The funniest person on Twitter these days is New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson. His account – @MetsGM – reads like a good parody. Only it's really him, the actual Mets GM firing tweet after snide tweet at the team that pays him, which makes it a thousand times funnier than satire ever could be.
Gallows humor plays well with the Mets, the biggest disaster in professional sports. They turn 50 this year, and their midlife crisis isn't one whiled away in the driver's seat of a Miata. Nor, as much as he'd like to be the case, the one in the car Alderson is driving to Mets spring training.
Alderson's Twitter narrative thus far has focused on his jaunt to Port St. Lucie, Fla. His latest tweet encapsulates his message: "Will have to drive carefully on trip; Mets only reimburse for gas at a downhill rate. Will try to coast all the way to FL." Considering in his two years as Mets GM Alderson has seen the opening day payroll drop from $134.4 million to $118.8 million to a projected $93 million, at least downhill is something to which he has grown accustomed.
Left unsaid by Alderson are the culprits of his, and the Mets', plight: majority owner Fred Wilpon, his son Jeff and his brother-in-law Saul Katz. In the eyes of Mets fans, they are the three stooges. In those of a man named Irving Picard, they are the three blind mice. Picard is the trustee for the victims of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, from which Wilpon and his family profited. Picard claims Wilpon was "willfully blind" to Madoff's fraud, and while his attempt to secure $1 billion in reparations failed, the trial for his clawback suit of nearly $400 million is scheduled to begin March 19.
The Madoff mess has thrown the Mets into a death spiral exacerbated by years of front-office mismanagement and rendered what should be one of baseball's jewel franchises a joke on the level of – or even exceeding – the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hell, at least the @DodgersGM Twitter account is a fake.
It's with that backdrop Mets camp opens in nine days, hopefully under such a cloud for the final time. While a number of high-level sources within baseball believe this is finally the year Wilpon will agree to sell the Mets – particularly with the Dodgers' bidding exceeding an insane $1.5 billion – they admit such thinking could be wishful. As he has shown, Wilpon is happy to downgrade his Mercedes to a Toyota so long as he maintains his kung-fu grip on the wheel.
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Picard's case seemed to receive a boost last week when the testimony of noted whistleblower Noreen Harrington became public. Harrington worked for a Wilpon-led hedge fund, Sterling Stamos, and was tasked with vetting investments with Madoff. She said she warned Katz that Madoff's profits were either through insider trading or patently false. Such proclamations, Harrington said, were rebuffed and ignored. Katz claimed under oath to have no recollection of her warnings.
Whatever the whims of the court case determine, a cadaverous odor has attached itself to Wilpon's ownership and glommed onto the Mets. How commissioner Bud Selig continues to stand by Wilpon remains a great testament to cronyism. The Mets' debt problem, broken down in depth at Amazin' Avenue, doesn't look to be vanishing anytime soon. The sale of 10 vanity shares in the team for $20 million apiece went so poorly, SNY – the Mets' TV station in which the team holds two-thirds ownership – bought four and Sterling Equities – Wilpon and Katz's investment firm – purchased two more.
Surely Selig can't continue to back a franchise that robs its left pocket to pay its right.
Already the Mets are 4½ months late paying back a $25 million loan MLB extended to them in November 2010. They took another $40 million from Bank of America due next month. The best-case scenario for Selig is that Wilpon's mound of debt collapses his ownership and forces him to sell – almost a certainty if Picard wins his suit.
Should Wilpon avoid payment in the Madoff case, the $200 million in minority ownership could stabilize the Mets in the short term – and considering the lengths to which Wilpon has gone to retain his position, he may find a way to weasel out of the cash-flow shortage coming from the expected drying up of revenue.
The Mets' attendance took a beating last season, and as a deeply flawed team tries to compete in the loaded National League East, fans already sickened by the stench emanating from Citi Field will protest in the only way fans can: by not showing up. Whether a money drought would force Wilpon to sell is unknown. They could pare payroll even more. Never has Selig been one to get on a team for slashing costs, though few teams have so furiously wielded weed whackers.
To have the Mets – a team in New York, for goodness' sake – operate like those in flyover states and depressed economies is such a waste of an audience, a fan base, a market. What a good owner wouldn't give for the Mets and their inherent advantages. It's the thought of what could be – and what isn't – that makes the Mets such a modern sports tragedy: a story of greed and gluttony, of irresponsibility and hubris, of something great tarnished by someone far from it.
So here they are: Fred Wilpon owning a New York baseball franchise with a sub-$100 million payroll; David Wright, Johan Santana and Jason Bay cannibalizing more than 60 percent of it; fans nauseous at that thought and so many others about this flawed team; loan officers wondering when they're going to get paid; Bernie Madoff sitting in a North Carolina prison for the next 150 years; Citi Field, with its pulled-in fences, ready to sit half-empty, maybe worse; and Sandy Alderson tweeting his merry way down to Florida.
It's funny in a way. And it's not in so many more.
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- Fred Wilpon
- the Mets
- Sandy Alderson
- Bernie Madoff