Saturday, December 4th | 1 Tevet 5782

January 31, 2011 3:46 pm

Madoff’s Mayhem Mauls the Mets

avatar by Maxine Dovere

Fred Wilpon, owner of the New York Mets, greets Robert Morgenthau at the 2011 Police Athletic League Gala. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

Cipriani on Forty Second Street in Manhattan was the venue for the 2011 Police  Athletic  League (P.A.L.) annual gala, this year honoring Richard Lynn (“Sandy”) Alderson, recently appointed General Manager of the New York Mets. Leaders of government and industry came to support the child advocacy association and salute Alderson.

The 63 year old Alderson is a baseball veteran, having worked with the Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres and the Major League Commissioner’s office.  A Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School graduate,  he was general manager of the Oakland A’s from 1983 through 1997, during which time the team won division titles (4), pennants (3) and the 1989 World Series.  He was executive vice president of the Major League Baseball commissioner’s office between September 1998 and 2005, then becoming CEO of the San Diego Padres.  During his tenure, the team won division titles in 2005 and 2006.  Alderson worked with Commissioner Bud Selig on stemming baseball corruption in the Dominican Republic and is chairman of Major League Baseball’s Playing Rules Committee.

Of major interest during the evening were remarks made by Mets owner Fred Wilpon.  One must wonder if the always gracious executive’s comments were made “standing on one foot, or if he used the opportunity to present a well thought out and well rehearsed statement on team policy.  The long time owner of the New York Mets gave some insight into Mets’ organization’s possible management plans including comments on possible placement of former General Manager Omar Minaya, who Wilpon said,  might become part of the Mets management, working under Alderson, the man who replaced him.  Wilpon suggested that “something to do with the baseball area, looking at talent, maybe in the international area,” might be suitable.  After all, the Mets are paying him over a million a year for the next two years.

Former Attorney General of the City of New York Robert Morgenthau with John Catsimatidis, CEO of the Red Apple Group. Catsimatidis, a significant supporter of P.A.L., has been honored for his work with the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

Commenting about Minaya’s possible continued association with the team, Alderson said that “I think anybody would need some time adjust(ing) to that. … I think you’ve got to give people some space to figure out what they want to do.”

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The Wilpons  appear to have limited spending during  the immediate past seasons,  perhaps in preparation for the  2012 team building that  may be needed as the  contracts of Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Carlos Beltran terminate. Speaking on Thursday,  Wilpon said  “Some people have to produce, but I’m happy about where we are going into spring training,” said Wilpon, adding that there is some financial latitude to add payroll “in a practical way” if the Mets contend in 2011. “Our payroll is approaching $150 million.”   He continued, saying “I do (feel better) now with the structural and fundamental changes in the whole baseball department” under new GM Sandy Alderson.  Wilpon said “I think we have a good team, and I think we have a much better team than you (in the media) and the public give us credit for.”

Speaking with Fred Wilpon literally hours earlier, the next day’s statements would have been difficult to predict.  Court-appointed Madoff trustee Irving Picard had filed suit in January seeking return of “fictitious” profits.  At his news conference, the extent of the Trustees claims became thoroughly public:  The suit is against Wilpon, his brother-in-law Saul Katz, and more than 100 assets they control.  The “clawback” lawsuit is seeking the return of more than 300 million dollars, according to The New York Times.

Stating that negotiations with the Madoff trustee continue, Wilpon said all possible options, which could include the sale of up to 25 percent of the Mets Baseball team, are being examined.  A consortium headed by Long Island liquor wholesaler Martin Silver, owner of Star Industries, has made known its offer to purchase the New York team.  According to a letter he has presented to Wilpon, Silver says he “would not like to see the Mets organization fall into the wrong hands.”  The consortium’s rumored offer of $700 million falls far short of the $824 million valuation recently assessed by Forbes Magazine.  Silver is not a novice to baseball team ownership; he is part owner of a “Single A” team based in Wilmington, Delaware.

Fred Wilpon bought a one-percent stake in the Mets in 1980. Doubleday & Co. held the remaining interest. In 1986, Doubleday president Nelson Doubleday, Jr. and Wilpon each bought a 50 percent stake in the Mets.  According to Forbes recent valuation of the team (about $840 million) it has not risen spectacularly since the Wilpon family purchased the last 50% share from Nelson Doubleday, Jr. in 2002, for $391 million. Wilpon was President of the team from 1980 to 2002, Chief Executive Officer since 1980 and Chairman of the Board since 2003. His son Jeffrey is now the COO of the Mets and executive vice president of Sterling Equities.

How does such an astute business person get involved with the biggest Ponzi scheme in recent history?  Did Wilpon and his Sterling Equities ever wonder about the meanderings of Madoff?  Did he ever suspect his investments with Madoff were suspect?   The trustee for the Madoff victims is seeking the return of more than 48 million Wilpon and his family received in “profits.”   Wilpon says he was simply “betrayed by someone he’d known since childhood.” It is a friendship that has come to haunt him.

The New York Mets have a long standing and warm relationship with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY) with which it sponsors the annual Jewish Heritage Day.   The event brings busloads of fans of every age to enjoy a day of community, music, and kosher food.   Last year, First Baseman Ike Davis, a grandson of Holocaust survivors and second generation professional baseball player (his father, Ron Davis, pitched for the New York Yankees) thrilled the crowd of thousands when he came to greet the fans.   Mr. Mets, the baseball headed team mascot, has thrilled the crowds at the Salute to Israel Parade.

HBO sports executive Ross Greenberg, here with the evening's Master of Ceremonies John McEnroe and New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

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