Commentary

Is Bernie Madoff telling the truth?

New Yorker interview has to make you wonder: Maybe Fred Wilpon really is that dumb

Updated: May 24, 2011, 7:50 AM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

A round of applause for Mr. Fred Wilpon. Extend the man a hearty congratulations, as well. After all these months of being in the news for the wrong reasons, with a court of law looking into whether he is simply sleazy or just inept, the New York Mets' principal owner leaned heavily toward the realm of stupidity in one of the more unconscionable interviews we've heard in some time -- leaving us all to wonder: "Maybe the man really was hoodwinked by Bernie Madoff, after all."

Just hours after the Mets managed to raise eyebrows and confirm they were a team worth paying attention to, even in losing two out of three to the New York Yankees this weekend, word gets out about an interview their embattled owner -- so ensnared in Madoff's Ponzi scheme that he's being sued for $1 billion -- granted to The New Yorker. An interview in which Wilpon insults his best players, at a time when it's the last thing this franchise needs, evidently attempting to absolve himself from the latest preponderance of evidence pointing to the Mets' desperate need for new ownership more than new players.

If only we could fire owners!

The owner is quoted as saying his star player, Jose Reyes, "thinks he's going to get Carl Crawford money. He's had everything wrong with him. He won't get it." How can it be interpreted as anything but disrespectful when Wilpon refers to himself as a "schmuck" because he paid Carlos Beltran $119 million over seven years based on one huge postseason performance with the Houston Astros back in 2004?

Wilpon called the face of the franchise, David Wright, "a very good player. Not a superstar." When asked if the team was "snakebitten," Wilpon is quoted as giving a half-laugh before saying, "you mean …" and then pantomiming a checked swing of a bat, clearly mocking the infamous called third strike taken by Beltran from the St. Louis Cardinals' Adam Wainwright to end Game 7 of the National League Championship Series back in 2006.

Yet, somehow, folks in this city still walk around wondering why the Mets are perennially second-class citizens. And worse, that they always appear to be just fine with that status.

The only thing one can surmise out of all this is that Wilpon is all-in as the consummate victim. He wasn't around while former general manager Omar Minaya was signing all of those players. He had nothing to do with the dereliction of leadership that's infected the Mets franchise over the last four or five years, during which his own son, Jeff, has been chief operating officer.

Blame Minaya! Blame former manager Willie Randolph! Or Randolph's successor, Jerry Manuel! Blame Reyes! Blame Wright!

Blame anybody not named Wilpon!

The worst part of it all is that Wilpon's latest faux pas -- diarrhea of the mouth -- is taking attention away from all the good things the Mets are doing these days.

They're just two games under .500 and if they'd won on Sunday you'd be hearing whispers about a wild-card race. Reyes is batting .310 and playing well. Beltran is decent, not to mention healthy. Youngsters like Justin Turner and Jason Pridie have been pleasant surprises. K-Rod has converted 15 saves in 16 opportunities with an ERA below 1.00. Terry Collins looks better and better managing this ballclub every day.

The question would be: Does Fred Wilpon have plans we're unaware of?

Wilpon's words are a recipe for disaster because they provide the perfect excuse for players to lay down and tell him to go spend some time in a cell with his buddy Bernie, for all they care. His ill-advised quotes make Collins' job, and that of GM Sandy Alderson, that much harder, particularly if and when they decide to pursue potential free agents (assuming the Wilpons can afford any).

Then again, maybe that's the good news. Maybe Fred Wilpon doesn't plan on sticking around for the long haul.

Maybe Fred has read the handwriting on the wall, recognizing most folks wish he would just go away. Maybe he'll come to his senses, or be forced to by the lawsuit, and finally sell the Mets.

Hallelujah!

It would be the responsible thing for him to do, relieving us all of having to listen to his nonsense. Or even worse, hearing from the slimeball Madoff.

"Fred was not at all stock-market savvy," Madoff wrote to author Jeffrey Toobin via email. "And [brother-in-law] Saul [Katz] was not either. They were strictly real estate people. Although I explained the strategy to them they were not sophisticated enough to evaluate it properly. They were not in a position to perform the necessary due diligence."

How profound. How on-point.

What we all suspected, just by watching how the Mets have been run for years, was validated in one paragraph.

Wilpon didn't have a clue about how to run his business or deal with people, which explains why he invested half his fortune with Bernie. He doesn't have a clue now. And the person who put it most succinctly -- in an effort to defend his buddy, Wilpon -- is the nation's ultimate scam artist, with the trust barometer of a cockroach around food.

Go figure!

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

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