Commentary

Step right up and meet the Debts

Wilpons still insist Madoff mess won't affect Mets' day-to-day dealings. Believe 'em?

Updated: February 5, 2011, 9:50 AM ET
By Rob Parker | ESPNNewYork.com

For legal reasons, New York Mets ownership couldn't say a lot on a conference call with reporters on Friday.

Then again, the reason for the conference call alone -- to announce that the Wilpon family is considering selling a minority stake in the team in order to infuse cash into the organization -- said it all.

The Mets need money.

With pending litigation related to convicted swindler Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, the Wilpons -- sole Mets owners for nearly a decade -- need cash and are looking to sell a 20 to 25 percent share in the team.

[+] EnlargeFred Wilpon
Andrew Burton/Getty ImagesFred Wilpon has seen better days during his reign.

News that the Wilpons need money isn't shocking to Mets fans. They saw their team sit on the sideline and do almost nothing to sign free agents this offseason. The Mets, who committed only $8.1 million in major league contracts this winter, came off like the lowly Cleveland Indians, with little money and no hope for next season.

Wait a minute. Aren't the Mets, based in the largest city in the country, a big-time organization with the potential to reap gobs of money if they can deliver a winner to their championship-starved fan base?

Yes. Or so we thought.

Apparently, the correct answer is no.

Either way, the Wilpons didn't want anyone to get concerned. They said their plans were to not only keep majority controlling interest in the Mets -- whose payroll will be in the $145 million-$150 million range -- but that they are still committed to winning.

"I want to emphasize that what we are discussing today has not and will not affect or change the Mets' day-to-day operations and control," Fred Wilpon said. "We will continue to operate the franchise in a first-class manner. This season, we have one of the highest payrolls in baseball, as we have for the past several years."

Earlier, in a statement, the Wilpons said, "As we have said before, we are totally committed to having the Mets again become a World Series winner. Our fans and all New Yorkers deserve nothing less."

That all sound good. But this is professional sports in 2011. You have to spend money to make money. You have to get better players than your rivals in the division. The Mets have done neither of late. And the prospect of that changing anytime soon is bleak.

Hey, what the Wilpons are doing is a sound business decision. In this economy, money -- even borrowed from banks -- is hard to come by.

Plus, there are many professional teams with minority owners. It's nothing new. Heck, the New York Yankees and New York Giants have had them for decades.

Still, you don't give up share of your team just to do it. There can be only one reason -- you need money.

Enter Ray Charles' great singing voice: "The bills are all due and the baby needs shoes and I'm busted."

That's the harsh reality Mets fans are going to have to live with. That's why this announcement hardly makes you want to run out and buy season tickets for Citi Field next season.

It also has to make some fans sick to their stomachs when you consider what the Philadelphia Phillies -- the Mets' archrivals -- did this offseason, landing the biggest prize in Cliff Lee and adding him to their already loaded rotation. They aren't short on bread, forking over $120 million to ink Lee.

Since the Madoff story broke and it was clear that the Wilpons were affected, they claimed the team wouldn't be, that it would remain business as usual. Now, with this announcement, you have to wonder.

The Wilpons said Friday they are in settlement talks with the trustee in charge of distributing money to victims of Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Some reports say one Mets-related investment fund turned a $47.8 million profit as a result of the scheme.

Ouch.

After the dust clears, you get the sense the Mets will be counting pennies, reusing baseballs that go out of play and putting harder, cheaper toilet paper in the bathroom for fans.

Don't laugh. When you're strapped for cash, you have to start saving somewhere.

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