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Cohen was once a symbol for Wall Street excess. He has since invested heavily in the Mets and is now the most loved billionaire in Queens. Can that be enough to change the team's history?
Steven A. Cohen has amassed his billions and now owns the team that he said he had followed closely in his youth. Credit...Saul Martinez, The New York Times
This article is your chance to help others
By Matt Flegenheimer, Kate Kelly
March 26, 2023
PORT ST. LUCIE (Fla.) -- In early 2020, Steven A. Cohen was not yet a New York Mets fan. Justin Verlander, the Houston Astros' ace at the time, asked him to meet with him.
The subject was not Baseball.
Cohen, a billionaire hedge fund investor, stated that he was curious about hedge fund investments. He said this while wandering among practice fields wearing a semi-tucked golfpolo at the Mets spring facility. "I met him through my friend. "Sure, I'll help." It's possible. Is it possible?
Many things about Cohen's personal life had changed since then. More would soon change. He had been a financial pariah seven years prior to that. His firm was an emblem of Wall Street malfeasance, with insider trading violations, and almost $2 billion in associated fines. This conversation, which Verlander described as a kindness of his heart’ gesture by Cohen, along with 'probably quite dumbed-down' general guidance, was ostensibly lower and destined to generate more goodwill than scrutiny. Cohen was primed to become Major League Baseball's owner in a short time.
They kept in touch. Cohen became Verlander's prized acquisition in December. His $43.3 million salary accounted for approximately one-eighth the Mets' record-breaking 2023 payroll.
The rest of the people who have earned the rest have not hesitated in making use of their new connections. The owner was performatively coy and said that there may be other players who are interested.
Cohen is a man Cohen loves to be around, according to friends.
"A lot of these guys get well paid, right?" He said that they are looking for advice. "Kind of in mine wheelhouse, right?"
There are many reasons why people own teams: boredom, passions, civic missions, macho flex. Images can be retouched and stories recast. Winners can write history and rewrite it.
Cohen is entering his third season as the team's manager.
He is both an extreme type of type, the steward who will lose money to show how much he has made, and a model of his own, his tenure rocketing towards something that can feel like the end of the world for him, the Mets and their city.
Cohen, 66 has achieved a remarkable turnaround in public standing. He moved over the past decade, from being a reclusive avatar scofflaw capitalism, to becoming an avuncular Tweeter who could possibly be elected Queensborough president by acclamation.
The Mets quickly lost their identity as lovable losers. Their ownership changed from the Madoff-swindled Wilpon families to a white-collar boundary-pusher, long considered neither lovable nor loser.
New York has made room in its political class for a burgeoning macher, with Cohen donating prodigiously to key officials as he imagines transforming the neighborhood around Citi Field into a casino-cum-entertainment hub.
Baseball is now dealing with the consequences of Cohen's excessive spending in America's most capitalist major league. There's no salary cap that limits him, and only one team considered buying Super Bowl ads just because it could.
Brian Cashman, the Yankees' general manger, stated to reporters that 'you can't ignore it' in December.
Chris Christie, an ex-Governor of New Jersey and close friend, spoke out to say that Cohen will "revolutionize" the game. He compared Cohen to Jerry Jones (the revenue-minded Dallas Cowboys owner).
Joe Kessler (61), a Bayside, Queens retiree, said to Cohen in January, at Citi Field's community event. The Mets were finishing construction of the league's biggest scoreboard.
Cohen said, "If I spend more," Kessler replied. Kessler nodded at the frustrations of rival owners, "They'll find me rubbed off somewhere."
Interviews with adversaries, allies, and current and former employees revealed that Cohen is paradoxical and straightforward. He can be open-minded and shut off, brusque, solicitous, and faithfully process-driven, but he seems to be certain of his own destiny in every venture. This is Cohen, a man who is all-knowing, but has no control over his public legacy. He bets that his financial acumen and financial power can make an unfamiliar world work for him. Winners win.
People who know him well say that his views on subordinates are often similar -- morons and moneymakers as well as doers and duds -- which can lead to sometimes violent encounters at work. Business associates have often been criticized in front of their peers and their intelligence is insulted with a hailstorm of expletives. "That's your best idea?" He has asked his traders, peppering them with profanities. "Are you stupid?"
Cohen's multiple roles can cause some tension in his day. Cohen is an avid ticker-reader and could not stop gushing over the preseason "vibe". He also recently began working at Citi Field on Thursdays to be able to attend team meetings just a few hours after market opens.
