BUD SELIG, THE ENABLER: His Close Friendship with Fred Wilpon Has Damaged the Mets, the City, and the Sport

Bud Selig makes his "Home Alone" face, but continues to stand behind his BFF -- to the detriment of the team, the city, and the sport.

Bud Selig makes his “Home Alone” face, but continues to stand behind his BFF — to the detriment of the team, the city, and the sport.

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Jimmy:

We’ve been blogging for almost a year and the money is crazy good. Now we’re both cruising in tricked-up Bentleys. I can look back on many posts and think, “Okay, that was good.” But skimming the archives, I regret that we’ve haven’t re-examined the ultimate target in the debacle that is the New York Mets franchise.

We’ve talked about the hitting coach and the pitching coach, the manager and the general manager (now concluding his 8th straight losing season), the owner and the owner’s son.

Yet it could be argued that all of this squalidness rests at the feet of Bud Selig, the enabler. Patient Zero.

Mike:

Well, I won’t start with him, but he is on the list. If the team was properly capitalized, if the owners hadn’t thrown all in with Bernie Madoff, then nothing with Selig comes into play. So it always starts with Fred, Saul, and Jeff. It’s not like Selig has had to get involved with every current owner.

But, yes, he is high on the list of people who do not have the best interests of New York City and it’s baseball fans in their interests.

 

What's so funny? Fred Wilpon, Bud Selig, and Bob DuPuy.

What’s so funny? Fred Wilpon, Bud Selig, and Bob DuPuy.

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Jimmy:

In Los Angeles, when ownership was proven to be less than solvent, Bud Selig had no problem stepping in for the betterment of baseball. That’s a situation that turned on a dime. Credible ownership. However, the McCourts were not close with Bud. Not like our Fred. So the question is, has Bud Selig’s personal friendship with Wilpon & Katz clouded his judgment? Has he, in fact, allowed that relationship to not only damage the popularity of baseball in NYC, but harm all of baseball — the entire revenue-sharing sport?

Again, to restate it clearly: Has Bud Selig’s personal friendship with Fred Wilpon — and his failure to address the owner’s insolvency in a professional, business-like manner — caused serious damage to the sport?

Mike:

That saying, “It’s not personal, it’s business.” Well, this is personal, and bad business. I cannot for the life of me understand why the other owners never went nuts. If I owned another team I would be going nuts. Only 5,000 people showing up at Citi Field every night in New York is hurting the entire enterprise.

Jimmy:

It’s been almost five years since Madoff was linked to the Wilpons.

Five years, 12/7/08, since Jeff Wilpon was quoted in the NY Daily News:

amd-madoff-cover-jpgJeff Wilpon admits he and his father, Mets owner Fred Wilpon, were “completely blindsided” in losing hundreds of millions of dollars in the $50 billion securities fraud scandal allegedly perpetrated by longtime family friend and business associate Bernard Madoff.

But Jeff Wilpon insisted Wednesday that those substantial losses will “not at all” affect the Mets or any of their related businesses as they move into their new stadium in 2009. “It’s not what we believe, it’s that we know what our financial position is,” Wilpon said after new closer Francisco Rodriguez was introduced at a press conference at the Citi Building in Long Island City. “The individual partners lost some money at Madoff. But it doesn’t affect the Mets. It doesn’t affect the Citi Field project. It doesn’t affect (team-owned television network) SNY or any of our operating businesses.

We know now, as we strongly suspected then, that the words coming out of Jeff’s mouth were not true. The Wilpons were instantly on to the next scam. A couple of years later, we heard rumblings of a potential sale in the air. It’s worth revisiting a strong 2011 article by Ken Rosenthal:
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If you’re a New York Mets fan, you might be wondering if Commissioner Bud Selig will invoke his “best interests of the game” powers and act to help the embattled franchise.

The short-term answer, for a variety of reasons, is no. The long-term answer, as long as the Mets continue to meet their financial obligations, probably will be no, too.

Commented an unnamed executive on Selig’s relationship with Fred:

412424523_21d3228490“[Selig] will do everything humanly possible to help the Wilpons. He will bend himself into a pretzel to help them.”

In the Rosenthal article, several executives pointed to the Mets high payroll (at the time). “‘They still have a payroll of about $140 million,’ said one official of an American League club. ‘It’s not as if all of a sudden they’re the Pittsburgh Pirates.’”

Here’s another similar comment from the same piece:

“Their payroll, for better or worse, remains among the highest in the game, while the Dodgers last season were outspent by the Minnesota Twins.”

