Author’s note: A special thanks to my well-respected colleague Gonzo Will for the inspiration for this piece which resided in today’s edition of “The Sunday Question.”
The Nattering Nabobs of Negativity are in their heyday right now. The Wilpons (or, as many of the challenged folks insist on calling them, “The Wilpon’s”—when exactly did apostrophes becomes part of plurals?) have to sell part of the team! That’s why we have been dumpster-diving all offseason—they’re broke! That’s why we won’t re-sign Jose! That’s why Jeff has been seen at the Queens unemployment office!
Maybe, maybe not.
The Nabobs of course forget that by most accounts, the Wilpons MADE money from Madoff. The “clawback” litigation (undoubtedly not comprehended by most of these folks) exists in the Wilpon case for two reasons: they made money and they HAVE money. Lots of it. As folks who understand business know, when you have businesses like the Wilpons do, you do not have hundreds of millions lying around in savings accounts.
Hence, since the controversial and aggressive lawyer in the clawback litigation has been known to do, he is going after the “deep pockets” as attorneys in cases like this do. He will try to get everything he can from the Wilpons for his clients, and for his undoubtedly exorbitant fee. If the Wilpons did in fact have some sort of insider knowledge, then this will surely be justified. But even if they didn’t, they know that a settlement could still cost them hundreds of millions to end the case (and avoid years of litigation and bad press).
Will this mean they are “broke” and have to sell? We have no idea. But that doesn’t stop speculation.
Would the team be better off with another owner? This is indeed the question.
There are many different answers, in many sports.
When George Steinbrenner took over the Yankees in the early 1970s, an ossified corporate structure had run one of baseball’s best names into the ground. George immediately rebuilt the team, and they have won seven titles and made twenty playoff appearances under his family’s rule.
Jerry Jones bought a Cowboy team in similar straits and they won three Super Bowls in four years. In retrospect, this was largely due to a couple of great moves including Minnesota’s ridiculous Walker trade, and the coaching of Jimmy Johnson. Today, the Cowboys are like the Redskins—led by a high-spending owner whose team is usually among the game’s most highly-paid underachievers.
The NBA saw the Seattle SuperSonics purchased by owners who took a successful, locally-popular team and stole it away to Oklahoma. The NJ Nets were in the midst of the only great period on their NBA history when Bruce Ratner bought the team, and proved that he was indeed the personification of the first syllable of his last name, using the team for real estate purposes, turning a conference champ into a cellar-dweller, and then selling out.
So, new ownership can indeed be a serious crapshoot.
The Wilpons were part of the Met renaissance which took place in the 1980s, but possibly a very small part. They did not become full-time owners until 2002. Since then the team has been among the game’s highest spenders, seen the playoffs once and posted a sub-.500 record.
Overall, a very disappointing situation to be sure, and of course ownership must be held somewhere between largely and mostly responsible.
In this case, the cliché “success has many fathers but failure is an orphan” is just not accurate. Omar Minaya is the father of this failure.
Omar took over with previous experience; his bio will always state one incredible trade as the primary legacy of his time with Montreal. One of the worst trades in history. Still, Omar was well-liked, inspired loyalty from his underlings, and by most accounts is a good man with a good heart. But he clearly is the man most responsible for the team’s current state.
After 2006 most fans felt we were witnessing the beginning of something; in retrospect it was a one-year wonder—a fluke even. After 2007 and 2008, fans hoped and many were sure we were “one or two pieces away.” We weren’t. We were a flawed team whose starpower allowed us to contend, but whose serious lack of depth stretched the team in ways that made success over 162 games impossible. 2009 and 2010 showed the team for what it had become—a true Potemkin Village of a squad.
Shiny, expensive all-stars headed the roster—great to feature in TV ads and ticket-sale promotions and on the cover of the yearbook; but the whole organization was rotting at its core.
The Jerry Manuel-led major league club was becoming a “country club” environment where the inmates truly ran the asylum. The minor league teams were producing players who did not run out balls in their early MLB at bats. Players at all levels were failing to stay in shape, resulting in the last two years of endless injuries. Injuries weren’t prevented by conditioning, and when they occurred they were seemingly misdiagnosed or treated incorrectly. Overall, the organization truly rotted away, from top to bottom; in performance, record, attitude, health, etc.
Despite the promise of 2006, despite the impressive numbers of hugely paid stars Omar brought in, his ultimate legacy will be leaving behind a team which finished in fourth place two straight years, and will definitely be favored to do it again in 2011.
Still, didn’t Fred Wilpon hire Omar and perhaps keep him on 1-2 years too long? Absolutely and positively.
Did this show questionable judgment? Sure did.
But can we be sure that Wilpon selling controlling interest will fix this? No, we sure cannot.
The Wilpons brought in three former GMs, led by Alderson, to try and fix the true mess Omar left behind. No matter what the ceaseless whiners say, the team will again have one of the game’s highest payrolls in 2011. If the Wilpons were in as bad of a financial state as many like to believe, we would surely have seen some of the team’s stars traded for prospects to save tens of millions. This has not occurred.
While it is annoying to watch the Yankees spend maybe $60 million more than the Mets, this is life. The Yankees have had internationally-known stars and fans across the globe since the 1920s. No team can compete with this. The Mets still spend a reasonable amount and it is reasonable to expect that when the tens of millions of dollars are freed up from expiring contracts, that Alderson will begin spending again, and probably more wisely than Omar did.
The feeling here is that it is too early to declare the Wilpons broke and decide that we are rebuilding. The thought here is that patience is needed. What if we are 6 games above .500 in mid-July and some attractive players are available for trade, which would entail adding salary? Or what if we do finish 4th again and tens of millions can be spent to truly improve the team next offseason?
The feeling here is that these eventualities must be given a chance to occur, and we must see how the team deals with them before we can make definitive judgments about the future.
Yes, a Steinbrenner or a Jerry Buss or a Rooney family would be nice; but sports is also filled with owners like Bruce Ratner and Daniel Snyder and the Bidwills and the Dolans.
Before being so certain that the Wilpons selling would be a dream, we should give Alderson a chance to remake the franchise. Remember, the team did not have a winning record until Frank Cashen’s fifth season. Alderson’s had the job for three months.
If we finish fourth again and at this time in 2012 payroll is sitting at $100-120 million, then it will be time for panic.
Right now it is time for rational patience.