Stearns becomes Mets' first president of baseball operations

October 2nd, 2023

NEW YORK -- David Stearns calls it “the roller coaster of disappointment and hope” that has gripped Mets fans since the dawn of the franchise more than six decades ago. Stearns grew up enamored with the 1990s Mets. He snuck into Shea Stadium at least once, with the help of a kindly security guard. Broadcasters Bob Murphy, Ed Coleman and Gary Cohen, he says, provided the background noise to his summers.

Now 38, Stearns has been tasked with settling that roller coaster on its tracks. Upon hiring Stearns on Monday to become the first president of baseball operations in Mets history, team owner Steve Cohen marveled that he has “never seen such universal congratulations in saying, ‘You’ve got to hire this guy.’”

“That’s pretty extraordinary,” Cohen added at a news conference at Citi Field.

So began a new chapter in Mets history, with a familiar gathering in a familiar function room amid familiar hope that this time, with this guy, it will all turn out different. Although he didn’t say it outright, Cohen has had at least some level of interest in Stearns from his initial days as the Mets' owner, when he made clear his desire to hire a president of baseball ops. He also insisted upon waiting for the right person, which is why it took nearly three years for Cohen to make a hire.

When he did, he chose a childhood Mets fan from the Upper East Side who once interned for the Brooklyn Cyclones and later spent time in the big club’s baseball operations department. Stints in Cleveland, Houston and Milwaukee led to Stearns gaining recognition as one of the brightest young minds in the industry. It all fit just a little too well to brush aside. Cohen had to have him.

“I expect David to be here for a long time,” the Mets’ owner said.

“It’s meaningful for me. It’s cool for me that my kids get to grow up Mets fans now,” added Stearns, “and we get to live this journey together.”

Soon the hard work will begin for Stearns, who must decide in the coming weeks what to do with his baseball operations department, whom to hire as manager to replace Buck Showalter, how to tackle free agency and plenty else.

Much like his predecessors, Stearns cautioned that there is no “magic formula” or “secret sauce” to building a sustainable winner -- the stated goal of him, of Cohen and of virtually every other front-facing baseball executive in the country. Such results are hard to achieve. But Stearns brings a background of success from a small market in Milwaukee, which he can pair with his innate knowledge of New York City and its challenges. On paper, it’s very much a match.

Already, Stearns is saying what he can to placate the Mets’ fan base. He lauded the job Showalter did without denying that a change at manager was prudent. He committed to Pete Alonso as his Opening Day first baseman without promising to give him a long-term contract.

Over much of an hour, Stearns spoke firmly and definitively about the direction of the franchise, while also leaving room for all he doesn’t know. 

“I think what happened to the Mets this year isn’t particularly unique to the Mets,” Stearns said, referring to the club’s sub-.500 season despite a record payroll. “This is what can happen at times when teams are built predominantly through free agency and underperform expectations.”

Cohen considers his newest hire a powerful eraser for such mistakes. Recently, the Mets’ owner was having a drink at a Major League Baseball-sanctioned event when two people, unsolicited, approached him to extol the virtues of Stearns. Until mid-August, Cohen was legally barred from reaching out to the young executive, who remained under contract with the Brewers. Once that barrier fell, the courtship went smoothly.

The two met in person on four occasions and talked on the phone a dozen other times. At one point, Cohen and his wife, Alex, invited Stearns and his wife, Whitney, over for dinner, where something clicked for Stearns that this was where he needed to be.

Throughout the entire process, and even in years prior as Stearns’ name popped up in rumors, his mother, Susan, frequently called to ask if he might actually be coming to the Mets.

“We’d have to calm her down a little bit,” Stearns said, laughing.

Eventually, there came a point where he no longer needed to calm her. Asked if he considers this a dream job, Stearns replied that the real dream would be winning a World Series. But he is not blind to his background, to his childhood history, to his family ties and all the other little details that make this match a snug one.

“You don’t grow up a rabid fan of a team and then one day get to stand here at a press conference talking about leading that team,” Stearns said. “I understand this doesn’t happen. So the fact that it has happened to me, I recognize how incredible it is.”