He is an admired bottom-line observer who is not bothered by the many millions of dollars he will lose this season to the team. Point72 executives now devote part of their time to the hedge fund.
Buck Showalter, the Mets' manager and seen-it-all, said that he does a great job of removing excuses.
Cohen's speech style reveals a wear-you down relentlessness. Cohen often starts sentences with the words 'listen', and ends them with the words 'right'. He uses a tic to communicate his desires clearly.
Cohen, accompanied by Christie and two communication aides, claimed that he had lost his perspective and age, and tried to project an emotional development.
He said, "I've mellowed." "You get older and things that used bother you no longer bother you."
He stopped to wish Verlander happy 40th Birthday and grinned as he received a vigorous shoulder massage by his star shortstop, Francisco Lindor. He laughed at a staff member who washed his seat. He let his Long Island show and observed a trend in Mets gear worn by A-listers.
'Ree-YEAHHHHH-na, there were a picture of she,' said the son from Great Neck, N.Y. "Always a positive sign, right?"
Cohen was at times too modest for his own good, and Cohen's fans were wearing shirts with a photoshop crown over their heads. He said, "It's about me."
He admitted, more often than not, that it was about him at most a little.
"You know what I hear repeatedly? Cohen stated, "I've never seen them come up to me and thank me." "I have never seen this with owners."
He had a theory.
He said, "Listen." "I think I'm unique, I'm different." Right?'
The Manager-Made Lasagna
Cohen's Mets career can be compared to any die-hard's. Cohen spent a day at Polo Grounds with his father (a garment manufacturer Cohen claims he adored). He then went on to spend the rest of the day with friends, lounging in the Shea Stadium's upper deck and then picking up better seats when they empty.
Cohen's fortune was supplemented by other episodes that were more personal and fantasy-camp-style. He bought the baseball that cut through Bill Buckner's legs to win the 1986 World Series title for $400,000 He and Alex won a charity auction for considerably less. Bobby Valentine, the Mets' manager at the time, was required to prepare lasagna for 20 people at Cohen Estate in Greenwich. Valentine said Valentine remembered.
Cohen's son was young enough to take batting lessons, so the family hired Art Shamsky from the 1969 World Series champions for private sessions in Central Park. Shamsky wore a tee that felt decorative, and Shamsky swung a bat.
Shamsky stated that the boy wanted to chase squirrels. Shamsky now works in cryptocurrency.
Cohen's trip through Mets history is a distraction from his baseball career. Cohen has also stated that he used pull for the Yankees.
He said that the Mets were "terrible" during their leaner years. He added, "It was more fun following the Yankees."
Cohen tried to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers a little more than a decade ago. Cohen described his failure as a long-term blessing that taught him a simple lesson: "Bid more."
Cohen's efforts were also hampered by scandals at S.A.C. Capital.
Cohen and his hedge fund earned a reputation for their ability to predict markets in volatile times. They were able to spot the right trades with an average annual return of 30 percent.
Cohen was referred to by his competitors in the same way that baseball fans viewed the titans of the steroid era: He was talented. Everyone fought for an edge, sometimes in the ethical murk. S.A.C. S.A.C. could be especially tied to the period's excesses. This was a source of inspiration for the legal dubious company featured on the TV series 'Billions.
S.A.C. was pursued relentlessly by prosecutors for years. S.A.C. was a'veritable magnet for market cheaters', they claimed -- indicting employees who were involved in illegal trading and convicting them. Preet Bharara was the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan at that time and looked closely at Cohen with particular determination. (Bharara didn't respond to requests for comment.
Cohen was not charged with any criminal offense, but S.A.C. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2013 to insider trading violations. This was the first time that a large Wall Street firm has admitted to criminal wrongdoing in its history. Cohen was fined $1.8 billion. Cohen was placed on a mandatory hiatus from the management of public money and transitioned to Point72, which would manage much his personal fortune. Forbes estimates that it is now worth more than $17 billion.
Cohen's circle sometimes seemed to see baseball as a reputational boon. The trading activity at S.A.C. was closely monitored by congressional leaders. According to Sheelah Kolhatkar's 2017 book, 'Black Edge', one company emissary tried to convince the Senate that Cohen was 'civic-minded. He said that he was thinking about buying a stake in New York Mets. Cohen was made a minority owner in 2012.
