The New York Mets organization isn't exactly known for its exquisite taste in financial partners. This is a franchise, after all, that recently settled a lawsuit stemming from its association with Bernard L. Madoff for $162 million. So it was amusing when Michelle Malkin and other right-wing commentators reacted to the news that comedian Bill Maher had purchased a minority stake in the team with the kind of moral indignation they normally reserve for things like taxes, or efforts to remove the Ten Commandments from suburban courtrooms.
Naturally, nobody found the spectacle more amusing than the new owner himself, who has been known to ridicule the right on his HBO political-comedy series, "Real Time With Bill Maher." "You know they saw this yesterday and went, 'Bill Maher? Owns part of a baseball team? AAAARGGHH!'" Maher told The Huffington Post. "And then they had to figure out why they were mad. Because it's not immediately apparent why this should be horrible, but they knew it was horrible and then they had to work back to finding a reason why it was horrible. And of course, I just love to fuck with their heads."
As part of its plan to pay down debts in the wake of the Madoff disaster, the Mets recently announced that they had raised $240 million by selling 12 four-percent shares in the team. Several of those shares were sold to principal owner Fred Wilpon's company, Sterling Equity, and to SNY, the network that broadcasts the team's games. (Sterling owns 70 percent of SNY.) Until the Maher announcement, only three other individual investors had been identified: hedge-fund legend Steve Cohen, who reportedly bought a full $20 million stake, and Clear Channel C.E.O. Bob Pittman and Huffington Post co-founder Kenneth Lerer, who went in together on another.
The day after the announcement, Maher spoke to The Huffington Post about his new responsibilities (or lack thereof), his hopes for the team and his distaste for the Steinbrenner/Trump style of doing business.
Michael Hogan: This is exciting news for Mets fans and comedy fans. I'm just curious, what powers do you actually have now as an owner of the Mets?
Bill Maher: Oh, I decide who is the relief pitcher. [Laughs.] No, nothing. You know, I'm a minority owner. We just enjoy the ballgame. The great national pastime.
Can you at least call the Wilpons during a bad game and give them a piece of your mind?
No, I don't think even they do it. I mean, good owners stay out of the way. One of the main reasons that I'm a big Mets fan and not a big Yankees fan is because I hated George Steinbrenner. To me, George Steinbrenner did not represent New York well. I know people love him because he was a winner. Well, to me, growing up as a kid, I was taught that winning is important but it's not everything. That was George Steinbrenner's world -- winning is everything -- and that's not the way I think America and New York should be represented. I love New York, but I do think that Steinbrenner and Trump should be buried together.
When these ownership stakes were announced, a lot of people shied away from them. Why did you see opportunity where other people saw danger?
You know, it's so funny you ask that, because that's the first thing I asked. How come these didn't sell in a day? There are lots of people in New York way richer than I am. And you know what the answer is? Everybody told me the same thing, because I asked around. They said, "Every day, if you live in New York, all you read about in the papers is the press shitting on the Mets." You know, they were going through that Madoff lawsuit, and they had traded their best player. The press was just merciless to them. And it scared everybody off. And I kept just saying, "You know what? This is the New York Mets. There's only one National League franchise in the city of New York. It's not going anywhere. And it's a national treasure." And I didn't do it for sentimental reasons. I can't afford to do things for sentimental reasons. I do love the Mets, and have rooted for them ever since they came into existence, which was shortly after I came into existence, but I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think it was a good investment. And you know, after the Dodgers sold for over $2 billion, everybody who told me not to do it called and told me what a great idea it was.
Now, did the Mets tell you how much of your money is going to pay Bobby Bonilla?
[Laughs.] Bobby Bonilla. And Mo Vaughn! Oh, yes, there were a few bad deals. But that's any team. You know, I'll tell you, I spent a long time on the field yesterday and I met the players and I hung out before the game where they're just clowning around in the locker room, and you could just tell that there's a good vibe on this team. First of all, they're playing loose because they were picked to be last. Everybody said they would be horrendous this year. And management said, "Well, you know what? We might surprise you. We think we're a lot better." And that should buy them a little credibility, because they are a lot better. I mean, they just won three from the World Champs and allowed one run in three games.
And had the first no-hitter in their history, which I saw that you took credit for.
I took total credit for that. As soon as I got to the East Coast and bought a piece of this team, they got a no-hitter. Hadn't happened in 50 years, so you do the math.
A lot of people thought this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Mets. Do you think there's a chance that they're going to make some moves and try to make the World Series after all?
Well, I think it would be fantastic. I think their biggest problem so far, although they were good last night, is the bullpen. It looks like they could use a little help in the bullpen. But you know, a baseball team or any sports team, these athletes are at such an elite level. I had never stood next to the batting cage. I mean, when you stand right next to them and watch them hit the ball -- oh, my God, these guys just murder the ball. I mean, they just bomb these things out of the park. You can't believe how good they are, and so what I'm trying to get to is the fact that, yeah, their physical talent is all off the chart. It's a mental thing. It's a lot about team chemistry, and how much they want it, and how much they play together, and I think that's why they're surprising a lot of people. Because I think this Mets team has that. So I mean, yeah, why not go for it this year?
So you think maybe they will try to build up the bullpen?
I think so. They have a very crafty general manager, Sandy Alderson, who's been around forever. And he's like in the role of Brad Pitt now, in that movie.
What's your favorite first baseman's accessory for the Mets: Keith Hernandez's mustache or John Olerud's helmet?
Gee, you really do know the Mets. Wow. Actually, I got [former Mets first baseman] Ed Kranepool's autograph. He said, "Would you like me to sign your cap?" I said, "Sure." I didn't really want him to, but O.K. As he's signing, he said, "What do you do for a living?" I said, "I'm a comedian."
O.K., my last question for you. Any chance you can change the slogan of the team to "You Gotta Disbelieve"?
Oh, come on. Why would I do that? No. You know, one of the great things about this is that I finally found something I can be apolitical about. And I'll just say this. Being part of owning a Major League Baseball team is amazing. Participating in the national pastime is fantastic. But making Fox News nuts over it -- priceless.