STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here's a theory of the success of the New York Mets. The Mets have made the World Series, which marks them among the game's elite teams, win or lose. The theory is that the Mets' best season in years was a side effect of Wall Street crime. The team owners had hundreds of millions of dollars invested with Bernie Madoff, and when that money disappeared, the Mets had to slash their payroll. And that frugality might be one key to the team's success. NPR's Joel Rose explains.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The Mets earned their spot in the World Series with a four-game drubbing of the Chicago Cubs. Here's TBS announcer Ernie Johnson with the call.
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ERNIE JOHNSON: And strike three called. They haven't been to the World Series since 2000 and the Mets are on their way back.
ROSE: The Mets' 26-year-old closer Jeurys Familia got the final out against the Cubs. He's one of several young Mets pitchers who've exceeded expectations this year. Even the team's general manager Sandy Alderson seems pleasantly surprised.
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SANDY ALDERSON: There are a lot of young elements to the team. The team has grown up very quickly in the spotlight over the last couple of weeks. So many our young players have matured, I think, before our eyes.
ROSE: Alderson's strategy looks great when the champagne is flowing, but this may not be exactly how he imagined the job when he took over as the Mets' GM five years ago. For years, the team spent freely on big name free agents, which is what New York fans have come to expect and demand.
STEVE KETTMANN: And then boom - all that money pretty much literally vanished.
ROSE: Steve Kettmann wrote a book about Sandy Alderson called "Baseball Maverick," and it came out earlier this year. Kettmann says the Mets owners had been reaping millions of dollars in false profits from Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Suddenly, they were faced with the prospect of paying some of that money back.
KETTMANN: They had to go from having the second-highest payroll in baseball to one of the lowest.
ROSE: So Kettmann says Alderson and the Mets had to build a team the cheap way - with younger players from the team's minor league system.
KETTMANN: The difficulties that they had imposed some discipline on them. And it forced them to really focus on building the farm system, and then now they have that nucleus of talent.
ROSE: It's similar to what Sandy Alderson did back in the 1980s and '90s when he was the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Alderson helped pioneer the approach known as moneyball - using data and advanced statistics to evaluate players. That's now standard practice across baseball, and it doesn't entirely account for the Mets' success. That's according to Will Leitch, the founder of the sports blog Deadspin, who now writes for Sports on Earth.
WILL LEITCH: Everything has fallen just right this year. I think even Sandy Alderson himself would have to admit that there was a lot of good luck that kind of landed on him that no one could have possibly anticipated, particularly back in April.
ROSE: Like getting great starting pitching from four guys who weren't even born the last time the Mets won the World Series in 1986. But that is pretty much the plan Alderson laid out to the Mets' third baseman, David Wright, three years ago when he convinced Wright to sign a new contract.
DAVID WRIGHT: The first thing that we discussed was the starting pitching in our minor leagues, and, you know, I think Sandy would even probably be, you know, somewhat shocked with just how good all of them have been. You know, I had faith in Sandy.
ROSE: Fans were thrilled when Sandy Alderson brought in slugger Yoenis Cespedes just before the trade deadline. Still, the Mets' finances are shaky, and there are big questions looming in the off-season about whether the team can afford to re-sign some of its stars including Cespedes and second baseman Daniel Murphy. But those decisions may look a lot easier if the Mets can come back to beat the Kansas City Royals. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.
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