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In 1951—what Mrs. Payson describes as "the Bobby Thomson year"—the Giants won their first pennant in 14 years, and Mrs. Payson got to know Horace Stoneham, the owner of the team. By now she was so thoroughly smitten by baseball and began investing so much money in Giant stock that she eventually owned about 7�% of the team and was represented on its board of directors by her friend Grant. So it was with shock and sadness that she learned in the fall of 1957 that Stoneham had decided to move the team to San Francisco.
"I said to Mr. Stoneham, 'Please don't go, please don't go,' " Mrs. Payson remembers. Once she even offered to buy the team, but to no avail. Just to show that there were no hard feelings, she flew to San Francisco the following spring to see the Giants play their opening game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Seals Stadium.
The two qualities that most thoroughly explain and describe the Whitney family are loyalty and sentiment. Mrs. Payson's mother was brimming with both. She once directed everyone in all her households to eat Wheaties so she could collect the box tops and help Joe DiMaggio win the Wheaties award as the most popular major league player. Mrs. Payson's loyalty to the National League and her Giants was still so great after their western migration that she preferred to eschew baseball entirely rather than patronize Yankee Stadium.
It is no wonder, then, that she was so ready to help finance a new baseball team for New York when the Continental League was in its formative stages. At the urging of Dwight Davis Jr., son of the donor of the Davis Cup, she originally agreed to subscribe one-third of the stock; various others, mostly wealthy fans like herself, would hold the rest of the shares.
The Continental League, it will be remembered, died unborn in the fall of 1960 when the American and National leagues gobbled up its four best franchises. New York was one of these, and Mrs. Payson was anything but blue to learn that her new team would join her favorite league and bring it back to her home town.
Actually Mrs. Payson's role in the complicated negotiations that have preceded the birth of the Mets has been a passive one. Her friend Grant now serves as board chairman of the Mets and represents her interest in all matters affecting the team. G. Herbert Walker Jr., a New York investment banker whose father gave the Walker Cup to golf, is the only other of the original investors still owning stock. He holds 6%, Grant 5% and Mrs. Payson the rest. Naturally, she has had to get rid of her Giant stock, which was the largest individually owned block outside of the Stoneham interests. She has given it to New York Hospital, one of the charities to which she has donated many millions in past years.
Asked what her position is in the Met organization, Mrs. Payson gets a rather vague expression on her face and says, "I think I'm some kind of a vice-president or something."
Grant puts it another way. " Mrs. Payson likes to know what's going on, but she knows enough not to be a part-time interferer," he says.
There have been only a couple of times when Mrs. Payson seriously injected her opinions into the Mets' upper councils. As a Giant fan she admired Willie Mays above all other ballplayers, and she made it known to Horace Stoneham that no price would be too high if she could buy him for her new team. Stoneham, of course, laughed off the proposal.