The James Dolan email scandal prompted Billy in Woodbury, who’s presumably a Mets fan, to call in and ask Mike Francesa about the duties of ownership, and by extension, whether the Wilpons are derelict. “The job of the owner is to field a competitive team,” said Francesa. “That’s it. He doesn’t owe you anything else. He doesn’t owe you explanations, he doesn’t owe you conversation. He owes you, I think, an effort to put a very competitive team on the field. I think that’s his job.”
Billy in Woodbury said that although Mikhail Prokhorov and James Dolan have been unsuccessful, at least their fans haven’t suffered from lack of trying. He then insinuated that the Wilpons were “involved in almost a criminal act” in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, in which they and many others lost substantial amounts of their fortunes. “They were not,” said Francesa. “That’s not fair. To call Fred Wilpon, who you don’t know, a criminal … That’s not fair. You’re telling me that they were complicit? Do you think Fred Wilpon put his grandkids’ money in there knowing that the guy was a crook?”
It wasn’t just the Wilpons’ family wealth that was tied up with the Madoffs. So was much of the Mets’. “Bernie was part of the business plan for the Mets,” a former team employee told the New York Times in 2011. In the same story, a former executive said , “I remember vividly Madoff’s name being brought up a lot when [the team] would negotiate contracts, particularly with deferments … That money would be turned over to Madoff.”
As Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky wrote last month when Wilpon was named the chairman of the MLB’s finance committee:
Madoff money went to cover the Mets’ payroll, to support the single-A Brooklyn Cyclones, to construct Citi Field and to launch a regional sports network. And when it disappeared, Wilpon and co-owner Saul Katz found themselves desperate. They took out a reported $450 million in loans (including about $65 million in emergency bailout money using a line of credit from MLB), using the SportsNet channel as collateral. They publicly announced he was willing to sell minority shares in the team to inject much-needed cash into the operation. They settled a lawsuit brought by Madoff victims for $162 million. They still carry hundreds of millions of debt.
According to data from The Baseball Cube, this is where the Mets have ranked in payroll in recent years:
This offseason, the team is charging its players to train at team facilities. “We didn’t cover all the costs because we want the players themselves to be invested in their careers and in their off-season development,” said Mets GM Sandy Alderson. “We want them to have something at risk as far as their commitment is concerned.”
There’s a mountain of evidence that the Madoff scheme rendered the Wilpons unfit to fulfill their responsibility to fans the last several years, and likely for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, there’s not really anything that can (or, more accurately, will) be done about it until the owners have finished bleeding the proceeds from their franchise to pay off their debt.