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Throughout last year, while he knew he would mainly have to depend on the draft, Weiss was busily providing for the Mets' long-term future. At bottom, a ball team's success depends upon its scouts. Weiss's problem, when he took over in March 1961, was to find experienced scouts, no easy task, because at that point most of the good men had been signed for the 1961 season. Scores of letters and telephone calls were received from candidates. Though Weiss made all final decisions and selections, the applications passed through the hands of Hurth and Matthews. In November, Hurth resigned as general manager (he is still being paid) and he has not yet been replaced; Weiss, in effect, is his own general manager. Matthews is currently western administrative assistant, complementing Murphy in the East.
The team today has a total of 21 full-time and 15 part-time scouts, plus 60 or 70 bird dogs. They operate under the immediate supervision of Bill Bergesch, the 37-year-old head of the Mets' farm system, who was brought in from Kansas City, where he had been assistant general manager and farm director, having spent 14 previous years with the Cards. A personable young man who fits the Weiss prescription of a serious and dedicated baseball executive, Bergesch directs the careers of 98 young ballplayers owned by the Mets. These 98 are mostly free agents—semipro, college or high school kids with no professional experience as yet. They are at the foot of the baseball ladder, as distinguished from the 36 players now on the Met roster. The 98 are assigned to the four minor league teams with which the Mets have working agreements. These are Syracuse, a triple-A International League team; Santa Barbara, a Class C team on the West Coast; and two D clubs, Quincy, Ill. and Auburn, N.Y.
The Mets so far have spent about $70,000 for half a dozen bonus players, and their minor league operation in all has cost an approximate $250,000 for scouting, plus $125,000 for the current working agreements. Salaries for young players and managers add another $250,000. Including what the Mets are spending to refurbish the Polo Grounds and to build their own facilities at the new stadium, plus the amount spent in the draft and for other player purchases, more than $5 million will have been expended before any revenue is returned. "This is a tremendous amount of money, of course," Weiss says reflectively. "It means a lot to know that Mrs. Payson is willing to spend what we deem necessary to produce a respectable team, but that doesn't mean the ceiling is unlimited. It will take time and patience, and there's a lot of luck as well as skill involved, but with any sensible management the future ought to justify itself financially. We may not have a winner for a while, but I don't think we'll have anything to be ashamed of."
It's doubtful that anyone, including a younger Branch Rickey, could have accomplished what Weiss has done in the last year; could, above all, have kept his eye on so many developing situations, each one involving masses of detail, at once.
Take, for example, the task of selecting a radio and TV sponsor. "We had to start from scratch, with roughly 40 prospective sponsors to choose from," Weiss says. "Two beer companies came down to the wire together, and we chose Rheingold, primarily because of the extra promotional values involved for us, including their Miss Rheingold contest, with which we're already being associated in ads. This is part of our desire to educate more women to baseball. Incidentally, the five-year contract we signed with Rheingold comes to more than $6 million. It's the biggest TV-radio deal ever made in baseball."
A thousand applications for telecasters and broadcasters were received, and were screened by Tom Meany, a former New York sportswriter and author whom Weiss hired to be the Mets' top public-relations man (Niss is now road secretary). Meany and Niss listened to 160 tape recordings. The applicants included men who claimed reputations (and submitted accolades from their families and friends) as public speakers; a woman who confessed her husband had never done any broadcasting, "but, oh boy, does he know baseball!"; and a man from North Dakota who proudly described himself as "The Voice of the Heart of the Black Hills." The top spot was awarded to Lindsey Nelson, who didn't submit a tape. Nelson is best known as a football announcer, but he has done the baseball Game of the Week for the last nine years. His assistants will be Bob Murphy, a former announcer for the Red Sox and Orioles, and Ralph Kiner, former National League home run king who worked the White Sox games last year.
Already the Mets have run up the largest advance sale on season tickets in Polo Grounds history. Construction on the new Flushing Meadow stadium has started. The return of the National League to New York will be celebrated formally with a ticker-tape parade on April 12, the day before the Mets play their home opener with the Pirates.
Last week, down in sunny St. Petersburg, George Weiss and Casey Stengel were back at the old familiar stand—Miller Huggins Field, on the north side of town. If the two men, in this geriatric city, felt their age, they were not showing it. Stengel in particular was more active in the first week of spring training than he had ever seemed in his days as Yankee manager. He made a special point of conducting his young pitchers and catchers on a tour of the infield, spryly demonstrating the technique of base running off each base and lecturing them on how to lay down a sacrifice bunt-and-run.
Throughout the day, and often long into the evening, for the benefit of the press, he kept up a running patter of Stengelese on many subjects. For a day or so he sounded like an angry old man as he defended his two-platooning with the Yankees. He made no attempt to hide his bitterness at having been fired. But then he began noticeably to warm to the challenge of his new job.
"You show 'em, Case," shouted codgers his age, who packed the stands mostly to see him, and he winked arid waved at them. "I'm out to build a good ball club as soon as I can," he announced. "This ain't gonna be no five-year plan. Why, this is a great opportunity for a young ballplayer. If he can show me, I'll put him right in that lineup, and I'll get him more money, too. I ain't a banker for nothin', you know."