Nelson Doubleday, Jr. passed away Wednesday, at the age of 81 from pneumonia. He is survived by four daughters. Doubleday was the former owner of the Doubleday publishing company, started by his grandfather in 1896.
In 1980, he led a group of investors to buy the struggling New York Mets franchise from the Payson family, who had owned the team since its creation and had done a poor job since the death of Joan Payson in 1975. Under Doubleday, the Mets quickly returned to prominence, not only taking over the game, but the entire city of New York. In the ’80s, the Mets were no longer the Yankees’ little brothers, and were the toast of the town.
This was all thanks to Doubleday. He hired Frank Cashen and gave him complete control, rarely interfering in team business, unlike George Steinbrenner in the Bronx. When Cashen asked for money, Doubleday gave it to him, no questions asked. He was patient and trusted his guy. He only butted in when George Foster became available, and when he saw an opportunity to bring Tom Seaver back to New York. Under this regime, the Mets won the 1986 World Series, the franchise’s most recent title. The 90s were not a very good time in Mets history, but Doubleday fixed that.
Despite the reservations of partner Fred Wilpon, Doubleday gave GM Steve Phillips permission to get slugging catcher Mike Piazza from the Marlins. Then, when Piazza was a free agent, Doubleday famously interrupted his vacation in Europe to tell Phillips “give him whatever he wants, ’cause we want him”.
Players respected Doubleday because he treated them like humans, the front office respected him because he did not interfere with business, and fans respected him because he loved the team and did what it took to win. The only mistake he ever really made was bringing in Fred Wilpon as a partner in 1980, eventually selling half the team to him, and then letting Wilpon buy him out in 2002. But, nobody could see what the Wilpons would become, even if there were plenty of signs predicting it.
In the end, Doubleday was a good owner. He let the baseball guys handle the baseball side of the business, and only interfered when he really wanted somebody. So, thank you Mr. Doubleday, for bringing the Mets back to life, for bringing the 1986 World Series home to Queens, for making the Mets New York’s number 1 team, and for making sure Mike Piazza became, and stayed a Met. The Mets could an owner like him right about now.