Fred and Jeff Wilpon: A tale of failure

The Mets are a team we should feel good about. They have young, skilled position players, a very talented starting pitching staff and enough ability in the bullpen that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that those pitchers will rebound in 2020. But as always, Fred and Jeff Wilpon can’t help but undermine our excitement and the Steve Cohen news has done just that as we get closer to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training.

Guess what, the Mets are probably going to play well this year. In fact, the team should be very competitive. The team might win it all. But that won’t change the fact that the primary owners of this franchise will never allow for this team to have an extended time of success.

It’s time for the gloves to come off. With the deal to sell majority ownership of the Mets to Steve Cohen reportedly falling through, we’ve confirmed something about Fred and Jeff Wilpon. They are a terrible majority ownership group and they don’t deserve to own a team that has the chance for success as this team does.

Although it’s hard to blame the Wilpons alone for the fact that this organization has not won a World Series in the last 30 plus years, it’s the right thing to do to say that they are complicit. The Wilpon ownership of the Mets is a long sordid tale of failure with the final proof being this Cohen situation. Such failure does trickle down and that’s what makes this situation so sad.

Leadership is always such a tough thing to categorize. It’s far too easy to blame or praise leaders for what their followers do. But that doesn’t make them unaccountable for their actions. Jeff Wilpon is an absolute disgrace as a leader. This is a man who has insinuated himself into the baseball operations of the Mets and was so unsuccessful that Major League Baseball basically forced Sandy Alderson into the role of general manager. How did Jeff Wilpon respond? By hamstringing Alderson as GM with ridiculous payrolls for much of his time as general manager and forcing him to hire or keep on Wilpon confidants, like Omar Minaya. This is the man who later made decisions like hiring an agent as general manager instead of from a group of baseball lifers who had actually worked in the general manager’s office in various successful organizations, and played a major role in the hiring of Carlos Beltran as manager, knowing that he was on a team being investigated for cheating and never asked Beltran what his participation was in said scandal. This is the man who has often been the final say in how much money is spent or if a player can be traded and when asked directly about it, often responds by saying that it’s up to the general manager to set the payroll, even though everyone knows that’s a lie. This is a man who has made an embarrassment of himself in press conferences and was sued for saying insensitive things to a prominent female employee, just because she had a child out of wedlock. That kind of leadership has an effect. It eventually leaks onto the field and is a major part of the reason this team just can’t be good for all that long.

This is not to say that the ownership failure is strictly at the feet of the son. Fred Wilpon is a businessman who used a clause he had as a minority owner in the Mets to force a lawsuit that ended up gaining him a co-ownership of the club with Nelson Doubleday and then eventually forced Doubleday out at the first opportunity. This businessman was so embroiled in the Madoff scandal that he not only lost money, but also ended up being sued by those who had been a part of that Ponzi scheme. This is the businessman who used New York City tax dollars to help build a new stadium for the Mets that was more of a memorial to his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers than a representation of the team he owns and then took several years to overhaul parts of the stadium to recognize Mets history. This is a businessman who, as the scion of his company, despite owning a television station and a baseball team in New York, ran it so far into the ground that part of the deal he made with Cohen was for Cohen to pay off several hundred million dollars of debt his leadership and business decisions had resulted in. That kind of leadership sets a precedent for his own family and those he is responsible for as employees.

Finally, these are the two men that have now caused the failure of two different agreements they made to sell the team. First, they agreed to sell a minority ownership of the team to David Einhorn, and agreed that after a certain amount of time, Einhorn could purchase majority ownership. After verbally agreeing to this, the Wilpons went behind Einhorn’s back to the other owners in MLB to attempt to lobby them against allowing Einhorn to become a majority owner, even before he had signed the paperwork for the purchase. Einhorn subsequently backed out of the deal and lambasted the Wilpons, deservedly so, in the New York press. Now they agreed to sell the team to Steven Cohen, a lifelong Mets fan who just seemingly wants to own the team he’s loved his entire life and did something to undermine that agreement enough that Cohen appears to be backing out of it.

The Wilpons are a disgrace. They are failures as owners, businessman and men. Major League Baseball very rarely forces out owners, but if there was ever a team that needed that done, it’s the Mets. We as fans should be celebrating a young team that could be good for a long time. But does anyone believe a team run by the Wilpons can ever do that?

The answer appears to be no and that is a terrible shame.