Cohen has not spoken publicly about these years. He said in the interview, tersely, "You always go to friends,"
One friend was able to better understand his situation than others. Christie overcame his own public crisis just after Cohen's by defending associates who had carried out apparently retaliatory closures of lanes at the George Washington Bridge. Former governor stated that the two controversies were 'one of our bases for friendship.
Christie stated that he was going through difficult times. "You can have meaningful conversations with people who haven’t been subject to that level of scrutiny.
Christie recalled that Cohen did not offer any advice to him before he asked: "Did you do it?"
Christie replied, "That's something only friends can ask," "And I said no. He responds, "Well, then screw it." Keep going and keep fighting through it.
"Potentially Strategic Humility"
At Gov. Kathy Hochul celebrated her January inauguration at Gotham Hall in Manhattan with friends, donors and barons of real property.
An attendee stated that Hochul was the first to beeline first. She was eager to meet Steve Cohen.
Cohen smirked slightly and said, "I didn't notice it," 'She's very engaging.'
The image was not only notable to New York politicians, but also for several reasons.
Hochul is an important figure in Cohen's push to develop the public land around Citi Field. Much of it is currently being used as a parking lot. Cohen is also vying for one of the three highly sought-after casino licenses for the area.
A prominent Democrat might not have hesitated to race toward Cohen for all the space to see, years ago.
Cohen's donation record does not reflect New York liberalism. He and his wife contributed more than $130,000 to Hochul.
John Catsimatidis (a billionaire political fixture) said that he was a businessman. "Tell me who is in power and I'll tell ya who Steve supports."
Some New Yorkers were more recollective than others when Cohen bought the Mets a few years ago.
Bill de Blasio was the then mayor and a self-confessed billionaire basher. He made it clear publicly and privately that the sale would be pushed toward a rival group, which included Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez.
Jessica Ramos, Queens state senator, wrote a bitter opinion essay in July 2020 ("Mets Fans Deserve better Than Steve Cohen"), reminding residents of his legal entanglements. This included a lawsuit alleging that his workplace was hostile for women. (The suit was settled in 2020, but the terms were not disclosed.
They were outmatched by Cohen-averse operatives who tried to end the deal. They relied on community leaders and labor leaders in their efforts to help them.
Peter Ragone, a long-time advisor to de Blasio, stated that Steve Cohen was always there. "It was like we had already made a deal to Steve Cohen."
Cohen declared that he will donate $17.5 million for small businesses affected by Covid-19 after completing the $2.4 Billion sale.
Major League Baseball also dissipated any latent resistance: Twenty-six out of 30 approved.
Even Mets fans who may have groaned at Cohen's bio have accepted him with a clean conscience today.
"That's like asking, "Are you sure that you want to go on the Carpathia?" David Bitkower, a Brooklyn prosecutor who used the British ocean liner to rescue survivors from the Titanic, said, "The captain has some tax problems."
The political opposition has also slowed down. The borough where progressives like Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez helped to stop a planned Amazon Headquarters was home to many billionaires. However, the lawmakers are not interested in taking on this billionaire, who is well-liked by many residents.
Ramos declined to repeat the most vehement arguments in her essay and paused when she was asked about Cohen's performance. She said, "Are you asking Senator?" Or are you asking the Mets fan?
De Blasio appreciated Cohen's "humility" in dealings following the purchase. He also helped make Citi Field a Covid vaccine site.
He said that even though it might be strategic humility, "it's still humility."
Cohen hosted de Blasio’s successor, Mayor Eric Adams last year to discuss development plans at Citi Field. This brought attention from other potential casino bidders. Cohen donated more than $1,000,000 to Adams-boosting super PAC in 2021. He also visited Zero Bond, a private Manhattan club where Adams was a frequent visitor. (Cohen's daughter served as curator of the space.
Already, the men have had opportunities to work together. Adams was pressured to relax vaccination requirements for pro-athletes based in the city last year after Kyrie Irving (then with the Nets) refused to comply. However, Adams appeared open to changing the policy, but he also seemed sensitive to criticisms that he was giving in to one player. Cohen was in a position to help them both. The mayor announced that the ban would be lifted at Citi Field, not at the Nets' arena, but at Citi Field. This is where several unvaccinated Mets would have been left out.
Neal Kwatra, a veteran strategist and politician, stated that "Cohen is de facto the king of New York."