New York Mets fans were angry, dismayed, and flat-out depressed over the news Sunday night that Jose Reyes, their team’s superstar shortstop, was set to sign a reported six-year, $106 million contract with the Miami Marlins. It’s not just that the Mets are losing another homegrown star – some referred to Sunday as being the worst date since June 15, 1977, the day the Mets traded Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds. It’s that it sure looks like the Mets’ finances are so messed up by the team’s ownership’s involvement with Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, that the team is willing to let its homegrown stars go elsewhere in order to save money.
And the thing of it is, as New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro notes, Fred and Jeff Wilpon would never have been able to have full ownership of the Mets in the first place if it weren’t for their decades of investment with Madoff. When Fred Wilpon first got involved as a part-owner of the Mets in 1980, he owned a grand total of 1% of the team. In 1986, he bought 50% of the team, with Nelson Doubleday owning the other 50%. Then in 2002, he bought Doubleday out. During this time frame, Wilpon and his Sterling Equities company had as many as 500 separate accounts with Madoff, also using the financier to set up deferred contracts and the like.
“Forget for a second the question of whether the Wilpons had any inkling what Bernie Madoff was up to,” Vaccaro writes. “Understand that without Madoff, they wouldn’t have had a prayer of being solo owners of the team in the first place.” The sports columnist says that ”the Wilpons have done nothing — they’ve done less than nothing — since buying out Nelson Doubleday to be given the benefit of this doubt, or any doubt.” He writes that the facts are that “even if Madoff had been on the up-and-up, the Wilpons were gambling your baseball team on the volatile nature of Madoff’s feel for the Market” like in the Bobby Bonilla deferred deal, “in truth, it would be like financing your house based solely on your betting-window performance at Aqueduct.” Yet, as Vaccaro notes, the Wilsons “wonder why nobody trusts them to do the right thing? Ever?”
The thing is, unlike New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who bled Yankee blue and devoted his life to his baseball team, you never even get the sense that Fred Wilpon is even a Mets fan. Remember, when he finally got a brand-new stadium in Citi Field, he had it designed to look like Ebbets Field, the one-time home of his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. He made the rotunda a tribute not to the Mets’ history, but to Dodgers’ star Jackie Robinson. It took several years for the team to even get around to having any exhibits showing Mets memorabilia.
And this all happened at the same time the new Yankee Stadium opened, with pictures of the teams’ history everywhere you looked. True, the Mets don’t have the same history that the Yankees do, but they have
won more championships than the Brooklyn Dodgers did. The fact that it took fan outrage to finally get the Mets’ ownership to change the stadium around a little to reflect the team’s history shows an ownership that is out of touch with the typical fan.
At any rate, the fact that the Mets never even made a formal offer to re-sign Reyes seems to show that despite the new stadium, and despite the dedicated TV network, SNY, the New York Mets owners are going to penny-pinch for the foreseeable future. They look to be a big-market team with a small-market payroll. And you can’t help but think that this is because of whatever money the Wilpon family lost to Bernie Madoff. Remember, they have already gotten one $25 million bailout loan from Major League Baseball. They have not only failed to pay the loan back, but they recently asked for a four-month extension on the due date. In addition, the Wilpons have been looking for a part-owner to ease their financial burden. It sure looks like that, in a sense, Jose Reyes is the latest victim of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
But if the Wilpons are in that bad financial shape, then they need to sell the entire team before the franchise sinks any further. Mets fans shouldn’t have to keep on paying the price for the team ownership’s ill-fated investments with Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
Lisa Swan is a Feature Writer for the Compliance Exchange. She is also a columnist for The Faster Times and a blogger for Subway Squawkers. Her work has also appeared in the New York Daily News, Yahoo Sports, Huffington Post and the books Graphical Player 2011 and Graphical Player 2010.