There should be some real tough questions asked about the integrity of the Mets ownership group and whether those businessmen have the ability to run a Major League Baseball franchise.
Although it is hard to remove an owner, under the present commissioner Major League Baseball has made the Cincinnati Reds Marge Schott and the Los Angeles Dodgers Frank McCourt disappear. MLB also removed a city they didn’t like, Montreal, from their group.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig claims to be making hard decisions, although you wonder about his real power after signing off on Alex Rodriguez’s 211 game suspension for Rodriguez’s alleged involved with a Miami, Florida-area anti-aging drug clinic and then not be forced to testify at the Rodriguez arbitration. Is Selig the man in power or just a puppet at the end of strings manipulated by someone else?
Selig and the commissioner’s office seemingly have not gotten involved with the mess that is the Mets ownership. There are three points that Selig and Major League Baseball should review when looking at Mets ownership.
The fitness of Fred Wilpon and New York Mets majority owner to own a franchise.
The fitness of Steve Cohen to be an investor in the Mets franchise.
The fitness of Bob Pittman to be a minority owner in the Mets franchise.
Wilpon has been around the Mets since 1980 when he and Nelson Doubleday bought the team from the Payson family. He was a minority owner in 1980 but purchased majority control of the Mets in 2002. He has been in Major League Baseball for a long time and has friends in the highest level of the industry. But he was also involved with Bernard Madoff, the one-time stock broker, financial advisor and founder of NASDAQ who is serving 150 years in prison for operating the biggest Ponzi scheme ever uncovered in American history. Madoff is supposed to pay $17 billion to his victims. Wilpon is scheduled to pay about $162 million as part of the restitution to Madoff victims.
Wilpon was somehow involved with Madoff but denied ever knowing what was taking place in the scheme. Madoff claimed Wilpon never knew but if that’s the case why is Wilpon paying victims $162 million?
But the Madoff adventure seeming has made the Mets the Kmart of Major League Baseball surrounded by the Nieman Marcus stores in Boston, the Bronx, Philadelphia, Detroit, Dallas and Los Angeles. There is absolutely no way a New York baseball franchise should be operating on a shoe string especially when the franchise owns a stadium and a piece of a regional cable TV network.
Wilpon’s string of bad luck started on November 13, 2006 when he announced a stadium rights naming deal for his new ballpark with Citibank. Wilpon’s agreement called for Citibank to pay $400 million over 20 years starting when the ball park opened in 2009. Nearly two years later, Citibank accepted a President George W. Bush administration bailout to help them stay in business. Despite some public pressure to back out of the Citibank agreement, Wilpon kept the deal in place. Taxpayers would in a small way pay for the stadium’s naming rights. About a month later, the news of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme broke. In November 2010, Wilpon was sued on behalf of the Madoff victims by Irving Picard. Some of Madoff’s money seeped into the Mets operations.
Wilpon and Madoff were social friends.
Major League Baseball loaned the franchise $25 million in 2010 so the Wilpon Mets could stay afloat.
Fred Wilpon, who operates the majority ownership with his brother-in-law Saul Katz and son Jeff, claimed the team would have money to buy players in the 2013 free agent period. Some major contacts have come off the books but so far, the Mets franchise has not invested much in the market.
Wilpon’s minority partner Steve Cohen was and may still be in legal trouble with the Security and Exchanges Commission. Cohen’s company, SAC Capitol is paying the SEC somewhere between $1.2 and 1.8 billion in fines for insider trading. Cohen wasn’t in legal trouble as in facing a prison term for that and blamed rogue employees for the problem. Cohen’s company is now forbidden from outside trading but the SEC’s investigation is not closed yet. There could be more to come in the spring and Cohen might face some very serious charges or it might go away.
Major League Baseball is apparently not paying too much attention to Cohen or another minority owner Bob Pittman.
Pittman, the President and CEO of Clear Channel, does not bring any financial or legal problems to the table. But if baseball writers were on the ball, Pittman presents a whole set of other problems for the Wilpon led team. As the President and CEO of Clear Channel, a communications company that among its assets owns radio stations nationally, Pittman defended Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut on February 29, 2012.
Major League Baseball officials probably knew that most people would not connect the dots and showcase Pittman as a Mets minority owner who defended his employee Limbaugh after the Limbaugh/Fluke incident. Fluke was scheduled to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about insurance companies and practices regarding covering birth control. She never got the opportunity being blocked by a Republican Congressman. She did speak to the committee’s Democrats and that got Limbaugh’s attention.
He called her a slut and a prostitute. Pittman stood by Limbaugh, others didn’t and Limbaugh made a public apology on March 3, 2012. He was just trying to be funny.
Pittman said Limbaugh’s tirade didn’t impact the business. It did. Limbaugh lost many advertisers and was boycotted by women’s groups.
Pittman has proven useful to the Mets. His Clear Channel owned station in New York WOR has picked up Mets radio rights after the CBS owned WFAN decided to walk away from the team and a money losing contract. The games will be aired on WOR and Pittman will use other New York Clear Channel stations as a promotional platform for the team.
There is something of an irony in Pittman signing the Mets for WOR. WOR is adding Limbaugh to the station as well. There may be some days where Limbaugh will either be a lead-in or interrupted by Mets broadcasts. Maybe someone will connect the dots and figure out the Mets minority owner has the back of someone who called a woman a slut and a prostitute which triggered a national boycott of his show and advertiser fallout. The last thing Major League Baseball and the Mets need is someone brining up that a Mets minority owner gave the tacit approval for someone in one of his other businesses to put down women. But that could be the case come the first game of the pre-season in February and March.
The New York Metropolitans franchise is a mess. Major League Baseball has one of its soldiers, Sandy Alderson, in the building to try and right the ship but that may not be enough. The ownership group needs to be thoroughly examined for fitness and ability to run a franchise just like Schott, just like McCourt.
Evan Weiner can be reached at [email protected]<mailto:[email protected]> . His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/365489) and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/americas-passion-how-coal/id595575002?mt=11), From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/from-peach-baskets-to-dance/id636914196?mt=11 ) and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/business-and-politics-of-sports-evan-weiner/1101715508?ean=2940044505094 ) are available.