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Home » Baseball

Squared Up: Wilponzi

Submitted by on May 24, 2011 – 7:24 PM5 Comments

It’s not that Fred Wilpon aired out specific players on the Mets in his comments to The New Yorker that bothers me. Rather, it’s all the things that the particulars of said airing-out say about his stewardship of the team, none of them complimentary, starting with the fact that Jeffrey Toobin’s article really is not about the team on a baseball level. The article is about the team in a business context, about how the Wilpons’ investments with Bernie Madoff boomeranged on the club and continue to do so thanks to the civil suit, and it might behoove the so-called businessman who owns the team to stay on task in his interactions with a reporter. (Toobin’s doing a live chat tomorrow about the article; I’m interested to see if anyone asks him about that, although Toobin is defending Wilpon’s comments about the team. …What?)

Instead, Wilpon shoots his mouth off about the money Jose Reyes will or will not get, snarks on Carlos Beltran for the 2006 NLCS, and dismisses David Wright as “not a superstar,” and it’s one thing to stray off-topic and let a few non-germane (and/or snarky) comments slip. That happens, although Wilpon apparently either didn’t realize that Toobin had a Dictaphone, or he didn’t care. What irritates me is the bitchy victimized tone Wilpon takes with regard to the team throughout the piece, as though it’s the Easter bunny signing the checks and he’s forced to suffer though a Santana-less summer with the rest of the fans — as though the team is something that is done to him.

That will not fly, not least because much of what Wilpon says is substantively not correct. Let’s start with the remarks about Reyes: “‘He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money,’ Wilpon said, referring to the Red Sox’ signing of the former Tampa Bay player to a seven-year, $142-million contract. ‘He’s had everything wrong with him,’ Wilpon said of Reyes. ‘He won’t get it.'” Well, of course he won’t get it; thanks to the sluggish (heh) start Crawford got off to, nobody’s going to get it next year. After the worrying that bone has taken in the press, Crawford himself probably doesn’t want it anymore, so Wilpon’s statement is an uh-duh-er, but then at the same time, it’s rich meat coming from a guy whose team has given mattresses full of money to players far less deserving. Oliver Perez: worthless head case. Bobby Bonilla: still getting paid although he hasn’t gotten out of street clothes in a decade. Jason Bay: poorly served by Citi’s dimensions at the plate, and concussed for much of last season. Francisco Rodriguez: that save stat from his time with the Angels is a gaudy bauble, but it told us nothing of real value about his value late and close, which everyone except the Wilpons apparently understood (ditto his mood disorder, not exactly the best-kept secret on earth, much less in MLB).

I could go on for about seven weeks, but here’s the point: I very much doubt that Reyes thinks he can get Crawford money — but if he does, maybe it’s because the Wilpons have given Crawford money to every other broken-down stooge in the fuckin’ league! Maybe it’s not Reyes’s arrogance about his own talents, Fred! Maybe it’s the bad business example you’ve set, repeatedly!

Not to mention that Reyes really has not had “everything” wrong with him. Reyes is not my favorite; Reyes has had the sort of injury that tends to recur, if not as itself than as an ancillary, “downstream” injury; Reyes is having a genuinely good year in 2011 that fun as hell to see, although he’s clearly playing like it’s a contract year, which it is, and which he has every right to do. Re-signing him at all is probably not a great idea, because he’s at exactly that age where the decline starts, and it’s wise to let another franchise deal with it, because Toobin’s assessment — “pegged as a future star[,] [i]njuries have limited him to a more pedestrian career” — is more or less correct. I’d say he has one more brilliant year in him, and it’s very likely this one, so let’s not pay for six more. But he’s not that frail.

Moving on to Beltran, about whom Wilpon is exceedingly bitter. I have long since tired of the whining, and not just from Wilpon, about Beltran looking at strike three in ’06. First of all, correlation is not causation, and the team’s choke jobs in subsequent seasons did not proceed from Beltran’s alleged choke job at the plate, although it’s convenient to blame him — especially for ownership, whose shit decision-making is responsible — after the fact. Second of all, I understand that it’s bases loaded and two out in the postseason, but a) he’d had a decent series to that point, 3 HR, 1.054 slugging, so you could maybe give him some credit for helping the Mets get as far as a seventh game, or at least for knowing how and when to swing, and b) it’s an 0-2 count. I only know what I read, but that’s not generally when to swing. That’s when to wait for the pitcher to waste a breaking ball in the dirt hoping you’ll chase, or look for a mistake pitch you can jack. Unluckily, Beltran got neither. Wainwright Mozarted a curveball over the outside black. And that’s the third thing: Wainwright. It was his second year in the league, so I wouldn’t compare his craft to Greg Maddux at that point, but it wasn’t some Schmuckly Carmichael floating an 84-mph fastball down the heart of the plate while Beltran quietly pissed himself. A good pitcher threw a good pitch, got lucky at the backdoor, and beat Beltran. That happens too.

The other hilarious (read: “infuriating”) thing about Wilpon’s Beltran comments is that Wilpon admits that he signed Beltran based on the 2004 postseason — that his crazy-good run with the Astros that year got him his Mets gig. Meanwhile, I believe Bill James had written at some point prior to the ’04 season that Beltran, then a Royal, was due for a quantum leap forward in his abilities. I’ll try to find a link to that piece, or you can post it in the comments; long story short, it was a smart enough signing — expensive, but so were Delgado and Martinez, and this one made more sense in terms of the player’s age. The Mets just made it for bad reasons, and it still could have worked out (and did, for a while) if he’d stayed healthy, which nobody could have foreseen he wouldn’t. I know that K haunts a lot of people, but C. Belts really isn’t the problem here. Fred Wilpon giving his kid a George W. Bush job in the front office and not insisting that he make friends with relevant statistics or even conventional scouting wisdom before interfering in personnel decisions — that’s the problem.

