. I think the fans love that about them. The Mets are a little more, you know, a little, a little more rough around the edges.
Do you believe any of the 30 major league teams, um, are in jeopardy of surviving these [financial] losses?
TYLER KEPNER: I don’t think any teams are really hurting for survival just because there’s such an asset. If you were really worried about going under they would just sell and you’d make a ton of money that way … There’s a lot of people in that 1% who like have just billions of dollars and would love to get into this club of all these 30 teams know, and they don’t, they don’t get for sale very often. When one comes around and you have billions and you’re in your fifties or sixties, and you’re thinking about what would be the great way to spend my last 20 or 30 years, it’s pretty appealing.
I did a poll a couple of days ago on the @MetsRewind Twitter account: Are you for or against the designated hitter in the National League? And I was surprised that a little over 60% or for it and 39% are against it. In general, are you for the National League having the designated hitter? Or against it?
TYLER KEPNER: I think many of us like baseball the way we were used to it. I’ve never had a problem with both leagues … I’m fine if they were to keep it … it gives team more options … I covered American League teams for 10 of my 12 years as a beat writer and still loved watching baseball then. I wouldn’t die on that hill if I was in charge.
Rob Manfred. How would you measure or rate his performance to date?
TYLER KEPNER: It’s certainly a difficult job. He’s got an answer to a lot of constituencies. I think he still sort of has to earn fans trust. The biggest thing is that Bud Selig, a lot of people didn’t like Bud, but everybody knew how much bud loved and bled baseball. There seems to be a lot of skepticism about that among players and fans, you know, where Rob’s concerned … He’s got a tough job. I think he’s right to try to move the game forward as a business … I would love it if he projected more, maybe genuine passion for baseball …