Don’t look back, Mets fans, but the situation has only gotten worse. The Minnesota Twins (a team with a much stronger farm system, btw) are gaining on the Wilpon’s incredible shrinking franchise. For easy reference, 2013 team payrolls:

  • New York Yankees $228,995,945
  • Los Angeles Dodgers $216,302,909
  • Philadelphia $159,578,214
  • Boston $158,967,286
  • Detroit $149,046,844
  • San Francisco $142,180,333
  • Los Angeles Angels $142,165,250
  • Texas $127,197,575
  • Chicago White Sox $124,065,277
  • Toronto $118,244,039
  • St. Louis $116,702,085
  • Washington $112,431,770
  • Cincinnati $110,565,728
  • Chicago Cubs $104,150,726
  • Baltimore $91,793,333
  • Milwaukee $91,003,366
  • Arizona $90,158,500
  • Atlanta $89,288,193
  • New York Mets $88,877,033
  • Seattle $84,295,952
  • Cleveland $82,517,300
  • Kansas City $80,491,725
  • Minnesota $75,562,500
  • Colorado $75,449,071
  • San Diego $71,689,900
  • Oakland $68,577,000
  • Pittsburgh $66,289,524
  • Tampa Bay $57,030,272
  • Miami $39,621,900
  • Houston $24,328,538

Something changed in Los Angeles, but I can’t put my finger on it. What could it be, what could it be . . . ?

5086266aafa96f64fb00010a

In a related piece, Mike, I dug up an article with this incredible (and devastating) tidbit:

Despite currently having the worst record in baseball, the lowest payroll this century and the third-worst attendance rate in Major League Baseball, the 2013 Houston Astros are set to become the most profitable team in league history.

According to a Forbes report, the Astros are set to pull in an estimated $99 million in operating income this season, which is nearly as much as the estimated operating income of the last six World Series championship teams combined.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Astros began the season with a league-low $26 million active payroll and have since reduced that to under $13 million.

It actually pays to suck. What a business! What a scam! Conclusion: The system is broken. It’s getting dark here in NY, once a great center of baseball commerce, and it’s not like the baseball fans in Houston are enjoying the sunshine either. Sure, somebody’s getting rich, but it’s not the fans. And strangely, this can’t be in the best interest of most owners either.

Mike:

Unlike other major sports, baseball does not have a floor on spending. With very large luxury taxes, there is, in effect, a cap. I have been surprised for some time now that the Players Association has not made this a major negotiation point.

Jimmy:

Agreed. There absolutely should be a floor. The big winner here is the biggest loser on the field. Something’s rotten in the ballpark.

Ian O’Conner said it back in May, 2011:

Bud Selig needs someone new to run the New York Mets, and deep down he knows it. Before Fred Wilpon brings any more embarrassment to his team and his sport, Selig has to take the ball out of his friend’s hand and give him a pat on the back as a parting gift.

Selig executed a hostile takeover of Frank McCourt’s Dodgers, appointing a former Texas Rangers executive to say yes or no to every financial decision that McCourt’s dysfunctional franchise is pressed to make.

The Mets need the same kind of sentinel until Wilpon cashes out for good. If Selig doesn’t take control of the Mets the way he took control of the Dodgers, there will remain only one plausible explanation:

Wilpon is a buddy of his, and McCourt is not.

Instead of smarmy votes of confidence, and pledges of allegiance, Bud Selig needs to stop enabling his old BBF. For the good of the Mets, the city, and the sport, Bud Selig needs to push aside his personal friendship and start acting like . . . the Commissioner of Baseball.

For the best interests of the game, Fred must sell.

It may be painful, but Bud Selig must deliver the message: "For the good of baseball, Fred, you must sell."

Bud Selig has failed to intervene on behalf of baseball fans in New York.

 

 

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24 comments

  1. RAFF says:

    YOU DARE TO QUESTION THE GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ ?!?!?

  2. It might be useful to remember that the oligarchy of baseball team owners are not like us. They are not, first and foremost, primarily fans of baseball who see their role as stewards of a great public tradition, to be respected and shepherded into the 21st century. They are amoral businessmen who could as easily be selling used cars (in Selig’s case), as running a baseball franchise. So what the Wilpons are doing in New York or what the owners are doing in Houston makes sense from that perspective. Ironically, however, these owners, by putting their individual greed first, will only hurt each other in the long-run, as the sport as a whole is undermined by each individual instance of personal greed. This is how capitalism run amok ends up destroying itself, and why it needs to be regulated by an impartial outside force (anyone remember when baseball used to have a real commissioner?) So, in that sense, baseball is simply a microcosm of American society at large, where the de facto operating principle is a neo-Darwinian, libertarian free-for-all in which lawyers replace personal responsibility, and the town common is sold off to the highest bidder.
    In other words, when do you think the last time was that either Selig or Wilpon played catch?

