I've been sitting on the story for a few days now thinking about what angle I want to write about. The more I read through the article in the New Yorker, the more tragic the story sounded to me. Here's a man who put his faith (and money) with a family friend, and now he's about to go down with the ship, most likely as a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Fred Wilpon is by all accounts an inspiring person. A self made man, raised in a middle class family, friend of Sandy Koufax, an avid fan of the game of baseball, and a great ambassador for the sport. Born and bred in Brooklyn, his admiration for Jackie Robinson is second to none and his ties to the Dodgers and Ebbets Field are obvious (as noted by anyone who visits the Citi Field rotunda)
His successes range from skyscrapers to television networks and he amassed all of his fortunes without stepping on the kind of toes many of his fellow millionaires would have done. And yet, after 31 years of ownership, Wilpon finds himself on the brink of losing his most prized possession, the Mets. His motives seem pure and his intentions seem honest, but somehow Wilpon got himself mixed into the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme of 2008 and now an army of lawyers have come to the table to take their pound of flesh. For Wilpon, that likely means his ownership stake in the Mets is chopped into tiny bits in order to cover the nearly $1Billion in returns that prosecutors are looking for in compensation for fellow victims.
So while most writers and bloggers out there are either laughing at his plight, or slamming him for his remarks about his own players and team, I can't help but feel a little bit of pity for the man. Here's a guy who has poured more money into his own club in recent years than anyone not named Steinbrenner or Henry. Everytime his GM came to the well wanting to throw ridiculous contract offers towards the likes of Carlos Delgado and Oliver Perez, Wilpon said "Where do I sign?" The Mets have been bad in recent years, but certainly not due to Wilpon being cheap or any lack of effort on his part.
The fact of the matter is that when teams like the Mets and Dodgers go through these sort of financial meltdowns, it's bad news for baseball. Baseball needs to be successful in the largest markets in the country in order for the smaller markets to thrive. So while I don't condone Wilpon saying his team is "lousy" and that David Wright is a "good kid, but not a superstar," I can't help but feel those words are the result of the frustration of a 74 yr old man who is being taken down an ugly path.
A year or two from now, it's likely that the current Mets team is blown to bits. Jose Reyes is a free agent at the end of the year, Carlos Beltran is likely to be shopped around at the deadline, and David Wright is equal trade bait. K-Rod is due a huge salary bump unless he misses certain incentives (which you can bet the Mets will avoid), and Johan Santana is still on a slow recovery from Tommy John. What good does a team of Justin Turners and Ike Davises do for baseball? Are Phillies fans excited to see the Mets roll into town with a AAA roster just so we can beat up on them? Does baseball thrive when the biggest market in the country can't sell out a single game? It's a sad story for Mets fans, and baseball fans alike.