Since when did Fred Wilpon morph into George Steinbrenner? The Mets’ normally reserved owner, whose idea of provocative was to once declare that he expects his team to play “meaningful games” in September, lets loose in this week’s issue of The New Yorker.
The superb feature by Jeffrey Toobin starts off rather tame, providing a brief history of Wilpon’s rise from calculator salesman to real estate tycoon to patriarch of the Mets. Then it delves into Wilpon’s friendship and ill-fated business relationship with Bernard Madoff. It’s here, of course, where much of the article is focused. What’s getting all the attention, however, is not the material on Madoff, which is very compelling, if not terribly revealing.
What has fans and media hyperventilating are the rather candid and acerbic comments Wilpon made about his own team while entertaining Toobin during a dreary game at Citi Field one night last month. His running commentary was actually quite amusing, from his scorching criticisms of “The Core” — Wright, Reyes and Beltran — to his honest assessment of the Mets as “shitty” and “snakebitten.”
On the one hand, it’s hard to argue with anything Wilpon said. The Mets are shitty and snakebitten. Reyes is certainly not worth Carl Crawford money. Then, again neither is Carl Crawford. Beltran has never been the player Wilpon thought he was buying from agent Scott Boras. Although when the beleaguered owner — a self-proclaimed “schmuck” for signing the guy — says Beltran is “sixty-five to seventy percent of what he was,” he’s a bit off base. I would say it’s more like forty percent. As for Wright, yes, he is a “really good kid” and “not a superstar,” although plenty of Mets fans, especially those of the feminine gender, would beg to differ.
So yes, Wilpon was right on target with his remarks, and it nice to see him vent for a change, but I have a few questions about this outburst out of left field:
Why, Fred? Why now after all these years of being so reticent, so diplomatic, so very classy in addressing the myriad concerns of your team? Heaven knows, you’ve had plenty of material to work from over the past three decades. Just the past four years alone, you could write a book the size of the Baseball Encyclopedia on unpleasant things about your snakebitten, debt-ridden team from Flushing.
And why spew so openly to a member of the media, especially one as high-profile and outspoken as Toobin? Did you think he wasn’t listening or cared about your seemingly off-the-cuff but brutally frank comments about your star players? You can sit next to me or any number of fans at a ballgame and you will hear the same if not considerably more scathing invectives, but we’re just mumbling to ourselves in frustration. Maybe it was something Fred ate. He reportedly consumed a Shackburger and hot dog during the game. I love Shackburgers, but I would not chase them with hot dogs. That would give anyone, especially a 74-year-old guy, some serious heartburn. So perhaps Wilpon went into some kind of acid reflux fueled rage.
And why take a public shot at David Wright? I know he’s been disappointing this year (although you try playing with a broken back) and the stench of his 2009 season still lingers. But the guy has been a perennial All Star, is enormously popular, and has made a lot of money for your team. He is the face of the franchise, after all. Where were you the last three years while Ollie Perez, Luis Castillo and K-Rod were embarrassing the crap out of the team? You fire a missile at David Wright and not at those guys? Not fair.
As a fan, I’m not offended by Wilpon’s remarks, just perplexed. I’m just not sure what his strategy was in teeing off on his players — if he even had a strategy. Maybe there’s always been a little Boss George in him and the pain and agony of the past four years finally set him off. What Mets fan hasn’t blown off steam? Can’t the owner, who is deep in debt, weary of seeing his $140 million payroll pissed away, being chased like a fugitive by the Madoff trustee, and looking at the possibility of selling a large chunk of his beloved team to some hedge fund manager, inject a little venom into our collective bloodstream as well?
Common sense would say yes, BUT . . .public outburts like this, from such an unlikely source? As we are witnessing, that tends to generate a lot of bad PR and ill will among fans — and the Mets already have a surplus of both. My recommedation to Fred would be to reserve his public venting for Irving Picard.
Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, Fred Wilpon was cleverly trying to distract from the central storyline of Toobin’s feature — his long and eventually tragic association with Bernie Madoff. If that was his strategy, I would say job well done, Fred.