    • Patrick Boegel says:

      I’d challenge that when baseball had a “real” commissioner, the system was no better off for the fans and certainly not the players. And has never been about capitalism but quasi mixed economic schemes.

      By way of it’s anti-trust exemption baseball operates outside the bounds of reality. In real economics the Mets would be forced to sell, but they are not actually a business, they are sort of one department of a business. So the business can afford to write off the Mets, the Astros, whomever in spurts as long as their is a Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox at the opposite end.

      Starting a business, nurturing it and maintaining it in real world quasi capitalism is hard. But I could start a restaurant, deli, brewery, electronics store if I wanted to with a reasonable possibility of a good outcome.

      I could not start a baseball team nor even buy a baseball team without a grand invite. That is not economics it is essentially organized crime. But it is acceptable organized crime, because no one really gets hurt.

      • Which is why I referred to baseball as an oligarchy. No one gets “hurt”, though the fans in places like N.Y., Florida and Houston certainly do get cheated. The too-big-to-fail banks are also largely immune from the consequences of their actions. One difference is that Baseball’s antitrust exemption is official and out in the open, while the de facto antitrust exemptions that exist up and down our private sector are just as real, though not nearly as commented upon. The last large corporation I remember being broken up for the public good was AT&T back in ’84. While the economy is “real” to most of us who don’t have the means to cocoon ourselves from the consequences of our actions via legislation bought and paid for in Congress, for others it’s a virtual no-fault hobby where, as you put it, the grand invite is the key to the kingdom.

  3. Brian Joura says:

    I’m in favor of a salary floor but I think the $480,000 x 25 that currently exists requires no tinkering.

  4. Alan K. says:

    It’s not only Fred Wilpon, Selig has also given a free pass to Jeffrey Loria,who has destroyed two MLB franchises. Clearly Bud places personal relationships above the best interests of baseball.

  5. Dave says:

    Jim,
    I share your desire for new ownership. New owners often correlate with an “up cycle” in success on the field/at the turnstiles (Doubleday with the Mets, Henry with the Red Sox, Magic and the Guggenheim group with the Dodgers are all good examples). However, I don’t think it is reasonable to expect Selig to force a sale a la McCourt. Selig is well down the list of those who should be blamed for the Mets problems. Yes, the Wilpons have made many bad decisions, but they haven’t engaged in the kind of purposeful malfeasance that caused Selig (and all the other owners) to target McCourt.

    The Mets are a below average team with a middling payroll. As fans, we hate this. But the team is solvent, even if the owners don’t spend the way we think they should. But here’s the thing…in 2013, the size of the payroll isn’t as critical as it used to be. I used to say that in the MLB, a big payroll doesn’t guarantee success in the win-loss column, but a small payroll guarantees failure. Not so this year. With two weeks to play, only four of the top ten payroll teams are division leaders or within two games of a playoff spot (Dodgers, Red Sox, Tigers, Rangers). The 10 teams with the lowest payrolls also include 4 teams leading the division or within two games of a playoff spot (A’s, Pirates, Indians, Rays). The Braves and the Reds have payrolls close to the Mets, and both are in the playoff mix. So, at least this year, there is minimal connection between payroll and being in the playoff hunt. This makes it even harder for Selig to inject his office into the Mets ownership situation.

    • Patrick Boegel says:

      The team is solvent? I’d question that, the ownership group has enormous debt hitting them beginning next spring. And despite their connections that allowed them to refinance that debt a couple of times, they are not going to be able to go to that well again.

