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HOW TO BUILD A BALL CLUB
Robert Shaplen
March 05, 1962
George Weiss can relax in the sun of St. Petersburg now, but for the last 12 months he has been in constant and furious motion, creating the New York Mets out of his own long experience and somebody else's $5 million
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March 05, 1962

How To Build A Ball Club

George Weiss can relax in the sun of St. Petersburg now, but for the last 12 months he has been in constant and furious motion, creating the New York Mets out of his own long experience and somebody else's $5 million

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The desk, as of that moment, was just about all Weiss had to work with. He had two men out doing some preliminary scouting—Murphy, who was still in Florida, and Wid Matthews, a former Dodger and Chicago Cub front-office man and an old friend of Rickey's, who had been acting as Hurth's assistant and was currently looking at players in the Arizona training camps. A handful of "bird dogs"—ardent fans who help scout free-agent players on what amounts to a low retainer basis—were helping Matthews, but the Mets had no scouting system as such, no manager or coaches, and no more than 15 untried players who were holdovers from a Continental League arrangement Rickey had made.

Some time during the summer the National League would make public its plan for its eight teams to sell stipulated players to the Mets and to Houston, the other new entry for 1962. This was all Weiss could really count on to carry the franchise for the time being. As a man who is used to winning and hates a loser, Weiss made it clear at once that he was dedicated to a "make or break" policy for the next two years. "It's obvious we can't sit back and wait for younger players to develop," he said. "For two or three years we might have to go with one-year men, players good enough for that length of lime. By then, we hope, our scouts and farm system will be showing results."

The other day, just before he went to Florida, Weiss was able to relax a bit and look back at the busiest year of his life. "Naturally, I regarded my job primarily from the pure baseball angle—how to build a ball club," he says. "I had no idea, when I began, of the tremendous amount of detail work I would have to get into, of the sheer, overwhelming red tape involved. A lot of this had to do with the new city stadium to be built in Flushing Meadow, in Queens. This became my biggest problem and headache."

This problem also was twofold. First, there was the matter of approving the plans and getting construction started at the stadium, which is scheduled to be completed for the start of the 1963 season; second, there was the unanswered question: Where could the Mets play in 1962? The proposed three-deck, 55,000-capacity municipal stadium—the first in the history of city government to be financed by bonds and operated on a self-liquidating rather than a subsidized basis—already had had a stormy history. It had been opposed by a strong minority in the New York City Board of Estimate but finally had been approved on January 27. At that time, low bids totaling $17.8 million were received, which was $1.5 million more than the city had planned to borrow.

A week before Weiss arrived in New York, there had been a two-day crisis in Albany, when the State Assembly, which has to give its approval for the use of park lands for commercial purposes, failed to come up with the necessary two-thirds vote. Overnight, 35 Assemblymen were prevailed upon to change their minds—as one of them put it, "The rack, the lash and the whip, you name it, they were all used"—and the bill went through.

Since the Mets would be the main tenant of the stadium, Grant and Newbold Morris, the parks commissioner, had gone over the plans in some detail. "Grant had gone off to Florida, the lawyers were busy working on the lease, and I was trying to be a parks commissioner again after three months of conferences when George Weiss walked into my office one morning," Morris recently recalled. "Everything was all set, I told him. Oh, no, said George, and off we went—for six more months!"

Weiss had come up with a list of some 200 items he wasn't satisfied with. Beautiful as the projected circular stadium looked on paper, he considered it an impractical shell full of imperfections. In effect, as Morris explains it, he wanted to start all over again. "It took me two weeks to convince George that we couldn't alter the plans structurally without going back to the Board of Estimate, which none of us wanted to do. Then we sat down, day after day and night after night, and went over every item of his. I've never been through anything like it. We usually met at my offices in Central Park. Often we'd go right through the dinner hour, or send out for something to eat. Once I took the whole group to the Tavern on the Green, thinking it would get everyone into a good mood, but it just gave George and Don Grant more energy. We spent six hours that night trying to solve the issue of where three clocks were to be placed and what kind of signs should go with them."

Days were spent on such questions as the number of toilets. The stadium plans called for 329, and Weiss, on the basis of what he knew about a shortage of such facilities at Yankee Stadium, especially for women, wanted 600 for the new park. Morris says, "I got so exasperated that I finally went up to the Yankee park and counted the number of toilets and then I called up Joan Payson, whom I've known all my life, and pleaded fair play with her. I asked her whether she figured on people going to a ball game or going to the toilet. But I finally gave in to George and Don and let them have 526, and they can have more if they need them."

Prolonged bargaining went on about the number of exits and entrances, about ticket exchange booths, about railings around box seats, about restaurant, clubhouse and press-box construction and air conditioning, about the cost and operation of the big new scoreboard, about insurance and its allocation, about radio and TV advertising and advertising in general, about parking space (from which the city derives the income), about concessions and about such matters as outfitting ushers and paying for year-round ground crews. Each item developed its own special set of proliferating complications. "As the owner of the park, the city retains complete control," Grant says. "Our problem was to get enough freedom so we wouldn't have to go to the city every time we wanted to change the color of a pencil."

Despite the wrangling and the occasional loss of tempers, the negotiators remained friendly. "There were times I felt we'd never get the thing off the ground," Weiss says, "and I even told Don Grant he could tear up my contract if it would make things any easier for him, but Don was always patient." As a veteran negotiator on business deals, Grant (who ultimately suffered an attack of double vision) was philosophic throughout. "No important deal I've ever made didn't seem about to fall through the day before it was signed," he says.

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