Incoming commissioner Rob Manfred has begun swinging the ax, installing his preferred owners in positions of power and shunting Bud Selig's confidants to the side. But one of those Selig allies, Mets owner and CEO Fred Wilpon, isn't just being put out to pasture: he's been appointed chairman of MLB's finance committee. This is maybe a little troubling, because Fred Wilpon is very bad with money.
Wilpon, you'll remember, lost as much as $700 million investing in Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme (not the first one he fell for). It would be one thing if it were just his own money, but Madoff was closely involved in the Mets' finances; Wilpon's favorite trick was to offer contracts with deferred money, and investing that money with Madoff's firm. "Bernie was part of the business plan for the Mets," one former employee told the New York Times.
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.
You know all this; it's never a bad time for a reminder though.
Even beyond getting scammed like a granny at a timeshare presentation, Wilpon, since assuming majority control of the team, has driven the Mets into the ground. Craig Calcaterra puts it well:
Wilpon's management of the Mets has turned a team in baseball's largest and most lucrative market into what is, practically speaking, a small-market, financially strapped club, buried in debt service and forced to deal with payrolls that do not allow it to meet its baseball needs in an effective manner.
I would dare say that if Major League Baseball had an intern who lost $30 entrusted to him for a lunch run, the intern would either be fired or never allowed to touch money again. Fred Wilpon is put in charge of the finance committee.
The only acceptable explanation for this move is that the finance committee chair is a big nothing, a quiet sinecure to reward Wilpon for being Selig's man through-and-through. We very dearly hope it's that. Because the alternative is that man who can't properly run his own finances is being tapped to guide MLB's. Either way, it's good to be the owners' club.