I remember when the whole Madoff fiasco started to carpet-bomb its way into the mainstream sports media. Well before it all started to make headlines and evolve into the sports blogs fodder du-jour, mercilessly mocking the team, its owners and even fans, I had a conversation with an old family friend with ties to the organization. During our chat the Madoff situation came up.
Basically he said that the Mets wouldn’t be spending money on free agents anytime soon and that the Madoff situation was partly the reason. Little did I expect that less than two years later the team would go into full out slash and burn mode cutting nearly $50 million in payroll, eliminating 10% of their workforce and eventually eliminating one of its minor league affiliates.
I wrestled with the idea of writing about what I was told. You have to understand my conversation was well before Bernie Madoff and his relationship with the Wilpons became news. I certainly didn’t have an ax to grind with anyone and in fact, truth be told, after having done research for an article about the Welcome Back Veterans program, I learned just how instrumental Fred Wilpon was in the creation of that honorable effort. It gave me a new found respect for the man. But I had/have faith in my source and Joe D echoed that faith in both my source and myself and thus started the ball rolling regarding Madoff and the Mets, at least partly here on MMO.
I took some heat for it from fans and writers alike. I understood that. I’m not a credentialed journalist, who incidentally are far more protected legally for what they write than a blogger is but, to me, it was newsworthy insofar that it was going to effect the team, most likely for years to come. Now with yesterday’s news that the Trustee, Irving Picard and the Wilpons, settled the claw back lawsuit, with the Wilpons agreeing to pay $162 million – spread out over the next 3 years – finally we can see some light at the end of this tunnel. As this saga unfolded over time, so much information and misinformation made it’s way into our thought processes it was difficult to discern what was true and what was opinion draped in the guise of fact. To some degree we will probably never know the entire truth about this situation.
Some of the best reporting on this has been by Richard Sandomir of the New York Times. When I reiterate Joe D’s praise of Sandomirs’ objective reporting it’s difficult for me not to mention Howard Megdal who in his book, Wilpon’s Folly, did lay out a great deal of information regarding the situation. Whether he formed biased conclusions or not based on what he discovered, I’d leave for his readers to discern.
In the end, as most civil litigations play out, this lawsuit never made it to trial even though the process of seating jurors was underway. So it does beg the question of who won this high profile showdown? It’s hard to say that either side is walking away unscathed. Picard was originally seeking a billion dollars from this only to have it pared down to $383 million and then finally to settle on $162 million. The Wilpons insisted that they were never “willfully blind” to Madoff’s treachery, as they were never accused of anything illegal in Federal criminal court; if they were we would have seen them in orange jumpsuits along with Madoff a long time ago.
However they recently had a setback in court when Judge Rakoff ruled that it was the Wilpons who had the burden to prove that they weren’t “willfully blind” to Madoff’s actions. Apparently in the end it came down to neither side not wanting to roll the dice on having a jury decide this. The media tends to self-generate its own momentum on certain stories and this was no exception. I for one still have mixed feelings about the entire case. The Wilpons for years funded this team with as much fervor as a politician does with their favorite Government program. And just like some government programs, the results haven’t been much to brag about. But, the Wilpons do spend when they have it as history has shown. Unlike many owners who simply choose not to which is their right. It’s the “how” and the “who” the Wilpons spend it on that needs to be recalculated – as it seems to have begun under Alderson’s tenure as General Manager.
None of us can predict the future as the team still has a mountain of debt to pay off along with the lawsuit but having this saga finally come to an end should please even the most jaded of Mets fans. Perhaps some day down the road we will look back on these times as the culminating moment when the Wilpons and the Mets evolved from desperately wanting to be relevant in a city that has been owned by the team in the Bronx since the mid-90’s, to actually setting the relevance in this town. As a Met fan I want to see this team succeed and if this ownership can rise again, with a winning formula and team, I don’t think there’s one Met fan out there that would care less who’s cutting the player’s checks.