Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of New York Mets’ co-owner Fred Wilpon might not rival “Those Guys Have All The Fun” for bridge-burning revelations, but the lengthy New Yorker piece — which mostly paints Wilpon in a favorable light — does eventually highlight something more troubling than the Brooklyn native’s need to portray himself as “a dupe rather than a crook” regarding his relationship with convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff (“I don’t think Fred could be a nicer guy than he is…I feel terrible about everything that he’s going through”). Though not nearly as adept or active in working the media as his crosstown rivals, Wilpon shows all the discretion and sophistication of well, Hank Steinbrenner, in discussing his most prominent uniformed employees on the record.
In the game against the Astros, Jose Reyes, leading off for the Mets, singled sharply up the middle, then stole second. “He’s a racehorse,” Wilpon said. When Reyes started with the Mets, in 2003, just before his twentieth birthday, he was pegged as a future star. Injuries have limited him to a more pedestrian career, though he’s off to a good start this season. “He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money,” Wilpon said, referring to the Red Sox’ signing of the former Tampa Bay player to a seven-year, $142-million contract. “He’s had everything wrong with him,” Wilpon said of Reyes. “He won’t get it.”
After the catcher, Josh Thole, struck out, David Wright came to the plate. Wright, the team’s marquee attraction, has started the season dreadfully at the plate. “He’s pressing,” Wilpon said. “A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.”
When Carlos Beltran came up, I mentioned his prodigious post-season with the Astros in 2004, when he hit eight home runs, just before he went to the Mets as a free agent. Wilpon laughed, not happily. “We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one series,” he said, referring to himself. In the course of playing out his seven-year, $119-million contract with the Mets, Beltran, too, has been hobbled by injuries. “He’s sixty-five to seventy per cent of what he was.”
Despite the distasteful buyer’s remorse towards Beltran, who more than earned his salary during a 2006 season that did plenty to enhance the value of Wilpon’s baseball franchise and cable sports network, Shake Shack-chomping, baseball zealot Fred doesn’t come off all that badly. In addition to the likes of Madoff sticking up for him (ok, perhaps not the best character reference), Irving Picard’s pursuit of Wilpon and Saul Katz seems a bit over the top in Toobin’s view. In the overall scheme of things, there’s little constructive about Wilpon trashing his club’s 2011 MVP’s (and I’m not including David Wright in that group), but much to be gained by any public relations exercise that describes his intentions as something less than sinister or duplicitous. Of course, that’s providing anyone actually reads Toobin’s entire article. “It was charming when the late George Steinbrenner publicly picked fights with players, but that was his personality quirk and designed for motivation. In Wilpon’s case, it’s just pathetic,” sneers ESPN.com’s Adam Rubin, who can pretty much kiss an assistant GM job goobye with that kind of attitude. “Wilpon’s comments make him an owner a player would run through walls for — on the way out of town, to another team,” tweeted Newsday’s David Lennon, though it should be pointed out if there’s not a competing offer from a club in Beirut, the Mets will still have their pick of free agents they’re willing to brutally overpay.