April 7, 2016

BERKOWITZ | An Amazin’ Mistake

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Jason Bay, Luis Castillo, Scott Kazmir, Carlos Beltran — these are just a handful of names associated with agony in recent Mets history. In several weeks, we may have a new name to add to the mix, Mike Piazza. On April 30, the actual jersey Piazza wore in the first post-9/11 game, when he hit the infamous go-ahead home run and gave all Americans something to cheer about, is to be publicly auctioned off to the highest bidder.

How did this happen? As a Mets fan who has in recent memory witnessed, among other embarrassments, two regular season collapses and an entire SportsCenter “Not-Top-Ten” segment devoted to Mets plays in 2009, we have come to intuitively believe that anything is possible. But even for us, this may be a new low. And for baseball fans in general, asking “how did this happen?” feels like an understatement. Here’s what we know: three years ago the Mets sold the jersey to a memorabilia company. Since then, the jersey has been in the possession of an avid Mets collector, who has allowed the jersey to remain on display in the Mets team museum, located in Citi Field. However, with the value of the jersey rising after Piazza was elected into the Hall of Fame, the current collector decided to sell the jersey with Goldin Auctions. Depending on the outcome of the auction, the jersey may permanently lose its rightful home in Citi Field.

How much will it cost to get it back? It’s unclear. The current owner, who’s looking to build a nest egg for his family as his three daughters enter college, is likely looking for the best value he can get. According to Ken Goldin of Goldin Auctions, the highest amount ever received for a Mets jersey was $53,000 for a Nolan Ryan Jersey. As of Thursday, 22 people have made a bid and the current price for the jersey has climbed to $86,000. By comparison, Kirk Gibson’s jersey from his 1988 World Series game, in which he hit a walk off home run, sold for $300,000, and on the high end of the spectrum, the oldest known Babe Ruth jersey was auctioned for over $4.4 million.

Will the Mets pay to get the jersey back? Jeff Wilpon, Mets COO, has shared that the team is “making a concerted effort to get the jersey back.” And there is additional reason for hope, as the current seller, who lent the jersey to the Mets to keep it in their museum, is likely a die-hard fan. Then again, speaking personally as a Mets fan, we must remind you that anything is possible. Case in point — in the aftermath of the Bernie Madoff scandal, Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, who were over  $600 million in debt and facing a lawsuit by the trustee for Madoff’s victims, decided to decrease the payroll by over 30 percent, the largest amount in the history of baseball, rather than sell a majority stake in the team. Perhaps it’s because of this scandal that Piazza’s jersey was sold in the first place.

From 2000 to 2010, there were four “worthwhile” moments that every Mets could take away from an otherwise dismal decade. In 2000, we made it to the playoffs back-to-back for the first time in our history and went on to play the Yankees in the World Series. In 2006, we won the NL East and made it to game seven of the National League Championship Series. In 2009, we traded in our lovely dump known as Shea Stadium to play in our beautiful new ballpark, Citi Field. Yet all these moments had asterisks with them. We lost the 2000 World Series to the Yankees in five games. We Lost the National League Championship Series to the Cardinals in seven games (the image of Carlos Beltran’s called strike three seared into our mind) and finally there’s Citi Field, which was criticized on a number of levels including its name, its inaugural Dominos-like logo and its dimensions.

Then there’s the first Mets game after 9/11.  In what can only be described as one of those rare magical moments when sports transcends culture, Mike Piazza managed to turn every American, baseball-lover or not, into a Mets fan, with the swing of a bat. For just a few hours, Piazza and the Mets gave something genuine for New Yorkers and Americans to cheer for to temporarily cast out the heartbreaking anguish. Some might argue that it’s not worth the money to spend to recover Piazza’s jersey. And yes, it’s just a jersey. But to me personally, as well other Mets fans, and many Americans who watched that game, the jersey is a symbol of hope in the eyes of despair, and the Mets should do everything in their power to right their wrong and return the jersey to it’s rightful place in Mets and American history.

Ethan Berkowitz is a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. Views From the 14853 appears alternate Fridays this semester.