Let’s try to forget what Fred Wilpon taught us this week – that big money people are not necessarily bright. And let’s try to put aside his clumsy apologies after the backfiring of his ill-advised PR campaign. Baseball fans from Brooklyn – most of them, prostate anyway – had to like what they read in the New Yorker about him. The Mets owner, it turns out, is a Bensonhurst boy from a modest background, a rabid Dodger fan and the friend who nudged future Dodger icon Sandy Koufax into playing baseball.
Writer Jerome Toobin certainly found Wilpon likeable, just as the national media took to Barack Obama in 2007, the year after the Mets came within a game of making it to the World Series. Toobin’s article doesn’t mention the skipper, but the admiration for Wilpon he elicited in interviews – “tremendous respect”…”people listen to what he has to say” …”reputation is top tier”, etc. – could apply to Obama. Another, less admiring judgment about Wilpon – “too trusting” (former Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau) may apply to the skipper as well.
We know that candidate Obama promised “hope we (could) believe in” – dramatic change in the way Team USA would be run: a truly progressive health care system, less adversarial foreign policy, revised approach to civil liberties, more equitable tax code, increased whistle-blower protection, etc. The promise of tighter oversight and more effective government was implicit after the laxity of Team Bush. But the skipper and his team overlooked rather than oversaw what was happening in the Minerals Management Service. That Fed farm team’s porous regulation led to the BP oil spill. The catastrophe unfolding on the Gulf with him on the dugout steps signaled that the skipper was too trusting of people outside his direct supervision; he clearly assumed the various delegated jobs would be done efficiently.
Fans in left field have been making hopeful assumptions of their own: that lack of focus – owing to Obama’s many more pressing problems – is responsible for an ongoing fist-bump friendship with Wall Street, a persistent hit-to-right stance in left-leaning Latin America, and a reluctance to fight Team GOP on popular issues like the Bush tax cuts and the health care public option. Those fans wonder if the skipper, like Wilpon, said “I don’t know anything about these things,” as Fred did on many financial matters to friend Bernie Madoff . They suspect that the O-man left it to coaches Tim Geithner, Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta to position his team on the finance and foreign policy fields when he was putting out fires in the DC dugout.
Wilpon can never hope to douse the flames consuming the Mets franchise, which he fed with such stupidity. The demeaned Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are two reasons the team has a scintilla of hope going into each game. They are now surely dispirited. Fred began making crucial mistakes eight years ago, putting son Jeff, never known for baseball savvy, in charge of day-to-day operations. He left it to Jeff and Omar Minaya to try to buy a world championship by bringing in big names and letting the farm system wither. Fred could have intervened, but he preferred to see himself as a “real estate” man. He told Omar “You don’t know shit,” but let Minaya give Ollie Perez $36 million for three years and Luis Castillo $25 million for four.
The imminent injection of minority-partner money notwithstanding, Wilpon has insured that CitiField will long be a desert devoid of stars and fans. He did that when he told SI’s Tom Verducci it was a “fair” assessment the Mets would not re-invest in the team the $64 million set to come off the books this year. His PR campaign may help his legal defense against the charge he knew, or should have known, that Madoff’s game was a scam. But it has added another group of victims to the Wilpon/Madoff saga: Mets fans who can either defect (if they haven’t already), or face several empty baseball summers.
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An Exit Prayer: The remote hope that financial pressure will ultimately prompt Wilpon to sell 100 percent of the Mets is given a boost by ESPN-NY’s Ian O’Connor, who calls Commissioner Bud Selig the key: “Selig can’t sit this one out. He needs to put his friendship with Wilpon on the bench, ignore his affection and respect for (Sandy) Alderson, and appoint a trustee to reign over the Mets. And then the commissioner needs to convince his friend Fred Wilpon that it’s time to sell the franchise for the good of the team, the city and the sport.”
Different Kind of Trouble: Money is not the problem in Minnesota, where the Twins are having such a hard time winning that scapegoat-seekers are frustrated enough to single out sore-legged Joe Mauer. Here’s Exhibit A from the Minny Star-Trib’s Patrick Reusse: “This is beyond frightful, watching a ballclub that won 94 games transform itself at alarming speed into a team that’s going to lose 94 games (or more) a season later…The Twins front office seems more concerned about not hurting anyone’s feelings than it does about making people accountable…
“We should start by mentioning the team’s cowardly behavior in the case of Joe Mauer, the $184 million invisible man…What we have is an employee salaried at $23 million being allowed to work the slowest program in the history of rehab. And he’s doing so with no apparent pressure from his employer to get back in the lineup, even as the fans’ honeymoon with Target Field dissipates faster than a Larry King marriage.”
Giant Loss: Buster Posey had a 13-game hitting streak before the crash at home plate Wednesday night that ended his season. The Marlins’ Scott Cousins rammed into Posey, who was blocking the plate in the 12th inning of a game Florida won, 7-6. Posey suffered a broken ankle. The bright side of an otherwise bleak Giants’ outlook: The NL West has no dominant team, at least for the time being. The once-formidable Rockies have slipped into something of a free-fall, and are now a game under .500, a game-and-a-half behind the D-backs, to whom they lost last night..
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