David Einhorn may only have a "little soft spot" for the New York Mets right now, but if everything goes according to plan, he'll soon have a lot more than that.
The Greenlight Capital founder was introduced to the public yesterday as the Mets' choice to buy a minority stake in the financially-troubled team. He said all the right things during a conference call with reporters, although he was forced to admit that the Mets are not his favorite team.
Einhorn, who was born in New Jersey but moved to the Milwaukee area when he was seven, told The Wall Street Journal last year, when asked if his favorite team was the New York Yankees or the Milwaukee Brewers, responded with an emphatic, "Brewers!"
It apparently didn't occur to the Journal to ask about the Mets, but Einhorn explained.
"In New Jersey, we were actually Mets fans. Here's a rare-known fact: I was Dave Kingman for Halloween one year, as a five- or six-year-old," Einhorn said, referring to the Mets' star slugger of the late 1970s. "Between the Mets and Brewers, still Brewers, with a little soft spot for the Mets. But nothing for the Yankees."
Einhorn told the telecommunically-assembled hacks that he has no concerns about the Mets' finances, despite principal owner Fred Wilpon's statement this week that the team is "bleeding" cash and could lose $70 million this year, about one-third of what Einhorn plans to pay for a still-unspecified chunk of the team. Negotiations are continuing, but Einhorn said he'll wind up with less than 49% of the Mets.
"I do expect the financial fortunes of the team to improve over time, and I'm comfortable with where we're headed," he said. "I'm beyond comfortable. I'm excited."
Exactly how much Einhorn will own remains subject to negotiation. He also must be approved by Major League Baseball. But even there, Einhorn has an in: His best friend growing up lived next-door to then-Brewers owner and current baseball Commissioner Bud Selig; he said if they hit a ball into Selig's yard, it was a home run.
Einhorn, known for his short-selling prowess, this week called on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to step down, or to be fired. But he said he'll have no major say in how the team is run, and doesn't see anything short-term about the deal.
"I have no real plans to sell this investment," he said. "I expect to hold it for a very long, long time. I'm not looking for an exit for a long time."
The Mets have been looking for an investor for several months, facing tens of millions of dollars in losses, hundreds of millions in debt and more than $1 billion in possible liabilities stemming from their long-time investment in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. Several other alternative investments honchos were considered, including SAC Capital Advisors' Steven Cohen, but Einhorn's name did not come up until this week, an impressive feat, given that talks between the two sides began in January.
News that the team would be getting a $200 million cash infusion didn't help the Mets much on the field, as they stumbled to 9-3 loss at chilly Wrigley Field in Chicago yesterday. Told about their new part-boss, the players and manager responded with a collective shrug.
"That stuff's way beyond us," manager Terry Collins said.
"We have no control over it. We have no say in it. We have nothing to do with it, so it doesn't influence anything we do around here in this clubhouse."
One player said he'd welcome Einhorn on team trips. Pitcher Mike Pelfrey said "he can sit in the back of the plane with us," playing cards.
"Tell him to bring his wallet," Pelfrey said. What Pelfrey didn't know then, but knows now, is that Einhorn is quite the card player, finishing 18th in the 2006 World Series of Poker.
"He can play with Reyes, then," Pelfrey responded, referring to the team's star shortstop.