Bidding in Mets sale makes this rare chance finally feel real

This would have been a momentous day anyway, because this just doesn’t happen around here very often. In the last 56 years there have only been two times — two — when our baseball teams have been put up for sale.

On Jan. 3, 1973, a group led by George M. Steinbrenner III bought the Yankees for $10 million cash, ending the reign of ownership by CBS, which had begun on Aug. 14, 1964. The Steinbrenner clan has been in charge ever since. On Jan. 24, 1980, Nelson Doubleday and minority partner Fred Wilpon bought the Mets from the estate of Joan Whitney Payson, who’d founded the Mets in 1962. Twenty-two years later, Wilpon would buy out Doubleday.

That’s it. These opportunities don’t come along very often — on average, once every 28 years or so — and that is why when they do, they are viewed as Thursday’s Mets bonanza was viewed: as once- or twice-in-a-lifetime extravaganzas.

There are few assets more coveted than a baseball team in New York. It is why Steve Cohen, who obviously knows a thing or three about making a buck, certainly seems eager to spend crazy money — in excess of $2 billion — for the team. It is why someone like Alex Rodriguez covets the ownership box, and why a noted behind-the-scenes sports fan like Mike Repole seemingly wants to ride shotgun. Heck, it even explains outsiders like John Harris and David Blitzer — who already own the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils — and a few others who were primed to officially throw their hats — and their bucks — into the ring Thursday.

All of this, of course, is of intense interest to Mets fans, the folks who own the most essential element of the Mets: their soul and their institutional memory. As baseball slowly amps up for what it hopes will be a July 23 Opening Day — the Mets open against the Braves a day later at Citi Field — Mets fans are slowly coming around to dreaming about Jacob deGrom’s slider, and Pete Alonso’s swing, and even the possibility of Yoenis Cespedes emerging from witness protection.

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But what really gets their juices flowing right now, far more than whatever a mysterious 60-game season may have in store, is what started in earnest on Thursday. Because if history holds, whoever emerges from this will own the team for a good, long while — two Mets ownership groups since ’62, remember — and that will define so much of what’s to come and what the future is going to look like.

“And it’s not just the fans,” one rival baseball executive said Thursday. “We have learned to live with what the Yankees are as a part of our everyday business. I’m not sure anyone is quite ready for what having two teams acting like the Yankees in the same market might mean for the rest of us.”

Part of Mets fans’ interest is their chronic fatigue with the present ownership group, which is only partly fair. The Mets have spent plenty of years — not always productive ones — with fat payrolls. Just not as often in the 12 years since Bernie Madoff made off with so much of their presumed wealth. The last dozen years have been an almost daily argument between the Wilpon/Katz family and their fans, the owners insisting they’re in the game to win it, the fans less convinced.

And as with real baseball games, the fans have had their hearts toyed with. In 2011, it was another deep-pocketed savior named David Einhorn who flirted with buying a huge stake in the team before that faded. Cohen was thought to have preemptively blown the field away back in December, but that fell apart two months later.

Thursday, though, felt different. Thursday felt real. These are legit bids. These are legit hopefuls, all of whom want to join an exclusive fraternity that has included names such as O’Malley and Stoneham and Ruppert. There are few places quite like it. The Red Sox have had three owners since Tom Yawkey died in 1976. The Dodgers have had three since Peter O’Malley sold out in 1998.

The next opening to own a New York baseball team isn’t scheduled to arrive until sometime around 2048 or so, using history as our guide. Make the bids good ones, kids. You aren’t likely to get another shot for quite a while.

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