Wilpon’s chilly appraisal of David Wright (“‘A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar'”) is in fact on point, but what possible purpose does it serve to speak that bluntly about the guy who, like it or not (and I don’t, particularly), is considered your franchise player? No, he’s not HoF material; most of us could have told you that two years ago. What on earth is the owner of the team doing saying so about the face of the team? Wright has since broken his back, so my planned series of “trade him and get some younguns who can pitch in two years” broadsides will now go in a dark drawer, but did Wilpon think that this would motivate his players somehow? That people think it’s funny or refreshing when Ozzie Guillen speaks truth to power, so maybe he’ll try it? He is the power to which truth is spoken. That equation doesn’t add up. It makes no sense.

Sense is what’s missing from the overall impression I got of Wilpon — common sense. It’s that shortage, ironically, that I believe probably exonerates him from charges that he knowingly colluded with Madoff on the Ponzi scheme; this is someone who didn’t question his financial statements, at all. (And I never understand that when it comes up in these celebrity money-manager scandal stories. I don’t know much, but the same ten percent every month isn’t “comforting,” guys. It’s suspicious, and you should look into it more closely, because it is your money.) This is someone who claims to know baseball — who was considered a pitching prospect; who was childhood friends with Sandy Koufax — but who sits idly by while the team pays big bucks for an outfielder based on half a season’s hitting stats in Fenway Park. This is someone who categorizes a team he owns as a “[s]hitty team” and “snakebitten,” when it’s actually a mediocre team holding its own quite well under the circumstances — even though the Mets have half the infield on the DL and their putative knuckler ace has sucked so far in ’11, half the AL Central teams have worse winning percentages — and is, if anything, owner-bitten. I don’t get the sense that he’s even that brilliant at his initial moneymaking enterprise, real estate. The article as much as says that he inadvertently bought up a bunch of property during a market low, but did it as a tax shelter, not to make a profit.

This is someone who thought he might do well to shit-talk players whose signings he approved when he’s trying to sell part of the team.

Maybe he’s frustrated and couldn’t hold it in anymore; maybe he’s past it a little bit mental-acuity-wise. Either way, the Wilpons should sell the whole team, not just a minority stake. That way, Fred can do what he really wanted to all along — build a shrine to Ebbets Field — and Jeff won’t have anything to do with baseball operations, and thank God. Now that Fred has poisoned the well, just fill it in with dirt and dig a new one with a new ownership group, preferably one that occasionally asks questions of its financial statements, of shifty stats like ERA and SV, and of its own abilities.




  • Natalie says:

    Heh, when I saw this article in the New Yorker I was like, “Aren’t most New Yorker readers indoor kids? Who is this literally inside baseball article for?”

    You have answered my question, you mind-reader.

  • attica says:

    I wonder how much player-slagging is backhanded Minaya slagging. Omar was on the cover of magazines with this “I’ll sign a flea-bitten mutton and give ‘im a chance in Left” attitude, but those contracts were all longer than they should have been*. But like you say, it’s a Wilpon sig on the contracts and the checks.

    *Hell, any contract longer than 3 years for anybody is longer than it ought to be, and most ought to be less than that.

  • FloridaErin says:

    “Re-signing him at all is probably not a great idea, because he’s at exactly that age where the decline starts, and it’s wise to let another franchise deal with it . . .”

    Oh, do I feel this. There is a fine line between loyalty to your players and shooting yourself in the foot. Detroit has been treading this line lately- Bonderman, Robertson, Zumaya, Guillen, Ordonez, Inge (depending on who you ask).

    @attica- “Hell, any contract longer than 3 years for anybody is longer than it ought to be, and most ought to be less than that.”

    And this is where I agree with some people on Inge. We signed him to multiple years after serious knee surgery. Luckily, he’s stayed healthy so far, but we don’t know how long that will last.

  • elizabetht says:

    SO well said. all of it. I feel the same way… and have felt that despite the firing Willie/firing Omar/Sandy/Terry replacements… the fish stinks from the head, and until the Wilpons are gone, nothing is really going to change. And you’re right, no one seems to acknowledge that despite the fact that most of the big names are either injured or not performing up to snuff, they’re not doing all that badly. I mean… Pridie? Turner? I <3 them. In fact, I kind of wish they'd get rid of everyone and start fresh with no-name guys like Pridie and Turner and Thole and Davis. Not that I really think it'll happen.

  • funtime42 says:

    I’ve been hooked on baseball from an early age. The first game I ever attended was Johnny Bench’s first start as a catcher. I understand the double switch, the McCovey Shift, and infield fly rule. And I could no more run a team than I could throw a strike past a pitcher.

    Owners like Wilpon, who also grew up loving and playing baseball, and made a success at business, and are suddenly faced with the opportunity of buying into the game, think that lifetime love affair makes them capable of running a baseball team. Knowing Sandy Koufax does not make him Theo Epstein or Andrew Friedman. Hell, it doesn’t even make him Jim Bowden.

    I liked sports a lot better when I didn’t know the owners, and the face of the franchise was a hard slugging first baseman…

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