Fred grew up in Brooklyn. He went to local public schools, as I did–Fred to Lafayette High, me to Midwood. Unlike blustery Cleveland shipping magnate/Yankee boss George Steinbrenner, Fred was one of our own. A regular guy. Our street kid made good, and we were proud.
Only now it appears that little Fred grew up to be a total schmuck.
Fred Wilpon, a principal at Sterling Equities and owner of the New York Mets baseball team, is having severe financial problems because of his involvement with Bernie Madoff. A lawsuit filed by the trustee designed to recoup losses from Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme claims that Sterling received about $300 million in “fictitious profits” by investing with Madoff, and now the trustee’s clients want that money back.
Of course Wilpon disputes this, but its left him in a deep financial mess, which affects his beloved Mets.
At least we thought they were Fred’s beloved Mets. In this week’s New Yorker, Wilpon called the Mets a “shitty team” and belittled the abilities of his players. What was behind this seeming meltdown?
I interviewed a number of diehard Mets fans, and there seems to be two strong, very different theories about Fred going around. One is that Fred is arrogant, greedy and calculating. The other is that he is a clueless nitwit.
Let’s briefly examine them both. The “calculating” theory suggests that by devaluing the Mets’ players, fans won’t be as upset when they aren’t re-signed and Wilpon can then cut payroll. The problems with this are 1) New York fans aren’t stupid; 2) How does Wilpon now expect to get fair market value for these players if he wants to trade them, and 3) How does he expect to make any money when his stars stop giving it their all and playing through minor injuries (would you?), and fans stop paying money to see what the owner himself deems “a shitty team?” Would you go to a restaurant where the owner says the food is lousy and the waiters are inept? Exactly.
Which leads to the second possibility: Fred’s an idiot.
The team just sold a minority stake to a hedge fund manager/Vegas World Series of Poker player who has made a habit of tearing down the CEOs of companies he’s heavily invested in and suggesting the board kick them to the curb and “someone else” (hint hint) take over (see Microsoft, Steve Ballmer). I wouldn’t turn my back on this young go-getter, Freddy.
Meanwhile, the fans are disgusted by Wilpon’s putdown of team leaders David Wright and Jose Reyes. “If he’s trying to justify to Mets fans why the organization isn’t going to keep these two guys on the basis of their supposed lack of skills and not because Wilpon made a total mess of the team, he isn’t fooling anyone,” says long-time Met fan Donna Campbell.
Diehard fan Lou Russo concurs. “You mean Fred Wilponzi?“ deadpans Lou. “I’m boycotting the games. The team is playing lousy, prices are still pretty high and now this.” Russo predicts that if Wilpon indeed lets Reyes go, he will totally lose the Mets fan base. “It will be like when they got rid of Tom Seaver–fans felt betrayed and deserted in droves, and this will make it happen again.”
So you decide: greedy, calculating and arrogant, or just a clueless nitwit? Maybe this will help: A few years ago, Wilpon offered another business associate a chance to be a partner–to be part owner of the New York Mets. Fred was puzzled and disappointed when the man turned him down.
The man’s name? Bernie Madoff.