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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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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.

When the 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 wealthy Yankees.

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 desk.

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