      Here are the list of teams in cash order and their last World Series & Playoff appearance accordingly:

      New York Yankees – 2009, 2012
      Los Angeles Dodgers – 1988, 2009
      Philadelphia – 2009, 2011
      Boston – 2007, 2010
      Detroit – 2012, 2012
      San Francisco – 2012, 2012
      Los Angeles Angels – 2002, 2009
      Texas – 2011, 2012
      Chicago White Sox – 2005, 2008
      Toronto – 1993, 1993
      St. Louis – 2011, 2012
      Washington – never, 2012
      Cincinnati – 1990, 2012
      Chicago Cubs – 1945, 2008
      Baltimore – 1983, 2012
      Milwaukee – 1982, 2011
      Arizona – 2001, 2011
      Atlanta – 1999, 2012
      New York Mets – 2000, 2006
      Seattle – never, 2001
      Cleveland – 1997, 2007
      Kansas City – 1985, 1985
      Minnesota – 1991, 2010
      Colorado – 2007, 2009
      San Diego – 1998, 2006
      Oakland – 1990, 2012
      Pittsburgh – 1979, 1992
      Tampa Bay – 2008, 2011
      Miami – 2003, 2003
      Houston – 2005, 2005

      This is only most recent, if you added quantity it would look even more devastating for the bottom tier. There are three franchises who have not made the playoffs in the wild card era.

      The odds greatly favor the franchise which can charge more, earn more and sell rights fees for more. Unlike the NFL where it is conceivable for the Chiefs to field a team under the same conditions as the Giants, there is simply no road map for that in baseball. If you are a bottom market team like Tampa Bay you have to be right and have it mostly break your way internally.

  6. Good comment, Dave, thanks for joining the discussion.

    As to the Wilpons’ solvency, that’s something I’d love to see them demonstrate. There is a lot of debt and, reportedly, not much income. The slope is on a rather steep decline. They reported losing $70 million a couple of years back. But at this point, no one really believes anything they say.

    Is that enough to compel Bud Selig to act in the interest of baseball? No, I guess not. But the ins and outs are obscure. In the past, The Lords of Baseball have kept potential owners out because they lacked the financial resources to successfully run a stable organization, sort of like the bank denying a mortgage. But once an owner is in, I can see that it’s a trickier proposition. The Wilpons were never super rich compared to other owners; they got in through the back door by screwing Doubleday in the small print. Now without the benefit of illegal income via best pal Bernie Madoff, the Wilpons are hurting for money. Now another best pal twists himself into a pretzel to help Fred keep his prize.

    I don’t argue with the low payroll guys. If that’s the way you see it, so be it. But it’s not at all my point of view. Can a team like the Pirates get in, yes, of course; no one has ever denied it. Yet it takes a perfect storm. I’d rather have money. We are talking likelihoods, probabilities, trends. Didn’t the Yankees get into playoffs something like 17 out of 18 years? Will the Astros rise again? Sure, if they keep getting #1 picks. Will there be any fans to cheer it? I don’t know.

    Right now, the Mets got dropped by WFAN. You can’t hear them in Albany, where I live. Nobody goes to the park. It’s a morgue. Payroll is down about $60M, depending on how you count Bay’s contract. And the team is in its 5th consecutive losing season, circling the drain. It’s a poorly-run franchise and, again, IMO, the sport, the city, and Mets fans all suffer. It’s time for Fred to sell.

    Bud Selig sat back and watched steroids infiltrate the game. Ultimately, he was forced to act. I guess the current situation has to get so embarrassing that he has no other choice. Look, there’s nothing groundbreaking in what I wrote in the above post. It’s all old news. But time continues to pass. And I just felt like it was a day to remember the names of the crooks.

    • Alan K. says:

      The Wilpons have a $320 million dollar loan from JPMorgan Chase that is due in June 2014 and a $600 million dollar loan that they took against their equity stake in SNY that is due in 2015. (imagine Fred and Saul as the Duke Brothers in the margin call scene in “Trading Places”) So perhaps these circumstances may push the Wilpons off the ledge or to the point that Bud is in a position where he has no choice to push them off. Or maybe Bud retires and leaves the dirty work to the new commissioner, who ironically could be Sandy Alderson

  7. Dave says:

    Jim,

    The Mets as a franchise are every bad thing you said. I desperately want Wilpon to sell. New ownership would bring a much needed jolt of energy/hope to all of us as fans. My primary point is that Selig can’t be expected to force the sale of every franchise that is mis-managed or unsuccessful because of bad draft choices, bad free agent signings, unlucky injuries, etc. The commissioner has alot of power, but he needs virtually unanimous supprt from the owners to force a sale as he did with the Dodgers.

    It is clear at this point that the Wilpons will not be pressured or shamed into selling the team. I’m not sure what the catalyst will be. We can hope that circumstances (fiscal or otherwise) may force Wilpon to sell. The sooner the better, but we can’t expect Bud Selig to do our (Mets fans) bidding.