7 comments for “Fred and Jeff Wilpon: A tale of failure

  1. TJ
    February 8, 2020 at 11:52 am

    Scott,
    I appreciate your efforts in this article. I take it you are no fan of the Wilpons, nor am I. Additionally, I am no fan of Jeff, who clearly has his role based on nepotism, and hasn’t distinguished himself. I don’t care to defend this Wilpons, but it seems that you have several misrepresentations in your article.

    To blame Jeff for the payroll budget limitations is not reasonable, as Fred and Saul are the principle owners and calling the shots. To say that Citifield was built with NYC tax dollars I don’t believe is accurate. The Wilpons did procure bonds to finance the stadium, exactly what the Yankees did, and the bonds are being paid off with interest through PILOT payments, exact as the Yankees are doing. Despite the Madoff issues, they have made these payments. Additionally, a lot has been said of Wilpon debt, but virtually all large businesses, like the Mets and SNY, carry debt. When they commence as sale, the will make hundreds of millions to into the billions in profit after the debt is paid. That’s pretty good.

    Regarding the failed sale to Cohen, it’s basically a he-said she-said, so it’s hard to assess blame. While Cohen is a rich local guy and lifelong Met fan, he is no angel. His business tactics look to be worse than the Wilpons, as he avoided jail time by paying a huge fine, and I believe people under his employ got jail time. Now, I would not want to pay for a business and have the seller run it for 5 years post-transaction, but I can’t blame Jeff for trying. I’d try too if it was essentially the only job I had but the family business needed to be divested to divide up value among siblings and cousins.

    I’ll continue to hope for new ownership with deeper pockets and better management talent, but given what Fred and Jeff are looking for, my gut tells me this may get uglier before it gets better.

    • IScott Ferguson
      February 9, 2020 at 8:12 pm

      The issue with the sale, to me, is that it seems to be far too similar a situation as the failed Einhorn deal. In that situation, the Wilpons went to MLB and the other owners to in essence get them to say a sale couldn’t happen to Einhorn despite the fact that they had put it in the agreement. It was very low class and just bad business practice. It just seems like that’s what happened here. The Wilpons got Cohen to agree to let them run the business for 5 years, then went to MLB and said that this was the deal and Cohem was to have no involvement until the 5 years were up. I could be wrong about that scenario, but since something like that happened with Einhorn, I just don’t believe any spin the Wilpons put on it.

      I’m not saying Cohen is an angel. In fact, earlier in the offseason, I was getting ready to write a post about how the Wilpons aren’t as cheap as everyone says. But this is just enough.

  2. Bugsy
    February 8, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    All i know is I wouldn’t pay a couple billion for anything where the seller’s idiot son came along in the deal.

    When the guy who bought the playboy mansion had to let hugh hefner live there
    The rest of his life, at least It made some sense. I mean the place was big enough that having some 90 year old wandering around in his pajamas wasn’t going to do much damage. He was old, he had no place to go, and he was harmless.

    But this deal was rotten from the start.

  3. TexasGusCC
    February 8, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    Assuming Jeff is there-facto GM, as we learned in an article this week, he was just out of college when he became COO, meaning he had no experience and no mentor. His family was in real estate and were used to doing business on the cheap because most landlords are that way due to distrust of tenants.

    I’m not saying that Jeff shouldn’t have improved and seen the light by now as to the profit margin difference of these two industries, but the truth is either he has tried too hard to please his ‘lost in yesteryear’ dad or he has no business acumen at all. His dad wanting to build a shrine to Boys of Summer and giving Jeff this handicap in meeting debt payments for the last ten years didn’t help, but I think it’s fair to say that the business model to always buy second rate hasn’t worked out.

  4. Name
    February 8, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    Every owner must be a failure because at any given point a good chunk of the fanbase probably disapprove of them.

    What is a good owner anyways? Someone who writes blank checks? And when the blank checks stop they are put in the bad owner category.

  5. NYM6986
    February 10, 2020 at 8:38 am

    The bottom line is that the Wilsons make plenty of money owning the Mets and that and not winning championships or putting a consistently competitive team on the field is their aim. Nothing will change until ownership changes but the bottom line is that I will still blindly root for the Mets forever.

  6. February 10, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    To paraphrase, Bob Dylan:

    Please, Mr. Cohen.

    Mr. Cohen, please.

    I’m down on my knees and I ain’t got a dime.

    ******

    The news that the Mets were selling and had a buyer made me giddy.

    The fact that the Wilpons were going to stay there for 5 years soured the deal.

    Now I hear that this “Wilpons-stay-put” clause is no longer in effect.

    That makes me feel better about the Cohen deal falling through.

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