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For Now, Nothing to Cheer

By Howard Megdal ~ February 4th, 2011. Filed under: Howard Megdal, New York Mets.

It was a dark day among those who care about the fortunes of the New York Mets (except for Mike Pelfrey, who welcomed a baby girl into the world). The unsealing of the lawsuit brought by  Irving Picard against Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz provided joys only to those who thrive on human misery. There is no silver lining here.

Each version of events is depressing in its own way. As Fred Wilpon tells it, he was betrayed by a friend of 30 years. As Irving Picard tells it, Wilpon willfully ignored signs that Madoff was a fraud, costing many other people their financial security. And with a legal standard that falls short of proving that Wilpon knew anything, the Mets’ owner can be right and still lose his baseball team.

I’ll tell you this: when I first heard about the Madoff scandal back in 2008, it didn’t occur to me that it could impact the chance I’d have to take my daughter to see Jose Reyes play in a Mets uniform. But it sure looks like that is the case now.

Maybe the most demoralizing part of this, from a Mets-only perspective, is seeing the Wilpons go out and finally acquire the kind of front office best-equipped to leverage the financial advantage a New York team has. Only now, once Sandy Alderson and company are in place, there are huge questions about that financial advantage itself.

Some have said that it doesn’t matter what the team payroll is, and that is true to a certain extent, but an extremely limited one. Each dollar allocated to the baseball team, either in team payroll, scouting, the draft or international signings, can increase the team’s chances of winning. It certainly can’t hurt the team’s chances- those dollars can be wasted, but they don’t actively prevent winning. Often, however, the absence of those dollars in payroll, or in the draft, can do just that. We know from the team’s recent lack of spending on the draft, at the time, we believed, a voluntary action. (It’s not so certain anymore-the complaint alleges that the Mets had a severe cash flow problem the moment Madoff went bust.)

Still,  I feel for Fred Wilpon. Sure, his decision to put so many of his eggs in the Madoff basket flies in the face of basic investing. (My nest egg is tied up in Generation K rookie cards, but even I knew enough to expand out into a number of mint condition Butch Huskey and Brook Fordyce issues. Tidewater T-Bills, I called them.)

In all seriousness, Wilpon’s life will be defined by this Madoff scandal; it will be the lead in his obituary. It is hard to imagine evidence will surface that will make him so unlikeable that this will seem just. Even Picard merely accuses him of believing in Madoff in the face of evidence that he shouldn’t, something that seems all too believable to anyone who watched Omar Minaya’s tenure as General Manager. How shocking this all must be; an assumption that financially, he is set for life, and can pass on the Mets to his family, now all in severe jeopardy.

Wilpon has a justified reputation for good works, a social conscience, and I believe tried desperately to make the Mets into winners during his time as owner. Whatever happens next, no one is accusing Fred Wilpon of poor intent. Maybe others will come to a different judgment, but I’m hard-pressed to revel in a man’s downfall for merely failing to execute good intentions.

Still, I can’t even imagine what Opening Day will feel like this season. A team that I thought had put its fans through everything, from the collapses of 2007 and 2008 to the Plague of 2009 will be going through something indisputably new in its 50th season. The hope is that this is the nadir, with a resolution that allows the Mets to move forward in strong financial shape- even if that likely means with new ownership.

Ya gotta believe this is as bad as it gets, right? After all, despite all that has happened, baseball will again be played shortly. Whatever the mood on Opening Day, the Mets will take the field in a beautiful, nearly-new stadium (thanks to the Wilpons, incidentally). And if fans stay away in droves, those who remain will get to enjoy major league baseball and Shake Shack burgers with shorter lines.

Even at this late date, I’m hoping for a happy resolution for all involved. It’ll simply take a finish as miraculous as Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. And it is worth noting that the reason we remember Game 6 is that most of the time, a team down two runs with two outs and two strikes goes on to a quiet defeat.

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Howard Megdal is the Editor-in-Chief of The Perpetual Post. He covers baseball, basketball and soccer for Capital New York, MLBTradeRumors.com, New York Baseball Digest and has written for ESPN.com as well as numerous other publications. He is the Poet Laureate for SBNation New York. His book about Jewish baseball players, “The Baseball Talmud,” is available for purchase on Amazon.com and wherever books are sold. His next book, "Taking The Field", is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and will publish in May 2011.

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1 Response to For Now, Nothing to Cheer

  1. LongTmeFan

    Excellent post, Howie, common sense compassion absent pretty much everywhere including conventional writers like George Vecsey who can’t resist the temptation to join the fray.

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