In midmorning of
Washington's Birthday 1961, the unlisted telephone rang in George Martin
Weiss's colonial home in Greenwich, Connecticut. The caller was Michael Donald
Grant, a prominent stockbroker and president of the Metropolitan Baseball Club,
Inc., eventually to be known as "the Mets." Weiss and Grant knew each
other only slightly, and after some brief preliminary exchanges, Grant, calling
from his Long Island home, came directly to the point. "I could talk to you
for an hour and a half, Mr. Weiss," he said, "and still come up with
one simple question: If we wanted someone to run our organization, would you be
available and would you be interested?"
Weiss, a man as
laconic as he is polite, replied that the proposition conceivably could
interest him but that he had more or less reconciled himself to doing nothing
for a while and was preparing to leave for Florida the next day—to do nothing
in a practical if nostalgic way by watching the major league teams go through
their spring-training paces. A short further discussion disclosed that both men
would be in Manhattan that afternoon, and Weiss accepted Grant's invitation to
meet him for dinner at the Savoy Hilton Hotel.
In the fall of
1960 Weiss, age 66, and his old friend and baseball compatriot, Casey Stengel
(see cover), age 71, had been unceremoniously retired by the owners of the New
York Yankees from active duty as general manager and manager, respectively, of
the team they had jointly guided to 10 pennants and seven World Series
victories in 12 seasons. Stengel forthwith adjourned to the bank of which he is
a director in Glendale, California. From there he began issuing occasional
Stengelian bulletins on the stable and satisfying condition of the banking
business and the less stable condition of baseball. Weiss settled back in
Greenwich and entertained half a dozen direct and indirect offers from other
major league clubs.
While Weiss and
Stengel were thus recuperating and cogitating, Donald Grant, a senior partner
in the leading Wall Street brokerage and financial house of Fahnestock &
Co., was a busy and beset man. His avid interest in baseball and his long
friendship with Mrs. Charles Shipman Payson (the former Joan Whitney and sister
of John Hay Whitney) had led him, about 20 years earlier, to buy Mrs. Payson
one share in the late New York Giants, now of San Francisco. Mrs. Payson
eventually collected about 10% of the Giants' stock, and Grant, who represented
her baseball interests then as now, was the only member of the Giants' board of
directors to vote against the team's departure.
Continental League was formed in the summer of 1959 as a potential third major
league, headed by the inspirational 81-year-old Branch Rickey, Mrs. Payson was
the principal backer of the prospective New York team. After the disbanding of
the Continental League and the agreement by the majors to adopt some of its
teams, it was generally assumed by Mrs. Payson, Grant and the rest of the New
York group that Rickey would direct the fortunes of the new team. But for
various reasons, among them Rickey's desire to live in Pittsburgh while running
a team in New York, no satisfactory agreement with the old man was reached. It
was then that Grant looked elsewhere. As he recently recounted, "Acting
more or less on my own, I turned to the most obvious man in the world who might
be available—to George Weiss, of course."
Over the dinner
table at the Savoy Hilton that Washington's Birthday evening, Grant told Weiss
what his problems were in getting a new ball team established. Essentially,
they were two—personnel and parks—neither one of which the Mets as yet had.
Weiss had spent many years dealing with such problems, but not even he
suspected what he was letting himself in for when he told Grant he would think
over the Mets' situation on his way to Florida, just as Grant said he would
discuss it with Mrs. Payson and the other owners.
During the next
week the two men spoke on the phone several times. On March 1, Weiss, who had
taken pains to obtain his wife's approval, drove to Hobe Sound in Florida,
where Mrs. Payson has a winter home, and at the request of Grant, who had
comedown from New York, submitted his terms for joining the Mets. They were
promptly accepted, and it was agreed that Weiss would become president of the
club and that Grant would move over to chairman of the board. The details of
the five-year contract Weiss signed have not been disclosed, but he is believed
to be receiving close to $100,000 a year, more than he ever got from the
Having spent his
whole major league career in the American League, Weiss at first felt somewhat
strange in joining with what had so long constituted enemy forces, but he had
already begun to indoctrinate himself. "I was making a point of seeing as
many National League teams in action in Florida as I could," he has since
said, "and by the time I signed my contract I had seen all except the
Giants and the Cubs, who were training in Arizona. The first official act I
performed was to sign up Johnny Murphy, the old Yankee relief pitcher and
former head of the Red Sox farm system, as a scout for the New England area.
He's since become my eastern administrative assistant."
Weiss actually had
made one other preliminary move. Some months before, he had telephoned Elen C.
(Robby) Robison, chairman of the Florida Baseball Commission in St. Petersburg,
where the Yanks had trained for three decades. Weiss knew the Yanks were about
to move to Fort Lauderdale, though Robison hadn't thought the shift was coming
so soon. "From the standpoint both of training facilities and box-office
appeal, St. Petersburg is beyond comparison, in my estimation," Weiss says,
"and I asked Robison to save it for me, even though I was out of baseball
at the time. He promised he would, and he did."
On the first day
of spring Weiss returned to New York and went to the Mets' office, where he
took over the corner room previously occupied by Branch Rickey. Five of
Rickey's old staff were still there: Charles Hurth, the former president of the
now defunct Southern Association, whom Rickey had hired as general manager of
the New York club in April 1960; Matt Burns, a former Dodger front-office
associate of Rickey's, who had been brought in to work on cost schedules; Lou
Niss, a promotion and public relations man; Margaret Regetz, who had been
Rickey's private secretary; and Judy Wilpond, a receptionist. Weiss called them
into his office and announced they would all keep their jobs and be given the
same excellent pension and medical plan enjoyed by the Yankee organization.
Thereupon, accompanied by Mrs. Weiss, he went down and bought himself a big new