Even before billionaire hedge fund titan Steve Cohen gained exclusive bidding rights to buy the New York Mets, a big part of the club’s past wanted a stake in its future.
The family of the man instrumental in bringing the Mets to New York more than half a century ago wants a small ownership stake in the team, no matter which billionaire winds up winning the auction for the franchise.
“The Shea family would love to participate,’’ said Scott Shea, whose grandfather, Bill, an attorney, was tapped by Mayor Robert Wagner to land a National League franchise for New York after the Giants and Dodgers left. He succeeded, and the expansion Mets began play in 1962.
According to a person familiar with the matter, the Shea family has made its desire to own even a small piece of the franchise known to all three finalists before Cohen was named exclusive bidder on Friday evening.
“There are few names that resonate as positively with the fan base as ours,’’ said Shea, who declined to declare a preference among the bidders or comment on the family’s outreach.
Of Cohen, who already holds an 8% stake in the team he grew up rooting for, he said:
“Mr. Cohen, he’s obviously a very successful individual and has passion and commitment for the team. Otherwise, he wouldn’t keep coming back to it.”
What the Shea family lacks in capital it more than makes up for in gravitas among fans of the team, which prior to CitiField played in Shea Stadium, an honor Bill Shea himself opposed.
A group led by big-league star Alex Rodriguez dropped its pursuit of the team. The other bid group is led by Apollo Global Management Co-Founder Josh Harris.
Shea, 52, said it would be “pretty cool” for the Mets and baseball to have his family’s surname attached to the team again.
“You’re honoring your history, at least in respect to New York,” said Shea, general counsel to a real estate private equity firm.
Inside CitiField resides a pedestrian walkway, a bridge, named for Bill Shea. On top of that, the Shea name lives alongside the retired numbers of Gil Hodges, Casey Stengel, Tom Seaver and Jackie Robinson.
“My grandfather never played. He never managed, but he sits up there alongside four other people,’’ Scott Shea said via telephone. “How is he retired on the outfield wall of a major league baseball stadium? That’s crazy talk.”
It gets crazier, says Shea, noting that his grandfather was offered a 25% ownership stake in the Mets as a token of appreciation for his effort.
Shea chuckles at the notion of owning that slice of the team today with the club on the precipice of changing hands at a sale price of more than $2 billion.
“My grandfather turned it down. He couldn’t take economic gain for something he thought was a civic action,” Shea said. “Who in their right mind would do that today? Who in their right mind would do it back then?”