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The sale of the New York Mets to billionaire hedge fund manager and lifelong Mets fan Steve Cohen has been approved by the owners of Major League Baseball, even though previously New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had privately told MLB that he would do everything he could to stop the deal.
Cohen's purchase for a record $2.4 billion was approved during Friday's owners' vote, MLB announced, and the sale is expected to close within 10 days. Cohen required the support of 22 of the 29 other owners, or more than 75 percent.
Once Cohen received approval from the owners, the only remaining obstacle was de Blasio, who had to approve the transfer of the Citi Field lease because the ballpark sits on land owned by the city. The mayor's office signed off on the sale soon after the owners' vote Friday.
Earlier this week a report from USA Today's Bob Nightengale initially surfaced hinting that de Blasio could block Cohen's path to the Mets under the 2006 Stadium Lease Agreement between the New York City Industrial Development Agency and Queens Ballpark Company.
According to the New York Post de Blasio called MLB commissioner Rob Manfred earlier this month and told him outright that he opposed the idea of a hedge-fund billionaire buying a local team and would be using his oversight power of the city's control of the Citi Field lease to prevent the sale from being finalized.
City Hall spokesman Bill Neidhardt tweeted in response to the Post's story that de Blasio and his team were merely doing "due diligence" on Cohen's purchase of the Mets, something they are entitled to do thanks to a clause in the Citi Field lease that allows the mayor to weigh in because the ballpark sits on land that is technically a city park.
Mets fan-verse social media erupted at the news of de Blasio's potential interference. "He's just mad he hasn't been allowed to legally kill anything for a while" one fan posted linking to an article discussing de Blasio's disastrous handling of the coronavirus. Some mocked de Blasio for being a Red Sox fan, a team the Mets beat in the World Series in 1986.
Many questioned why de Blasio was inserting himself as a road block when so many more pressing issues such as riots, people leaving the city in droves, a crashing economy, spiking crime and the bungled coronavirus response. "He certainly isn't busy with in-person classes at NY public schools" said one fan mocking de Blasio's decision to keep the public schools shuttered with no plans to re-open.
Others hinted at corruption. Mets fans celebrated at the news of a potential sale of the team by the Wilpon family and Saul Katz, long seen by Mets fans as obstacles to winning, most notably criticized for spending money off the field rather than on talent like their big market peers. One such expense was donating $5,400 to de Blasio's unsuccessful presidential campaign the day before he quit the race. "I don't think de Blasio knows how bribes work" posted a fan mocking the donation.
The Wilpons have a history of backing the wrong horse having lost about $700 million dollars when Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme collapsed in December 2008.
Others close to the situation believed that de Blasio may have wanted to block the sale to negotiate better terms for unions and in the process "stick it to billionaires," who de Blasio regularly demonizes even at the expense of city coffers. Steve Cohen is worth $14 billion and is a lifelong Mets fan, making him an easy target.
"The 'due diligence' line is bulls–t," a source familiar with City Hall told the Post. "He's told [Major League] Baseball he doesn't want Cohen and he's told his Law Department to find a way to stop it."
Another person who was trying to stop the sale of the team to Cohen was State Senator Jessica Ramos, an outspoken progressive, who was endorsed by de Blasio when she ran for office was also a key player in the effort to block Amazon from establishing a headquarters in New York, which cost the area upwards of 25,000 jobs and millions, if not billions more in revenue.
Sources for the Post confirm that Ramos has been in contact with City Hall about the Mets sale. This may be a case of sour grapes as Ramos penned an op-ed in July endorsing the sale of the Mets to the group led by Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez who could be next in line to buy the Mets if the Cohen sale falls through.
"Mets fans have been tortured for too long to have this glimmer of hope snatched at the last moment," New York City Councilman Keith Powers said. "The Law Department should be reviewing this under the rules. If this is a political excursion to make sure one person can't buy a team, that feels out of bounds to me."
All of the controversy may have been rendered moot by Cohen. In a statement, Cohen said his foundation will "continue its involvement in philanthropic activities" that benefit the city and its boroughs and be "vigorous supporters" of the community:
"Steven Cohen will donate $17.5 million to programs developed by the City to make grants to local area small businesses to assist them in these uniquely troubling times. This tax deductible donation would be received and held by the New York City Economic Development Corporation. We plan to dramatically increase the giving of the Mets Foundation in the coming years, with priority given to non-profits and causes in communities surrounding Citi Field."
Cohen also announced plans to reinstitute pre-pandemic salaries for all full-time Mets employees, and institute a relief fund for seasonal employees this offseason. The total outlay of those initiatives will cost Cohen over $27 million, who is about to become the richest MLB owner.
Commissioner Manfred extended his best wishes to the Wilpons and Saul Katz and thanked them in a statement, while congratulating Cohen. "Steve will bring his lifelong passion for the Mets to the stewardship of his hometown team, and he will be joined by highly respected baseball leadership as well. I believe that Steve will work hard to deliver a team in which Mets fans can take pride."