    • Never mentioned weak draft picks and how they run the team. I never mentioned bad luck, or injuries, or poor free agent signings. Those are entirely beside the point. For me, this is not about their decisions in any way, shape, or form. The ONLY issue of relevance, where Bud Selig is concerned, is the Wilpons’ ability to finance the operation. And yes, to finance a New York franchise, not the Long Island Ducks. You said up top, Dave, that they are solvent. In which case, if true, there’s really nothing else to be said. But if this is a sinking ship, it behooves MLB to step in before it completely goes under.

      • Michael Geus says:

        And if the Wilpons have been truly solvent the entire time, why did they need last resort financing from their fellow owners? That sure looks like Bud’s version of TARP to me.

      • Patrick Boegel says:

        I think we know definitively they are not solvent financially.

        I can understand their apprehension in not doling out long term contracts left and right, but they have had plenty of opportunity to spend decent money wisely the last three years and have not done anything at all.

        The Dodgers managed to extend Matt Kemp with an owner in bankruptcy and an arbiter essentially running the teams finances defacto.

        The Mets however could not do the same with Jose Reyes, a homegrown talent, because it was straddling the Clawback lawsuit on the timeline.

        That never meshed in my mind. And fans can say what they will about Reyes, his game is his legs yada yada yada. Yes he missed this time because he rolled an ankle (ironic, he was sliding feet first something he never does) but last year he produced to the value of a $19MM ball player, this year in half a season $9MM. That is the type of talent when you own it, you invest back in it, even if there is a risk, because you don’t lose draft picks in the process.

        Instead the Mets going into 2014 find themselves short handed on offense, without a shortstop, in a season where they had to garbage pick Eric Young to get some speed and dynamics into their awful station to station game.

        How did I get here? Oh , solvency. A solvent ownership doesn’t allow that type of talent to just walk away. They know it. We know it. Sandy Alderson knows it, despite his soliloquy on 2nd generation contracts.

        But as always my point on the expiration of contracts to Messrs. Bay and Santana, they knew they were coming, exactly how much and when, so creatively play around them. Even with Wright, they made the fatal flaw of back loading his deal.

        • Michael Geus says:

          Patrick, I agree on this 100% on what has been transpiring. No smart businessman lets Reyes walk at the point that went down, that was not Sandy. A decision like that comes from ownership, and they had the clawback still hanging over them.

          As the underlying assets (the Mets, SNY) can shift in equity value, and the clawback is over, can these guys get to a point where they can invest again or not? Another year has went by where we did not.

          I have said it before, and I will continue to say it, the single most important thing for this franchise is to see moves that indicate solvency. They can fail and it won’t matter. George Foster did not work out, but it was a signal that we were back in business, from the very top on down.

          Until we see action, not words, from ownership, I will remain dubious.

          • Also, consider that the Marlins traded Reyes after one year — and the haul from that multi-player deal includes their gold glove-caliber SS for the next 6 years.

            We got bupkis.

  8. RAFF says:

    Dave makes salient points regarding the somewhat apparent lack of a pure linear relationship regarding Payroll versus Performance. Well stated. And also, let’s all agree that Player Development- Drafting and Finding and Developing the right guys is always beneficial to a team’s Performance on the field. However, isn’t it also relavent to judge a team against Performance to PLAN? Here’s what I mean – Small Market/Low Budget teams PLAN to make Player Development the basis of their success- They have no other choice. Larger Market/Budget teams can depend on more spending to fill in the gaps. How does this pertain to the Mets? — And how does this relate to Performance Versus Plan? Simply- The Mets management, in various forums has stated that their near-term plan was to be a $100MM+ club. This should mean that as they endeavor to become a Player Development Machine, they will avail themselves of their Large-Market abilities, and Supposed Liquidity/Financial Stability, to acquire talent on the open market. For the past two years- They have NOT DONE THIS. They are at least $30MM below their Stated Plan… They have not implemented their stated plan. And their performance? The numbers don’t lie- But I suspect They Do.

  9. Dave says:

    I think we have found common ground. If the franchise is headed for a fiscal shipwreck, then the commissioner should intervene. Reasonable minds can differ about when he should intervene, how he should intervene, etc. The other 29 owners will have a lot to say about this.

  10. Alan K. says:

    If the Mets can’t pay or re-finance the $320 million dollar loan from JPMorgan Chase that is due in June 2014, I think there will be more pressure on Bud to act…

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